By Lee Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 18, 2014) – The National Society of Professional Engineers recently honored a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District employee as a finalist for the prestigious Federal Engineer of the Year Award for 2014.
Mike Zoccola, chief of the Civil Design Branch, is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer of the Year for 2013, and one of 10 engineers nominated from federal agencies, departments, and military branches that were honored during the 35th Annual FEYA Banquet Feb. 20 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.
Jimmy Waddle, Construction Division chief, nominated Zoccola for this recognition for his role spearheading the rehabilitation of Wolf Creek and Center Hill Dams, which were classified as having a high probability of failure before the Corps took action to mitigate the risk of failure and to repair the foundations of these structures and their embankments.
At Center Hill Dam, near Lancaster, Tenn., the rehabilitation is ongoing with the installation of a 1,100-foot-long subsurface concrete wall into the main dam earthen embankment. The overlapping concrete panels are excavated up to 305-feet deep, filled with concrete to form a barrier wall to prevent seepage damage to the earthen portion of the main dam. Work on a second earthen embankment, the nearby saddle dam, is expected to continue into 2017.
At Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown, Ky., at Lake Cumberland, work crews completed the barrier wall in March 2013 when the last of 1,197 piles were placed from the top of the dam into bedrock below the foundation of the 4,000-foot long embankment. More than 300,000 cubic yards of concrete were placed during the project into the foundation to prevent seepage through the dam. The Corps continues to place rip rap on the upstream side of the embankment at Wolf Creek Dam.
At the Wolf Creek Dam completion ceremony April 19, 2013, Congressman Hal Rogers said the work on this project has never been done anywhere in the world.
“Well this was sort of like a shot to the moon in the business that these people are in. And so this is historic,” Rogers said.
Zoccola said he is proud of his role as the lead engineer working on both projects and to have been selected for the Corps of Engineers recognition and nominated for the federal award. However, he said he prefers to draw attention from himself to the many Corps members who have worked or are working on these repair projects.
He said that another nominee at the National Press Club commented that if someone were to see a turtle high on top of a fence post, it would be obvious that it had a lot of help getting there.
“That is all I am, the turtle on top of the fence post placed there by a whole lot of outstanding folks,” Zoccola said. “If I could wish for one thing it would be that these awards draw attention to the high caliber and competence of the people we have in the district and what an accomplishment it was to take two DSAC 1 projects at the same time through an evolving process and accomplish the high level of success we have.”
Zoccola attributes the ability to move both projects through the study process and overcoming technical and dam safety issues to his staff of geotechnical, structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers, and engineering geologists, technicians and support staff that is rich in institutional knowledge and experience.
“Once you have the excellent, conscientious, experienced folks in place that we have had working on these projects, the rest is just details and execution,” Zoccola said.
Waddle said Zoccola has been a key contributor to the success of both projects and that his leadership was instrumental in a first-of-its-kind comprehensive risk assessment study on these projects, and was at the forefront of a new risk assessment program being incorporated into Corps dam safety practices.
“As a direct result of his exemplary leadership and technical expertise, these rehabilitation projects are recognized as world class, state-of-the-art models to be studied throughout the Corps,” Waddle said.
Lt. Col. John L. Hudson, Nashville District commander, said Zoccola is a pioneer as an engineer in the dam safety business and the award is both well deserved and a testament of his contributions to the groundbreaking work to rehabilitate Wolf Creek and Center Hill Dams that are immeasurable.
“Mike and his team evaluated the dams, developed the rehabilitation plans, and have been integral during the construction phases,” Hudson said. “To be recognized on a national level is a great honor for him and the entire district.”
Zoccola also served as a district spokesperson for numerous local and national meetings and media interviews to inform and allay the fears of the public and stakeholders early in the project, which resulted in his selection as the 2006 USACE Communicator of the Year Award.
NSPE is the national society of licensed professional engineers from all disciplines that promotes the ethical and competent practice of engineering, advocates licensure, and enhances the image and well-being of its members. Founded in 1934, NSPE serves more than 35,000 members and the public through 53 state and territorial societies and just over 400 chapters. For more information, please visit www.nspe.org.