By Sandra Arnold
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District
GALVESTON, Texas, Dec. 2, 2013 – Making a living managing the removal and placement of dirt wasn’t a job offered during any career fair Christopher Frabotta, chief of navigation at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District, attended while earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Florida, but it’s one he actively sought out when he learned he could make a lasting positive impact on the nation.
Frabotta oversees the day-to-day operations and maintenance of 1,000 miles of channel along the Texas coast -- a job that keeps him busy coordinating the removal of dredged material from navigable waterways to ensure safe passage of vessels, the placement of dredged material to renourish beaches, conducting sediment sample testing and initiating studies for future navigation projects.
“Chris is tasked with the overall responsibility of keeping the top three of 10 ports in the nation situated along the Texas coast open for waterborne traffic,” said Joe Hrametz, chief of the district's operations division. “With the Texas coast becoming one of the fastest growing coasts in the nation, home to ports that generate over $10 billion in federal tax revenue, handle more than 500 million tons of cargo annually and supports more than 1.4 million jobs, Chris and his team continue to play a critical role in contributing to the safety, economic success and quality of life of local communities by improving navigation channels along the Texas coast.”
A leader in the district’s efforts to convert its tidal datum from Mean Low Tide to Mean Lower Low Water, a uniform chart datum widely accepted by mariners and used to calculate vessel-under-keel clearance when transiting ship channels and other navigable waterways, Frabotta partnered with the Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi -- manager of the Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network -- to gather data.
“The information supplied by the network provides invaluable navigation-related data that enables the Corps and our stakeholders to keep cargo moving along the Texas coast and supply commodities to the nation,” Frabotta said. “With Texas ports ranking first in the nation in waterborne commerce and handling nearly 43 percent of the nation’s crude imports and 24 percent of the nation’s exports, it’s imperative the Corps execute its mission of keeping waterways open for navigation.”
According to Frabotta, the district plays a key role in not only managing projects along the Texas coastline but also in protecting valuable resources.
“We understand the national, regional and local significance that waterborne commerce has on the nation and the state of Texas and we work diligently to ensure safe and reliable channel availability,” Frabotta said. “The district monitors and maintains the federally authorized navigation channels along the coast of Texas, removing approximately 30-40 million cubic yards of shoaled sediment at a cost of approximately $100 million per year.”
In addition to the district’s tidal datum conversion, Frabotta was instrumental in establishing a setback policy along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which addresses the distance a structure must be set back from the edge of the channel to ensure there are no encroachments in the navigable channel to support safe transportation and maintain sufficient clearance for dredging the channel.
“Increased development along the GIWW encouraged us to develop a predictable and repeatable policy for authorizing structures along the GIWW to maintain the compatibility of these important functions,” Frabotta said. “Staff began work on this policy in 2012 to establish setbacks from the GIWW channel where structures could be placed without interfering with navigation on the GIWW in order to ensure safe navigation.”
With these two initiatives underway, Frabotta has shifted his focus to coordinating an online system for accessing the district’s hydrographic channel condition surveys, which is expected to be launched in fiscal year 2014.
“The district’s navigation, operations and maintenance mission is one of the largest in the nation, with import and export tonnages totaling more than 500 million tons in 2011,” Frabotta said. “Adequate maintenance of the deep and shallow draft navigation channels in Texas ensures foreign and domestic commodities can be shipped through the Texas ports. These commodities provide for a critical portion of the nation’s economy and energy needs. With the state poised to become a leader in exporting liquefied natural gas, it’s imperative that we remain competitive on a global shipping market and continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to take care of our critical infrastructure through continued maintenance and protection.”
An employee of the USACE since 2001, Frabotta was named the USACE Galveston District’s 2013 Supervisor of the Year for his outstanding contributions to the district’s navigation mission. Prior to his arrival at the district in 2011, Frabotta served two tours in Iraq. The first in 2003 as an engineering liaison for the Humanitarian Operations Center in Kuwait City and Southern Iraq, then again in 2005 as the Al Basra South resident engineer, managing approximately $200 million of construction contracts including dredging and wreck removal contracts, port security contracts and the design and construction of the only Iraqi Coast Guard station.
In 2007, Frabotta was selected to serve in a one-year temporary detail to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to assist the subcommittee staff with development of the 2008 House Energy and Water Appropriations Bill and Report.
"Chris is continually trying to improve the Navigation Program through special initiatives such as the development of the new GIWW set-back policy and the establishment of a Section 217 Agreement template that once approved, will allow the government to collect disposal fees from non-federal entities to replace lost placement area capacity at dredging material disposal sites," Hrametz said. “His efforts will help streamline our processes and save taxpayers’ money.”
A native of Massachusetts, Frabotta, a former soldier, lives and works on Galveston Island and enjoys running, cycling and other outdoor activities in his spare time.