Small projects make a big impact in Portland District

Workers install a flow plate near a juvenile fish passage system at Bonneville that keeps juvenile fish from entering the turbine. The Small Projects Team installed an experimental flow plate to confirm that it works. Results are still pending, but based on preliminary data the plate seems to be working. (Photo by Corina Popescu, Engineering and Construction Division)

Workers install a flow plate near a juvenile fish passage system at Bonneville that keeps juvenile fish from entering the turbine. The Small Projects Team installed an experimental flow plate to confirm that it works. Results are still pending, but based on preliminary data the plate seems to be working. (Photo by Corina Popescu, Engineering and Construction Division)

 

By Diana Fredlund, Public Affairs Office

When thinking about projects undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, most people think of big, multi-year projects. Did you know the Corps started and completed an entire project in four months for about $100,000?

The Small Projects Team, made up of engineers and members of the District’s Construction Branch, works closely with District experts to design, contract and execute a growing number of small projects. They may not be as big as the projects you’re used to seeing, but they are as vital to the District’s operations as any turbine replacement or fish facility construction.

“There are actually more small projects being executed than the traditional ones most people think of,” said Mike Magee, the SPT lead engineer. “They generally are low-risk, with small budgets and short deadlines, while maintaining the District’s expectation of high quality. They may not be complex projects, but they are often critical, helping the District meet its obligations and operate efficiently.”

The team was formed because District leaders recognized it cost about the same to execute both large and small projects and since its beginning, SPT successfully executed its mission. “The SPT was formed in 2006. District leaders knew a small project’s focus was important, but everyone wanted to be sure we were prepared to take on the work. When I arrived the team was working on five projects – two in the design phase and three that were yet to be awarded,” Magee said. Magee, started with Portland District in 1999, but left for a few years to work at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Returning to the District in 2013, he says he saw the team’s workload increase.

that includes a Passive Integrated Transponder tag detector. When they pass by the detector, small PIT tags inserted into juvenile fish provide data, allowing fish biologists to monitor their path to the Pacific Ocean. The Small Projects team helped the Willamette Valley Project complete the work in time for the 2014 juvenile fish spring migration. (Photo by Fenton Khan, Planning, Programs and Project Management Division)

that includes a Passive Integrated Transponder tag detector. When they pass by the detector, small PIT tags inserted into juvenile fish provide data, allowing fish biologists to monitor their path to the Pacific Ocean. The Small Projects team helped the Willamette Valley Project complete the work in time for the 2014 juvenile fish spring migration. (Photo by Fenton Khan, Planning, Programs and Project Management Division)

“The SPT started with a handful of dedicated staff set on developing streamlined procedures and testing innovative methods to execute the District’s smaller projects, always with a focus on high quality standards,” Magee said.“

Building on these foundations, we have grown into an eight-person team and we are currently tracking 33 projects from start to finish.” Each project has a different focus but each one meets the small project criteria: well defined scope, low-to-medium risk potential, minimal technical requirements and good cost-savings potential.

One project the team successfully completed was the Cascades Island Total Dissolved Gas Monitoring Station Sensor Piping Replacement at Bonneville Lock and Dam. The sensor, which operates 1,400 feet downstream of Bonneville’s spillway, is monitored by U.S. Geological Survey and plays a key role in the District’s support of NOAA Fisheries’ 2008 Biological Opinion. During the previous three years the piping used to deploy and house the sensor had failed, putting the Corps’ compliance with the BiOp at risk. The piping’s failure meant the Corps would be unable to reliably deploy and protect the sensor, which is used to monitor total dissolved gas in the waters below the spillway as required under the terms of the BiOp. Without the sensor in place, the spillway’s flows cannot be adjusted to ensure viable TDG levels for juvenile fish as they travel toward the Pacific Ocean. The sensor must operate effectively during the April to August spill season.

A construction crew replaces the pipe that protects a total dissolved gas sensor at Bonneville Lock and Dam. The U.S. Geological Service uses the sensor to measure levels of dissolved gas in the spillway. The Small Projects Team designed and installed the new pipe in time for the 2014 juvenile fish migration which began in April. (Photo by Mike Magee, Engineering and Construction Division)

A construction crew replaces the pipe that protects a total dissolved gas sensor at Bonneville Lock and Dam. The U.S. Geological Service uses the sensor to measure levels of dissolved gas in the spillway. The Small Projects Team designed and installed the new pipe in time for the 2014 juvenile fish migration which began in April. (Photo by Mike Magee, Engineering and Construction Division)

The project’s design phase began in December 2013 with a statement of work; the team expected a Notice to Proceed for the contractor by mid-March. That left just three months for the team to plan and design the pipe replacement, prepare the contracting package and award the contract. “A traditional project’s timeline would likely have taken more time and money to execute due additional reviews and competing resourcing demands,” Magee said.

The contractor began the work March 14, 2014. The pipe was replaced, and the contractor demobilized and offsite by March 27. “The whole team – not just the design team members, but those in Contracting, Safety, Operations and the resident offices – worked together to plan and execute a critical element in the Corps’ operation,” Magee said. “Thanks to everyone we were able to design and execute a reliable fix to ensure the Corps remained in compliance with the BiOp.”Word is getting around the operating projects about the SPT’s great work and Magee wants the project requests to keep coming.

“Most people recognize a small project when they see it, but our challenge has been changing the traditional work model so they think of us when they first start planning a project,” Magee said. “We can help get many of their critical projects done quickly, with solid work procedures and, I may add, usually at a significant cost savings to them.”

George Medina, the project manager for the Bonneville Powerhouse 2 Fish Guidance Efficiency Project, that the team completed in April, was impressed with the process and the team. “The whole team did an outstanding job. They worked with a diverse group of partners for input and executed a well-designed project. Timing was important, because this project supported decreasing juvenile fish mortality and it needed to be done before the spring migration.” In less than three months the team designed, pulled together specs, found a contractor, awarded a contract, then fabricated and installed a flow control device – all ahead of schedule, Medina said.

The Small Projects Team prides itself on helping its customers find creative solutions to critical problems on time and within budget, but its members benefit as well. “The SPT provides a snapshot of the Engineering and Construction Division’s process of executing a project from inception to completion,” Magee said. “You can see a job through construction in a short period of time. Many design projects span several years, but a small project typically spans only a couple of months. Team members learn about a wide range of projects, which keeps everyone interested and engaged.”

Magee believes there’s a bright future for the Small Projects Team, including leading the Corps to a more innovative approach to many of its projects. “Successful and innovative means to accomplish tasks can be applied elsewhere to improve other processes to meet objectives in the District’s Policy and Procedures manual, our quality control manual. All of us are proud to create an opportunity to build new foundations for future processes.”

Best of all, since the team works with projects lasting only a few months, there is often room in the queue for new projects. “Managers can either talk directly with an team member to learn if their project is a good candidate, or they may present their project via the EC Technical Lead Request process, which includes an SPT screening,” Magee said.

Large projects don’t always offer the most cost-effective methods to perform the work necessary to maintain the District’s resources and meet its many missions. Sometimes all that is needed is a reliable, cost-effective means of getting a smaller job done – and the Small Projects Team is ready to do just that – on time and with a much smaller budget.

The Small Projects Team repaired portions of the Coos Bay dock, one of 33 projects being completed by the team. The Corps dredge Yaquina moors at the dock when it works in the area. Work included replacing the wood braces near the water level, a damaged mooring dolphin and the gangways used by the crew.(Photo by Katherine Groth, Operations Division)

The Small Projects Team repaired portions of the Coos Bay dock, one of 33 projects being completed by the team. The Corps dredge Yaquina moors at the dock when it works in the area. Work included replacing the wood braces near the water level, a damaged mooring dolphin and the gangways used by the crew.(Photo by Katherine Groth, Operations Division)