Port dredge maintenance professionals encourage young people to check out environmental engineering and science careers
After participating this week in another successful and productive Career Fair at Kalama High School, the Port of Kalama continues to educate the community—and in particular local youth—about career and job opportunities.
Meet a remarkable team of women who have dedicated their work—in part—to the Port’s year-round dredge maintenance program effort. The work of these engineers and environmental scientists help keep the Port’s berths and maritime business moving smoothly—all while ensuring environmental health as well as riverfront park and beach nourishment for recreational enjoyment.
Tabitha Reeder is the Port of Kalama’s environmental manager with a degree in biology and a masters in environmental science who leads the permitting process for Port projects. She also helps manage a talented team of engineers and environmental scientists on the Port’s award-winning annual maintenance dredging program.
With a location right on the Columbia River, the Port manages a number of deep-water berths to serve ocean going shipping vessels—in addition to a community marina. The TEMCO berth requires annual dredging to remove accumulated material. Federal and state agencies prefer to keep the sand in the natural ecosystem of the river to maintain a healthy habitat. The removed sediment and soil are placed in environmentally-friendly locations whether riverfront beaches, deep water, or to stabilize pilings in the river.
It takes a complex suite of skills and knowledge required to keep those channels clear and dredging and placement environmentally sound. The Port is required to coordinate with numerous local, state and federal agencies for permitting on all elements of these operations.
Reeder works with Eric Yakovich, economic development manager at the Port to manage and direct the work of Jessica Côté, coastal engineer, Amber Roesler, senior environmental scientist at Berger ABAM and Sally Fisher, a senior project manager with a background in soil science and natural resources management at Berger ABAM. This ‘dream team’ provides pivotal counsel for the Port to keep maritime operations running smoothly—and within environmental guidelines.
The lead engineer and designer on all of the Port’s dredge maintenance projects is Jessica Côté, a professional engineer (PE) with a Masters in ocean engineering, who has dedicated her career to integrating physical sciences with engineering to solve complex coastal and ocean problems around the world. She builds and leads multi-disciplinary teams to evaluate project feasibility and design guidelines for small and large coastal development and infrastructure, shoreline stabilization, dredging, and marine transportation like that at the Port of Kalama.
Côté has always loved the great outdoors and spending time around water. As a student she was specifically intrigued with how water works and moves. She excelled in math and science in high school and chose a career that enabled her to solve problems associated with water movement and flow on shorelines. After living on an island doing marine ecology work and learning to scuba dive, she started her engineering work and recently launched a private consulting firm working as a coastal engineer for clients like the Port of Kalama.
“The Port is extremely forward-thinking and proactive on how they manage their dredging and placement program—they are required to have a maintenance dredge program where they maintain water depths in the river where ships are coming in and out of berths and they take it to the next level. The Columbia River is tidally influenced and has a lot of sediment moving around in the river so as a coastal engineer I deal with the complex interactions between the water movement and that sediment,” says Cote. “We use survey information to determine the depths and then design dredging and how much material we need to move and place to accommodate the robust shipping industry at the Port.”
Côté says the opportunities for graduates in this line of work are wide open and she encourages people interested in this career line to dig deeper into math and sciences. She also encourages students to build a network, ask questions and seek out help and direction whenever they need it in order to keep learning.
Amber Roesler and Sally Fisher work together to coordinate with regulatory agencies on behalf of the Port of Kalama’s dredge maintenance program. They also applaud the Port’s progressive dredge maintenance program—and their keen oversight of dredging and placing materials intentionally to ensure healthy environmental habitats and recreational beaches.
The BergerABAM team provides the studies necessary to secure permits for evaluating dredged sediment quality and suitability. The team samples sediment for soil contamination and determines whether the quality of the soil is clean to place on the Port’s beaches.
“We help the Port of Kalama manage the dredging and soil or sediment disposal program in terms of selecting and permitting suitable places in the river or along the beaches where we can place the dredged material,” says Fisher. “That whole idea of best places to relocate sediment won the Western Dredging Association 2016 award for excellence—which was a very cool honor for the Port and this whole team. Working with coastal engineer Jessica Côté’s designs for best soil placement, we recommended placing dredge materials behind dike pilings in the river to support them and keep the river flowing without obstruction. There is so much satisfaction knowing you are helping your client maintain healthy rivers.”
Roesler says she has always been intrigued with how things work in the natural world—especially on a smaller scale and at the microscopic level so she started taking geology and botany courses to learn more. It was that interest as a young student that led her to studies in science and using math and science to solve problems.
Similarly, Fisher was always interested in subjects like water resources, biology, science and natural resources. They both recommend that students ‘take the darn math!’ It’s math that is everywhere and the building blocks of all sciences. They say stick with the sciences as there are so many jobs available to those who do. The team acknowledges that kids nearing graduation are nervous and overwhelmed but that a whole wide world of opportunities opens up to them if they follow an interest in science, technology and math.
“What we want everyone to know is how the Port makes decisions when it comes to the environment, healthy habitats and the river—the Port is heavily regulated and is required to work within numerous complex local, state, and federal laws and regulations,” says Mark Wilson, executive director at Port of Kalama. “It is the Port’s incredible team of engineers and scientists and their knowledge, creativity and relationship with the agencies, that enable us to offer win-win innovations to the community.”
Wilson adds that the Port is committed to creating a balanced opportunity for students to learn about a range of careers and business opportunities—there are amazing jobs right here and businesses that offer exceptional opportunities in Kalama.