Interviewee: James Vearil
Interview: Alan Bliss
Date: July 17, 2002
B: It is July 17, 2003. I am in Jacksonville, Florida at the offices of the United
States Army Corps of Engineers talking with James Vearil, Jim Vearil. This is an
interview in connection with the Cross Florida Barge Canal/Cross Florida
Greenway Project, the CG interview series. Mr. Vearil, would you please tell us
your full name and where and when you were born, please?
V: My names is James Wilson Vearil. I was born in August of 1955 here in
B: Who were you parents and what were their occupations, please?
V: My father was James Vearil, Jr. He was with the United States Navy working in,
at that time, what was called the NARF, the Naval Air Rework Facility, for many
years. He retired from there. My mother is Nadine Priest Vearil. She worked
as a secretary out there but, after kids, she basically was a homemaker working
in the house.
B: Tell me again, I'm not quite sure we got this for the tape, where were you born?
V: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida.
B: Where did you live growing up and where were you educated, please?
V: I lived in an older section of Jacksonville called Murray Hill. My parents have
lived there. My mother still lives there. [She's] lived in the same house since the
1950s. I went to public schools here in Jacksonville, on the westside of
Jacksonville. I graduated from Lee High School, then I went to the University of
Florida and got a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering in 1979. I
took some graduate courses at the University of Central Florida through the
B: What is the FEEDS program?
V: It's called the Florida Engineering Educational Delivery System. It's a state-wide
system where they can deliver graduate courses to sites all over the state via
videotape and, in some cases, even essentially online courses. Then, I went
back to the University of Florida. In 1989 and 1990, I was selected for the Army
long-term training program. So, the Army sent me back and I got a Masters of
Engineering at the University of Florida in 1990, and then I've taken a few history
courses at the University of North Florida in the past couple of years.
B: We recommend history courses to everybody.
V: Well, that's good to hear. I enjoyed that.
B: Well, we strenuously encourage it, all my students and all my colleagues. Did
you have early plans or early ideas for your life's career? Growing up, do you
recall having established your career track early on in your mind?
V: Yes, ironically, I do. A lot of it I probably owe to a ninth grade civic teacher when
I was at John Gorrie Junior High School. He had us do a project on a career.
[We] tried to figure out what would be a career we would be interested in. So,
that got my thinking, I was good in math and science. My father working out at
the naval base, he worked around a lot of engineers, so he encouraged me to
look at engineering. He would take me out there and introduce me to engineers.
I would go out and see what they were doing with planes. So, I kind of settled
on engineering in that ninth grade project. Then, as I went to high school there
was a program called Junior Engineering Society, or Technical Society that I
participated some in. I continued to look into engineering. They had some
tests they would recommend you to take to see if you had the skills set that
would be good for engineering.
In high school I had pretty much settled on [engineering]. I wanted to go into
engineering. I structured my classes that way. I was taking a lot of math and
science. So, when I went off to the University of Florida, I wanted to go into
engineering. At that time, that was in the early 1970s, a lot of things were going
on with the environment, so I kind of was interested in environmental
engineering. It kind of became the one that I thought I would be interested in,
applying engineering to a lot of the problems that were going on at the time. So,
when I went to the University of Florida, I wouldn't mind walking right in,
assuming I was going to go into engineering. [I] probably, atypically, actually
stayed with the major I started with when I went to college.
B: That's true.
V: [I was] an anomaly there most likely.
B: Well, yes, that's what we find with undergraduates who are moving through the
program these days. The declared major on arrival does not often survive the
undergraduate program. How did you find yourself employed with the Corps of
Engineers? How did you come to wind up getting your first job with the Corps?
You mentioned being selected for a program.
V: The way that it happened is, as a freshman in college, I was looking for a
summer job and my father had encouraged me to take, at that time, what was
called the Civil Service Test for Summer Employment. It was aimed at college
students. So, I took the test and lo and behold the Corps of Engineers offered
me a clerk job in their design branch. Ironically, it was at what we called the
GS-1 level. It was the lowest pay level that they had for somebody. I really had
not ever looked or thought about the Corps of Engineers as a place to work, but
that job was available, and I thought that would be good experience in
So, I came, worked here for that summer and I like working with the people. It
turned out, fortuitously for me, at that time the Corps of Engineers was once
again establishing their cooperative education program. This is pretty typical in
engineering, where companies and government agencies will set up a
work-study type program to where you can go to school either a semester or a
quarter and then to go work with that company or that agency for a semester or a
quarter. You basically alternate or rotate. That was of interest to me, so I
applied for the program and there were four of us that basically got in the
program that first year. I owe a lot to the personnel [director]. There was a
personnel director there named Bruce Stevens who really kind of pushed the
program and got me involved and interested, got my application through. So, I
spent the rest of my college career going to school and then coming back here
every quarter to work at the Corps of Engineers.
B: The way that works, apparently, there is no exceptional cost to the employer to
employ student workers under that program. I guess the cost would come in the
fact that your tenure of employment is interrupted periodically as you're moving
through your education. On the other hand, they get the benefit of somebody
who is being trained sort of on the cutting edge of the academic discipline that
they are working in for the employer, right?
V: Well, I've seen it from both sides. I've seen it from the side of being a
cooperative] student and I've seen it from the side of a supervisor hiring
cooperative] students. I'm a big believer in the cooperative] program. When I
was working as chief of the water management section, we had a number of
cooperative] students that we hired and came through the program. The way I
see the program, as a student, it was great because I could earn money. I could
make a decent salary in the quarters I was working here, and then I could use
that to help pay for my college expenses. I got experience in my field. I was
mentored and taught by a lot of very good engineers here at the Corps of
Engineers when I was on the program, so I learned so much from them that I
actually found I did better in school because they would help me understand
concepts. I would see things from a real, more practical oriented situation. I
found a lot of benefits just for myself.
From an employer's standpoint, I think we've a lot of success getting some pretty
good ones in here who can do a lot of good work. It's also an opportunity for the
employer and the future possible employee to check each other out. In other
words, you have an idea to assess someone's abilities, their temperament, how
they would perform as an engineer. Plus, it's just not limited to engineers. We
have cooperative] students in a variety of disciplines. Then, it also gives that
potential employee [the opportunity] to access the organization. Is this a place
they really do want to work at when they decide to graduate? So, it helps, I
think, to break down the possibility of an improper fit for an employee. The
employee and the future employer both get to assess each other in a sense. It's
also good for the cooperative] student. There's usually a very good chance that
they would be offered a position upon when they finish the program. If we have
vacancies available, they generally try to make an effort to extend offers to the
students, particularly if they performed well. In my view, it's been a very
beneficial program in both directions.
B: Do most people who participate in that program through the Jacksonville district
of the Corps wind up taking positions with the Corps, say over half?
V: It would just be strictly an estimate, but I would say it's a pretty high percentage,
particularly if they stick [with] it all the way through. What we would usually find
is, they may work a quarter or two and say, they really don't like it here, it's not a
fit. But if a student stays until they graduate, usually a lot of them are interested
in coming to work here. They've already decided, hey, this is a good place for
me. The supervisors here have had a chance to say, yes, this is a person that
fits well her, that's a good person, very capable. So, I would say we've had a
pretty high percentage.
In the section I worked in, I would say, we probably had anywhere from probably
10, 15, 20 cooperative] students come through. A number of them did come to
work for the Corps. A lot of them are still here. Now, what we do find is, a lot of
people will work here for a few years, get their experience, and then move on to
something else. It doesn't mean they will still be here. It's an interesting
number of people that are still here that started their career as cooperative]
B: At the time that you were moving through the program, what year would that
have been that you first took your first job at the Corps as an undergraduate?
V: I took that clerk position, it would have been the summer of 1974. That was just
a three month, temporary job. Then, I came onto the cooperative] program in
probably January of 1975.
B: Were most of your fellow student cooperative] program workers, were they also
in the engineering program at the University of Florida or from other schools?
V: Actually, there [were people] from a variety of schools. To start with I would say
the University of Florida, but we've had cooperative] students from the University
of Tennessee, from Florida State, from Florida A&M, from University of Miami,
from the University of South Florida. It's been a wide variety of schools that
we've had cooperative] students from. Obviously, we tend to draw them from
the local area, but there are really two factors involved. One, it's the schools in
Florida are typically looking here. Also it's a factor if somebody lives near
Jacksonville, if their family lives near Jacksonville, they're often looking for a job
in Jacksonville like I did, because you're able to stay with your family and not
have to find a place to live. You're able to save a lot more money that you can
then in turn use for expenses. We've had some people who came from schools
in other places but were looking for a job in the Jacksonville area because of
B: It's makes a lot of sense. A variety of schools feed the program. Do you have
any opinion as to whether or not the University of Florida is particularly heavily
represented in supplying the program?
B: At FSU [Florida State University], is it maybe to a similar extent or to a lesser
V: [It's] probably a lesser extent, but FSU and FAMU [Florida Agricultural and
Mechanical University] have a joint engineering program, so if you look at the
joint program, we probably have a fair amount of students there. Just guessing,
I would have to say probably the majority have come from the University of
Florida, but it's mixed. I think the University of Florida has been very well
represented here with the cooperative] program.
B: Well, you're a Florida native and also a man with a professional engagement in
part to do with the project that this interview relates to, the original Cross Florida
Ship Canal, later the Cross Florida Barge Canal, now, the Cross Florida
Greenway Project. I wonder what your earliest memories are of that project,
under whatever name it first came to your attention. I guess, I don't necessarily
mean to confine my question to your professional engagement with it. I'm
wondering if, as a young person, you or your family or friends seemed to you to
show any awareness of the project, of its existence. Did you hear opinions,
discussion related to it?
V: Yes, I did. My mother grew up outside of Ocala in a small town called Burbank,
which is just a couple of miles from the Oklawaha River off of State Road 315,
north of Silver Springs. A lot of her family still lives in the Ocala area, so I can
remember as a kid, as a young person, going to the Ocala area and seeing the
bridge supports across US 301. [I was] always wondering, what is this? My
parents explained to me about the Ship Canal and the bridge supports being
built. That's probably my earliest memory of it, just being struck by that. Then,
of course, driving around some you'd go over State Road 40 and cross the big
bridge over there and come across US 19. Just driving as a young person with
my parents in the North Florida area [I remember] just seeing pieces of it.
My next memory would probably be in high school. As I said, being in the 1970s
with the environmental movement going on at the time, of course, that was
always in the press. So, I had an awareness of it and that project going on, not
on a deep level but at least in a bigger picture level, that there was a lot of
controversy with the canal. I can remember that from my high school days.
That's kind of, from a family standpoint, the memories.
From a professional standpoint probably my earliest memories were when I first
came as a cooperative] student. I worked in our water quality group basically
going out and collecting samples and running samples. We would go across
lots of parts of Florida, but I can remember going to collect samples on the
Oklawaha River, going out on Oklawaha. I had my first air boat ride in that
period of time working as a cooperative] student because the folks in Palatka
would get us out into the water quality sites we were sampling via air boat.
In fact, I have a humorous experience from that time that has always stuck in my
mind. I was a newbie basically. They were bringing the new kid on the block in
and they had me sitting in the front of the air boat. We were going across
Rodman Reservoir and Lake Oklawaha and the air boat driver pushed us into
where a bunch of ducks were down and they took off. The ducks, they were in a
hurry, so I ended up getting splattered all [over] by the ducks. So there was this
lasting memory of, "Welcome to Rodman Reservoir and the Corps of Engineers."
Know better next time. Don't sit in the front, sit in the back.
I can remember going along the Oklawaha River. We would go up into Lake
Griffin in the upper chain. We'd go over on the Withlacoochee side and collect
samples. I'd seen a lot of the project as a college student. I don't know if you
want me to continue. That's kind of my earlier experiences.
B: I would like to continue, but let me back up for just a moment. When you
became aware of the program as a young person, growing up listening to your
parents, for example, answering your question about the bridge supports;
hearing your mother's family in the area mention the project; what kind of
opinions or conjecture do you recall, if any, that they expressed about it? Did
they say, this is something that is never going to happen, this is something that
maybe someday will, it could be a good thing to this area, it's controversial?
What flavor did their comments have?
V: You know, in the early days, I really don't recall them expressing opinion either
way. Where I can really remember more opinions was discussing it probably
when I was about high school age, that 1969/1970 period back at the time when
the barge canal was stopped. I don't know if they had any strong feelings either
way. I can't really remember them strongly expressing an opinion. My
memories are of just realizing how controversial it was in that period of time.
More of what I was getting it from was just from reading what I was reading in the
press, hearing what people were saying and thinking that it [all] had a lot of
negative connotations with the barge canal.
I don't really have any strong memories of them [my parents] really taking a
position either way. It was more of they would explain, here's what this was,
here's what it was. I don't have a sense that they had a strong opinion either
way, whether they were for or against it when I was a youngster. I have a little
more sense from my mom now that I know what I know. I've studied a lot more
about family history in recent years, so I've got some recollections and [there
have been] some discussions that I've had with her since then. From the time of
being a young person, I can't remember a real strong opinion either way.
B: Do you recall anything that your mother has expressed in her recollections about
V: She was born in 1924, so she remembers kind of, as a young person, a lot was
going on in the ship canal. It was probably around 1935 when a lot was going
on. She remembers there was a lot of hubbub. It's not that she has a specific
memory of anything. She just remembers that it was a big deal down there in
the Ocala area from when she was a youngster. It was of interest to her from
the standpoint that she grew up very close to the Oklawaha River, so we've
talked about that. I've talked about her memories about what it was like in the
area. They would go to Gores Landing. [That] would be a place she can
remember as a child going to, which is on the Oklawaha River. She remembers
going a lot up to Orange Springs, where the spring was, as a youngster, [in
which] she was going to swim. She can remember going to Silver Springs as a
youngster. Her dad would take her to these places. These are some of her
memories of the river, so that would be some of her things.
I have some other family members, one in particular, who's done a lot of
genealogical research that I've talked to some about it. She has some pretty
strong feelings about it because they had family property on the river that ended
up being acquired as part of the barge canal, so she has some pretty strong
negative feelings about the barge canal and the family property being taken.
I've talked to her a little bit about that, and that was a pretty sensitive topic with
her. Interestingly enough, she still lives at Fort McCoy, this particular cousin,
and she's very active in history and genealogical work there. She has a good
understanding of the whole history of the area, specifically some strong family
feelings about that.
B: Do you think that cousin would be willing to talk to us for this project about her
V: She might be, because when Dave Bowman had spoken to me a while back, I
did speak to her to see if she would be interested in it. At the time, she said she
may be interested, so it's a possibility. I haven't brought it up again to her in a
while. I hadn't really appreciated her feelings about it, but in my opinion, if she
was willing, she would be a good person to talk to from the standpoint of both her
personal feelings about it, and then also just the fact that she's been very active
in the history of the Fort McCoy area. Fort McCoy, of course, being right around
there, she's done a lot of work. There's the Eureka Cemetery there, there's an
African American Cemetery there, [and] one of their projects was to clean it up.
She's just a person that would have a lot of the sense of history of people living
in the Fort McCoy area. If that's something you're interested in, trying to talk to
people that have lived around there for a long time, then [she would be a good
person to talk to].
B: Definitely so. We can pursue this after the interview off tape, but I would like to
make sure that we come back to that. Maybe I could ask you to follow up your
conversation and see if she's willing to meet with us.
V: Okay. For me, personally, it's been interesting. As the more I get into my
interest in studying Florida history, and specifically things related to my family
history, I learn a lot more about connections, if you will, to the Oklawaha River
and the Withlacoochee River, from a family standpoint, in these areas. I have
gotten a lot more understanding now than I ever had when I worked on the Barge
Canal Project. I had this vague idea. I knew my parents and my mother's
family was from this area and I had kind of vague notions, but now that I've
actually spent a lot of time doing research, it's been interesting to me seeing
connections of things I've worked on for the Corps of Engineers related to having
family that have been in Florida since probably the early 1800s and where
they've lived and some of their interactions. That's come after the fact now in
the last couple of years, but it's been interesting as I dig through and see these
connections, these tie-ins and stuff.
B: Yes, that must be a pretty interesting transition to become aware of the historic
impact of the profession and the business that you chose as your life's work, to
kind of have that paradigm unfold for yourself, especially with some family
impacted directly, people that you know and who you've spent your life listening
to. You knew of the project. You knew it was underway. You were aware that
it had a history of its own, and then, I think, I understood you to say that it really
first emerged as something with some current impact during the years when the
environmental movement raised its profile to a level of something that was
controversial. Is that fair to say?
B: You were in high school then. That would have been circa 1969, and that was
the year that the Florida Defenders of the Environment became pretty high profile
about proposing the project.
V: Right, actually in 1969 I would have been in junior high school. I graduated in
1973, so roughly 1971 to 1973 would have been the high school period. For
me, it was probably more the 1970-1971 [period]. I seem to recall that in high
school is when I really started [becoming interested]. It was probably a couple
years after [Richard] Nixon [U.S. President, 1968-1974] stopping it in 1969 where
it really [was] starting to sink in what was going [on], the controversy, the issues
and stuff like that.
B: What do you remember about your own reaction to that controversy? Did you
have any kind of feeling about it? Did it strike you as something that marked a
change in the way people thought about engineering or the environment, or
economics, business, the history of Florida?
V: Well, it did strike me as a change. I think at that time, my recollection would be,
I would have thought that this was a bad idea. Why was the Corps of Engineers
building a barge canal across Florida? There was a lot of potential impacts and
damages. My recollection would have been basically a negative connotation of
the barge canal and all the talk going on. There was also a recognition that
things were changing. Environmental considerations were going to be, it looked
like, given a lot more consideration in probably all facets of our life, but
specifically to projects like this. It had been, up to that point, that there was kind
of a change going on in the mood of the country. The country was changing its
values in the way it valued things over what had been through the 1950s and
B: Did that strike you as a positive thing or negative?
V: I would say at that time I would have taken it as a positive thing. Thinking about
how I thought back in those times, I would have said that was a good thing, that
was a needed thing.
B: I'm hesitating over the sequence of the questions here, but what I'm migrating
toward with these next couple of questions is in your education. You came to be
involved in the work of the Corps of Engineers, and later on, I understand, you
did a Masters' project that related specifically to the Oklawaha River project itself.
What I want to know, first of all is, what did your education and training equip you
to do that related particularly to the issues surrounding the canal project? How
did your reaction to the project and its issues unfold as you went through the
process of acquiring your professional skills and your education in your
specialty? That's a long-winded and circuitous question, but can you have a run
at any of that?
V: I'll take a shot and if you want to guide me along the way just kind of bring me
back to direction. When I went to college, at that time in environmental
engineering, I would have thought I was going to be working with water and
wastewater treatment because that was a lot of the emphasis. Environmental
engineering was sewage treatment [and] wastewater treatment. At that time, I
felt like we still had a lot of places. I mean, we weren't even doing well, probably
in this country, with sewage. We had really basic problems. The St. Johns
River was famous for being so polluted you couldn't swim in it. That's really
where I thought I'd be focusing on. It's this set of interesting coincidences or
circumstances as I reflect back on my life and other people's lives, you always
wonder; it's the things you don't plan for that probably have a greater] impact on
your life than you ever can imagine or realize.
B: Isn't that the truth.
V: In high school I never would have thought I would work for the Corps of
Engineers, because the Corps of Engineers was viewed as the black hats
[villains], an agency that caused a lot of damage. I took that job just from my
dad suggesting I take the job, but I even kind of debated, do I really want to take
this job? He said, you ought to take it, it would be a good experience for you. If
you don't like it, then it's just three months [and] you'll learn. I liked the people
here and I liked what I was doing and then got on the cooperative] program.
The other big change for me was, on the cooperative] program I had done the
water quality work for a couple of semesters, and I really wanted to do something
different. It just so happened that in the water management section they were
looking for a cooperative] student, and I went to work there. That's where I
really found my interest. I really enjoyed working for my supervisor. His name
was Carol White and he was a very good mentor to me. Plus, there were
several other people in the section that were very good mentors. They took the
time, they taught a lot of practical [things], and they taught theory to me. They
were very patient with me. I really enjoyed the water management part of it.
So, when I started going back to school, I began to say, this is what I want to
concentrate in. I took more courses in hydraulics, hydrology, water
management, and water resources. That was my real interest. That was one
of those other little coincidences or circumstances that came up. That's what I
really focused on, was doing the water management stuff. I felt like my
education was good. It helped prepare me for coming here to work in water
management. Water resources engineering and water resources management
became what I really had my interest in to work on. I felt like to be good in water
management you really had to be, in some ways, a jack of all trades. I enjoy a
lot of different subject areas. I felt it was important to understand geology. We
needed to understand meteorology, of course hydrology, and engineering, but a
lot of it had to do with politics and people. So, you had a chance to observe
people, politics, [and] social things. I've always enjoyed history from the time I
was a kid, so it allowed me to also apply history. My supervisor, he taught us
how to do research. He thought it was very important that when you came up
with solutions that you'd done your homework, that you had thought things
through, that you had done research. I learned a lot from then on how to do
research, a process to go about arriving at answers and conclusions.
I felt [that] my education helped prepare me for that. I went on a one-year intern
program where I rotated around once I got out of college in 1979, which was a
very good experience. Then, I really wanted to go work back in water
management section, work for Mr. White, but there was no vacancies at the time.
So, I went and worked for a man named Mann Davis in planning. He was
another great supervisor and mentor, very smart.
B: What was that name?
V: Mann Davis. Mann, again, was just a great teacher. [He was] very smart
person, very astute. He taught me a lot about planning and the planning
process. Carol White had an opening about a year and a half after that, so I went
back to work on water management because it was really where my interest was
and where I wanted to work. That's where I really got back involved with the
barge canal. I was involved in it some as a cooperative] student working for
Carol White because the water management section was involved in the
operations of water resource projects.
B: That's when you did things like the sampling visits out to Lake Rodman.
V: Actually, I did the sampling visit when I was working in our water quality group. I
did that for a couple of years. That's where I actually went out on the field.
Then, I went to work for Carol and the water management section. That was the
operations piece, you know, opening and closing spillway gates, doing stuff like
that. So, I had a couple years there, and I had some involvement with the barge
canal there. I have some good memories of that, of dealing with it. Once
again, it was helping other engineers out and that kind of thing. But I did work
the barge canal project at that time. Then, when I came back in 1982, working
for Carol, that's when I really got in to working with the barge canal. So, it would
be that period, professionally speaking, from 1982 until the time we turned it over
to the state, which I think was probably around 1991. Right around in there is
when I did a lot of work with the barge canal as a part of my duties.
I felt like, from a training standpoint, a water manager needed to be a specialist.
I mean you're a technical specialist because you're expected to be strong in
hydraulics, hydrology, and water resources engineering; but in order to do the job
it's not a strictly technical function. You don't just sit there and grind things out.
You have to interact with the public. You have to interact with other folks.
Water management tends to be very controversial because it's not an esoteric
exercise. When you open or close the spillway gate, there's an impact. It's
not a planning process. It's not a study. To me, it was interesting because I
found I was able to expand my horizons in a lot of different directions. I was
able, in those jobs, to really learn a lot about a lot of different things and to not
strictly be focused on engineering itself but to at least attempt to broaden my
horizons and to deal with some other factors. You get into some economic
issues, social issues. I've given you a long-winded answer to your question. I
don't know if you need to bring me back and hone me in better to your question.
B: There are a couple of details and then I'll bring you back to your master's paper.
What is hydraulics, and is that your specialty? You refer to yourself as a
specialist who has become in many ways a generalist, but how would you
identify your specialty?
V: Which is a fair question. We engineers will tend to talk in "technocratese" or what
we would call corps speak. I just have to be conscious of trying to get out of the
jargon and make it understandable. I would really see myself [as] more of a
water resource engineer. Water resources engineering is where I really could
see my specialty. As a subset of water resources engineering we have
hydrology, [which] really focuses on when the rain falls and hits the ground and it
runs off. I mean, putting it simply, it's trying to figure out and understand how
the water makes its way into the rivers or how it flows in the aquifer, in the
groundwater table. That's simply talking about hydrology. Hydraulics tends to
be, in my view, more focused on dealing with actual flow in the rivers or canals
It's another subset of water resources engineering, very focused on analyzing
There are different techniques and tools that we use. A lot of it really goes back
and forth. We tend to kind of narrow things down even more finer to a speciality.
We'll see people that are hydrologists that tend to deal with the runoff or flow in
the aquifers. Hydraulics folks are typically people that will do a hydraulic design
of spillways or canals. So, it's dealing with flow. It can be on the ground. It
can be underground. It can be in rivers and channels. I tend to kind of simply
distinguish them between whether it's that bigger picture macro-view flowing over
the ground or the very much more narrow, in some ways more analytically
driven, hydraulic type analysis. These tend to shift back and forth and they
merge. Water resources engineering incorporates these. We also get into
meteorology. A lot of time in hydrology, it's very heavily focused on statistics,
which is some of our background with trying to do that. I would tend to say, like I
said, I would be considered a hydraulic engineer for many years when I was
working, but the hydraulic engineer position encompasses a wide variety. We'll
have people doing a lot of different pieces of it. My technical specialty was that
water management piece, which is a specialty where you need to have a
background in hydrology, a background in hydraulics, meteorology. Now, water
management kind of brings all these in together to deal with operating projects.
Does that help any? Does that make any more sense?
B: Yes, that gives me and the people who consult this interview in the future a
clearer idea of your work, your profession. Tell me about your masters project
on the Oklawaha River? I think I have a sense of how you arrived at that as a
topic, but explain for the record how you came into it and what the project was.
V: When I went back to graduate school, the Army sent me back there. So,
basically, I had a year to do graduate studies. My hope was that while I was
there for that year to also get a master's degree. Now, the Army program does
not pay for a master's degree, they pay for a year of training. So, I had to lay
out a program. Here's the courses I want to take [and] here's the reasons why.
The professors at the University of Florida I had studied under when I was an
undergraduate I really had a lot of respect for, [they were] very sharp.
B: Could you name any of them?
V: I certainly can. Dr. Jim Heaney and Dr. Wayne Huber were the co-chairs of my
graduate committee. Dr. Bud Viessman was the chairman of the department at
that time. He was another practitioner I really wanted to study under. He was
another one I really wanted to work under. There was a groundwater professor
named Lou Motz, in the civil department. He also ended up serving on my
committee because I wanted to take a minor in civil engineering.
I set up my program and I wanted to get it all done in a year because I wanted to
get my degree. I had a lot of people warn me that the temptation was [to say],
oh, I'll come back and get my degree, I'll finish up my work later. They all said,
don't fall into that trap, really focus. I was able to go full-time because the Corps
was paying. So, I was able to knock all my course work out and then have the
summer to do my project. In engineering, you have an option to take a thesis or
a non-thesis option. They generally encourage people, if you're going to go on
to do a PhD, to do the thesis option. In my case, I really didn't think I was going
to go for a PhD in engineering. The non-thesis option gave me the opportunity
[to finish sooner]; I could actually get it done in that year. It had been very
difficult to finish my thesis in the year that I had. A non-thesis option doesn't
have to be as big, doesn't have to go through as much of the rigor of going
through the graduate committee for your thesis, so it was a doable option for me.
My committee was fine with that. They knew where I was coming from. In fact
they have a lot of students that do do the non-thesis option in engineering.
Then, I was trying to figure out a project to do. How do I settle on something
that I can do? So, I was talking with my [graduate committee] co-chair Jim
Heaney and he was doing work for the St. Johns River Water Management
District on the Oklawaha River basin. He knew of my experience, so I would try
to help out his graduate students working on it. I had access to the documents.
I knew a lot of the history and the background and the philosophy and design of
the project. He was really working on the piece, not the barge canal piece, but
there is a project upstream of the barge canal [that] is part of what's called the
Four River Basins Project. That was what he was working on with Lake Griffith,
Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, [and the] chain of lakes.
I would try to help his students out, and Jim and I would kind of kick around
[ideas for my project]. [I would say] I've got to come up with a project, what can I
come up with? So, I was kicking around ideas. I had another idea. In the
Corps of Engineers for our projects we now write what's called water control
manuals for the project. That contains our operating criteria, our regulations
schedule, the history of the project, the design philosophy. These are kind of
the guidance that operators will use to operate the project. Well, we hadn't done
one yet for the Oklawaha River Basin, so I had the thought, well, I can kill two
birds with one stone, the most bang for the buck. I can actually write this as my
master's report and then turn around and bring it back to the office and it's done,
and then we can turn around and publish it. So, from the Corps perspective,
they got even more value for their dollar because while I was actually doing my
graduate work I was writing a document that we needed to do anyway. Jim was
okay with that. We kind of negotiated that content, but he saw it, I think, as
useful for the work he was doing for St. Johns.
What he had me do is, which was a good thing, I had to turn in more than just
strictly the manual. He wanted me to do a literature search. I had to come up
with conclusions. There were things he made me structure in the document that
was over and above what was needed for the Corps, but that was actually a very
good thing because I really got into doing the literature search and thought about
some of the stuff. That was very helpful for me.
B: When you were employed with the Corps during this period you were in Carol
White's section again?
V: That's correct.
B: Did he have a response to this proposal? Was this something he saw as being
something that fit well with your employment, your career track with the Corps?
V: Yes, he did. In fact, what I would do is, I was able to come back up here, and
actually he let me take a lot of the files with me or make copies of stuff, so I had
the documents that I needed to do the work, old files that basically nobody was
using but had a lot of historical stuff. I was able to get and take some of them
down to Gainesville and make copies of documents. He was very supportive of
that project. He saw that as a useful exercise. So, that's how I selected my
project and defended it before I left. At that time Jim was also director of the
Florida Water Resources Research Center, so it was very kind of him to ask me
[to have my report published]. He wanted to end up publishing that as a Water
Center report, so I appreciated that, that he was willing to do that. So, it ended
up being published as a Water Center report. That's kind of how I settled on
that. I had done a couple of my in-class projects related to the Oklawaha River
for Jim's classes, so I kept building it until finishing the report.
B: What was the title of the report.
V: It was "Water Control Manual for Oklawaha River: Four River Basins Project."
B: That was published in what year.
V: [It was published in]1990.
B: The publisher was the Florida Water Resources Center?
V: [The publisher was] the Florida Water Resources Research Center.
B: Was the center based at the University of Florida?
V: That's correct. A number of these centers across the nation, I think they've
been supported by the United States Geological Survey. It's currently at the
University of Florida in the Civil Engineering Department and Lou Motz is now the
director of the Florida Water Resources Research Center.
B: Has the center published anything subsequently that addresses the Oklawaha
River basin specifically, or is your report the most recent thing?
V: I don't know. Probably there's been stuff since then, because Jim was doing
work for the Water Management District and I think several people had reports
published based on the research they were doing on the Oklawaha River.
Some [was published] prior to that and some after that, most likely, but I haven't
looked at the publication list in a while to know. That wasn't the only one that
was published on the Oklawaha. On my recollection, I think there were several
others that were published based on research.
[End side Al]
B: Your project addressed the Oklawaha River Basin. When you talk about that,
what geographic territory are you covering?
V: The project that I worked on for my master's report, I viewed that part of the
Oklawaha River Basin being upstream of, essentially, State Road 40. It had been
upstream of the Barge Canal piece. That was considered kind of the Four River
Basins project area. That would run up all the way to Lake Apopka, basically
realizing that that river flows north, so by upstream I mean to the south of State
B: Did you treat any of the geography that runs downstream, or north of State 40, as
part of your project, or any of the impacts on the basin downstream?
V: Right, I dealt with the impacts of the basin downstream because the Four River
Basins project features there had assumed that the barge canal would be
constructed and in place. I addressed in my report what was some of the
impacts and issues that were related with the Barge Canal not being completed
and the affects on the Four River Basins features that were built on the
Oklawaha River Basin.
B: At that point in time, 1989 was the year that you were actually doing this project.
What were your assumptions about the Barge Canal project? Was there still
any consideration that it might come back to life as a complete project or were
your assumptions based on the fact that it was all going to stay exactly as it was?
V: My assumptions were basically it wasn't going to be completed. I viewed it as,
okay, it's not going to be complete, so here's the impacts that I and others have
seen as a result.
B: What you see is what you got?
V: What you see is what you got, right.
B: Did you make an assumptions at all with respect to the existence of the Rodman
Dam and the lock structure downstream on the Oklawaha River?
V: I didn't, because that was too far downstream to have any affects on the four
river basins features that I was looking at.
B: What was the general thrust of your report then, your project? What conclusion
did you say you migrated toward with that project?
V: [Do you mean] in terms of the report itself for the Four River Basins?
B: Yes, and put it in the context of the management of the basin.
V: That's an interesting question because really the big part of my project report
was the actual manual itself, written in the standpoint of a traditional Corps of
Engineers manual. The part where I really dealt with my conclusions were
related more to my literature review where I talked about a general perspective of
trends that I saw in the water management area, the importance of having
operating manuals to operate projects by. So, a lot of my conclusions seemed
like [they] were not related specifically to the Four River Basins project. There
were more conclusions on water management in general that I kind of concluded
from doing the report and then my literature search. I really feel that the report
itself, the bulk of it on the project, was very much oriented toward a technical
report, here's what the details are. When Jim had me do a summary and
conclusions it was more of the generic, the bigger picture as I saw the world of
water management from not just a project level but a more of a big-picture level.
B: There has been a considerable amount of work, as I understand it, and you know
more about this, but as I understand it there has been a considerable amount of
restoration effort directed toward that river basin, lake restoration projects and
that sort of thing. Did you address those restoration projects in there [the
V: I talked about them in there, but more talking about them as other projects going
on in the basin. Whatever was going on at that time that I was aware of, in the
water management district, I listed those projects that I was aware of. Of
course, they've done a lot more since then, since the time of doing my report.
B: Have there been changes in the direction of those projects that would affect your
report the way you authored it in 1990?
V: Yes, probably some, because there's been some areas that now are storage
areas, things that have come on-line that may have changed some of the
thinking but probably not a lot I would say.
[pause in tape]
B: We've talked about your master's project with respect to the Oklawaha River
basin. I guess I would ask if you would have anything that you want to add to
that discussion about the relationship between your master's project and the
legacy of the canal. You did your project with the assumption that there would
be no canal project. Is there any relationship now between what we see as the
history of the canal or its historical place in Florida, society, in questions to do
with hydrology, or do you think you pretty much can draw a line between the
canal's legacy and the project that you did?
V: I'm not quite sure how to answer that question.
B: Give it some thought. We can come back to that.
V: I'll try to think about that and we'll come back to that.
B: Let that one rest for the moment. Let me ask you to talk, if you can, about this.
You came to your education with, as you have said, sort of some sensitivity to
the environmental impacts of things like the canal project and a sensitivity that
society was changing in its opinion of how environmental issues relate to the way
we do things such as engineering projects, the way we do building in general,
development, humans' use of our natural resources. Then, you embarked on a
professional career reinforced by an academic preparation for that career, an
ongoing engagement with the academic aspect of it, that really centers on the
human effect on the environment. Has that changed your perspective with
regard to the environmental movement that you saw emerging in your formative
years in high school, and we've said that was around 1969, 1970, 1971,
with1971 being the year the canal project was de-authorized by President Nixon?
Has your experience with the Corps affected your philosophy of those things?
V: I would say, yes, and part of it, I think, might just be age. Part of it is the work
I've done, projects I've worked on, and where I really see it. When I was in high
school and college, I tended to see things more black and white, it's this or it's
this. Since I worked on the Barge Canal, it comes from working on Everglades'
issues and issues in South Florida that I see things a lot more in shades of gray.
Like I said, part of that is experience and part of it's age. Part of it is just
experience, in things I've worked on. I realize I can go back and look at things
now. I can look at opinions I may have held twenty years ago, not specifically
my opinion in high school, I just mean on a lot of things. [I can] say I've learned a
lot more, I see things a little bit differently than I did. I definitely think my
opinions have changed. Probably in high school I would have thought
everything about the Barge Canal was environmentally bad based on my
experience working on the Barge Canal. I think that was too simplistic a view of
the project. Some of that has changed. Yes, I definitely think my views have
been affected by working here and just working on a lot of the different projects
that I have worked on.
B: Can you think of any specifics about the canal project itself that would fit into that
shift in your point of view or your philosophy?
V: I probably would have thought that Lake Oklawaha or Rodman Reservoir [had]
no environmental value to it when I was in high school. Now, I can look at it and
say there is some environmental value. I mean, there's a wetland there, there's
fisheries there. To me it's probably more of a choice with Rodman. Well, what
kind of environment do you want there? Do you want a reservoir kind of
environment with a lot of hydrilla and trees, or would you prefer a free-flowing
river environment? I think some of it now comes down more to not just strictly
technical choices but more social choices. It's the value different individuals
would place on something. In high school I probably would have thought there
would be no environmental value to Rodman. Having worked around it, been
around it, seen a lot of it, [I can] say, yes, there is some value to it. It's not an
environmental desert, but it has its problems, it has issues, it's not what was
there before when it was a free-flowing river. So, it's a different kind of
environment with pros and cons and good choices and bad choices. That's one
example. I think maybe some of the groundwater issues might have been
probably hyped a little bit in the media, of being maybe a little bit over simplified
and oversold. I thought the USGS [United States Geological Survey] did a good
report on groundwater issue, Faulkner's report.
B: What year was that?
V: That would have been probably in the 1960s or early 1970s. There's some of
B: When you say groundwater issues, what are you referring to?
V: Well, issues of groundwater contamination, impacts on the aquifer, concerns
about the canal being cut across through the aquifer and some of those issues.
B: You have reached a point where you consider that perhaps there's not as much
certainty to the criticism that was a threat to the aquifer during the project.
V: It's not even so much that, it's just realizing what I would read in the media when
I was in high school is a little bit different than when I would read the technical
report. It doesn't mean it's still not a problem or issue, but I found things I would
read in high school when you really pick at it, when you read the technical reports
you get a little bit different perceptive understanding. Things that I would have
seen would have been more of the technical media stuff, what was in the media.
Later on, I got a chance to read the technical reports. I'm not saying it was a
problem or an issue, but it's not as simple. So, that's one of probably my biggest
things. There's an old saying around here. It seems like I work on a lot of
complex problems. There's an old saying: complex problems usually have
simply, easy-to-understand, wrong answers. So, that's a rule of engineering I
learned many years later. In school, I thought everything had an answer, and
my experience is, it's not that way. That's my point. I haven't looked at a lot of
those reports in many years, I just felt like when I read the reports, it's just not
quite as simple as maybe everybody makes it out to be. There's uncertainties
here. I found it better reading the reports than reading just what I would read,
say maybe in the general media. I got insights from reading the reports. You
have to simplify things here, but there you can get a little more into the details.
B: You're a hydrologist by profession, is that a fair statement?
V: Well, [I'm] a water resource engineer.
B: So, the ground water issues really are the things, correct me if I'm wrong, those
are aspects with which you have the highest level of familiarity or in depth
familiarity? Is that right?
V: Well, really from my experience, what I have the most familiarity with is actually
the operations of the dams and the locks, the actual day-to-day operations.
That's really where my experience is at, that's what I have the familiarity with.
B: We're going to get to that in a moment, but, I guess, before we leave this line of
questioning. You speculated that the ground water issues that were raised by
environmental critics in the project are more complicated than perhaps the
popular understanding is. Are there other aspects of the project that think are
also similarly more complicated or misunderstood?
V: Well, I think some of the issues revolving around Rodman probably are not as
simple as everybody makes it, and you see the spectrum from both sides. I
guess, my general observation is just a lot of times I don't think everything is as
simple as everybody tries to make it. Like I said, I haven't really looked at a lot
of the stuff in ten or fifteen years. That was just kind of my impression from that
and more, especially from work I continue to do in water resources issues, that
it's that way.
B: Before we get to the operational aspects of the existing structures, tell me if you
can, keeping in mind of course that I am a lay person and most of the people
who consult this interview will be lay persons, but what would you say are the
more complicated dimensions of the ground water issues to do with the project
that you think have been rendered too simplistically. What do you mean?
V: If you dig the canal, are there going to be water quality impacts on the aquifer?
Is that a given? Can you deal with that? What about the impacts on Silver
Springs? Can you deal with that? Is that a solvable problem? Is it a big
problem? What about impacts on the ground water table around the canal?
B: Now, those were questions that people brought up with considerable energy,
going all the way back to the 1930s when the Ship Canal project was proposed.
The concerns that were raised with respect to the Ship Canal seemed in the
minds of many to have been addressed or ameliorated by the less
topographically intrusive Barge Canal project with its system of locks that brought
traffic up to a higher elevation as it crossed the peninsula. Of course, historians
hate to ask the what if things had been different questions because history is
history, what you see if what you get. But what if the project were to, for some
reason that we can't imagine right now, come back to life? Would you say that
those hydrologic issues and ground water issues could be addressed and
negotiated in a way that was responsible to the environment and to the needs of
all the users of the environment?
V: That's an interesting question. I guess, for so many years I've had the mind set
that it's not going to happen, so why even think about it. It's done, it's over.
Even back in those days, I mean, back when I was working on the project in the
1980s and early 1990s, to me as an observer the trend was, it's not going to get
built, it's not going to have.
B: That was the feeling even then?
V: [That was the feeling] even before it was de-authorized. Even in those days I
wasn't thinking so much about was it going to be finished. We were just dealing
with what we've got left. How do we manage it? How do we operate it? How
do we deal with it? It's never going to be built. I hadn't really thought much
about that kind of a question because I've never really thought too strongly that
that was every going to happen. A general observation is, yes, it probably can
be. One, you'd have to address it, that would be the first thing. You couldn't
build it without addressing it. Two, technically-wise it probably can be dealt with.
Some of it comes down to risk and uncertainty. How much risk do people really
want to accept? Some of it's cost. How much do you want to spend?
B: All it takes is money [laughing].
V: Well, yes, but then you start weighing [whether it's] worth it. Why would I put
precious investment dollars in this, spend all this money for no return? Why
would you do that? So, that's a hard question because I've thought for so long
that it's done, it's over, it's never going to happen, you don't even have to think
B: Well, moving on then to a discussion of the operational side of the lot, let me ask
you this first. We touched basically on some of the geographic aspects of the
region when we talked about your master's project on the Oklawaha River Basin.
The canal project, overall, is something that you dealt with professionally at both
ends and it crosses the peninsula from near Yankee Town on the Gulf of Mexico
coast to near Palatka on the St. Johns River. Do you divide the project up
geographically, and, if so, how? Where do you draw the boundaries between
the segments of the project?
V: In my mind, yes, I do divide them. I would divide them by river basin. In my
way of thinking, I think of the Oklawaha River Basin and then Rodman Reservoir.
Then, on the west side I think of the Withlacoochee River and Inglis Dam and
Lake Rousseau. So, that's how I, as a water resource type person, I think in
terms of water basin. That's how I would divide them.
B: You had operational responsibilities in both places professionally?
V: That's correct, yes.
B: What were the differences between those places as far as its impact on your
work, your responsibilities?
V: Some of the basins have some similarities. I would say in many ways Lake
Rousseau and Inglis Dam was a lot tougher one to operate, because with
Rodman really you didn't have a bunch of people living around the reservoir.
Most of that land had been acquired, so you didn't have as much in the way of
people issues, trying to deal with people right on the reservoir. Rodman was
constrained by having that old injunction. It really limited flexibility. I think the
original injunction said you had to keep the reservoir at eighteen, and then they
would go back to the judge [asking], can we do a draw down. So, I found that
often times that was a constraint to operate with. There was a legal component
to that, so [we would have to figure out] what authority did we have to do to vary
our operations. I know that Dave Bowman a lot of times really would like to try to
use a bigger range of fluctuation on Rodman Reservoir, like maybe take it up to
twenty [or] take it down lower. We actually were able to do some draw downs
on the lake strictly for environmental purposes. I felt like [at] Rodman we
probably could have done more strictly for managing the lake for the lake itself,
but we had some technical and legal issues with the draw downs, but we were
able to do them.
A big one we did was the one in 1985, I guess, after the fish kill, and then, I think,
we did several more after that trying to deal with managing the lake, more for
managing for the lake. So, that caused a constraint. I would say the Inglis side
was tougher because that was already an existing reservoir that we took over
from Florida Power Corporation. You already had a lot of people living around it.
It had unusual things like the lower river channel. I think we had designed it [so
that it would] just discharge down the Barge Canal channel from the river and
that was going to cut the lower river channel off. That was a big issue from the
standpoint of saltwater intrusion, cutting off the lower [channel] down toward
Yankeetown. We ended up building the bypass structure, so we had kind of an
interesting combination of structures there to operate with.
B: When was the bypass structure built?
V: It was built right around the time when all that was completed. I want to say
probably the late 1960s. A lot of this is documented in the design reports. I
even have stuff here that we could look at afterwards, if you want to, that has a
little more of the history. That made it tough. Another operational nightmare
was during flood situations. The reservoir creates what we call in hydraulics, a
backwater effect. The water surface profile is raised upstream of the reservoir
due to the reservoir itself. It's easier to draw a picture than it is to try to tell it in an
interview. That would cause, during high flow conditions, flooding upstream in
Dunnellon. As an operational strategy, we would draw Lake Rousseau down in
order to reduce the backwater effect at Dunnellon to keep from exceeding the
flood stage at Dunnellon. That was always a tricky operation because the
people living on the lake were not happy when the lake was drawn down,
because it affected their navigational access. We were caught between people
on the lake being affected by the lake being drawn down to try to avoid flooding
the people upstream.
B: When you talk about the relationship between the people who live around Lake
Rousseau and your management of the lake for flood control purposes, you
mentioned that you took over the lake and the dam structure, not you personally
but the Corps in its administration of the project. You took it over from Florida
Power, so the lake and the dam actually had a pretty considerable history going
back, as I understand it, until the very early decades of the twentieth century.
V: I think it was actually a phosphate company that built the dam back in the early
1900s, so it does go way back.
B: The growth and residential use around the lake occurred, starting in earnest, in
the late 1960s and accelerated, as most Florida growth did, during the decade of
the 1970s. Do you think that the fact that people really sort of started using the
lake as a residential resource or recreational resource then affected their
expectations about the lake? It sounds as though they've got expectations
about the reliability about its water level that really don't have much to do with the
historical fluctuations in the lake. Is that true, or did Florida Power pretty much
just let the spill way and the dam and nature take its course with respect to
flooding further up the Withlacoochee?
V: That's a good question. I have this perception that I've looked at some records
in the past where I think maybe Florida Power did draw the lake down for flood
control, but I'm really not sure. I would have to go back and look at it. There
are some records available. DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]
might have a lot of their old records. What happened is, a lot of the published
water records don't start until the 1960s when we started paying the USGS
[United States Geological Survey] to run the records. I don't think it's that easy.
You can't actually go into the USGS and find the lake level data. You'd have to
actually get the records from Florida Power. I keep thinking that they did draw it
down, but I don't know. I would want to verify that.
B: What did you hear from people on Lake Rousseau when you were involved with
responding to those conflicts?
V: Well, like I said, they would not be happy. They would be very dissatisfied
because it affected their ability to recreate. You'd have fish camps where
people couldn't get out and go fishing on the lake, so it was having impact on
businesses and people.
B: How radical of a draw down are you talking about?
V: Usually for there the normal pool elevation at Inglis was about twenty-seven and
a half feet about mean sea level, which really we would call in our term National
Geodetic Vertical Datum plane, but, for the general audience, above mean sea
level. We'd usually be talking about drawing the lake down maybe no more than
about elevation twenty-four. So, it was anywhere between two to three and a
half feet of draw down, which may not sound like a lot, but when you're down in a
flat area, a couple of feet makes a big difference. That has an impact. That's
the kind of draw down we would be talking about in order to reduce those flood
impacts upstream. It actually happened pretty frequently. I went back and
looked at some old notes that I had, and it was probably every three or four years
[that] we had to draw down the reservoir for flood situations. Ironically, they're
in that situation now over there. There's a little minor flood on the
Withlacoochee River, so whoever is operating it now ... Is it DEP?
B: I think it's the Water Management District.
V: [It may be] the Southwest [Water Management District]. Southwest may be
facing this as we're doing this interview. The flows are coming up, so they may
have a decision to make. I don't know how they're operating it now, whether
they do draw the reservoir down to prevent that impact at Dunnellon.
We have another issue where people way upstream, say up at State Road 200
or even further upstream, would attribute their flooding to the reservoir. So, we
would have to try to explain [that] the backwater effect from the reservoir doesn't
extend indefinitely upstream. At some point the backwater effect becomes
essentially zero or minimal from the reservoir. Then, the river levels are
controlled by whatever is going on, that the cross-section of the river there is not
influenced anymore by the reservoir. So, we have that going on during the
floods where people way upstream would be saying, hey, your reservoir has
blocked up the river and it's causing this flooding. So, [we would be] trying to
explain to people, no, you're outside the influence of the reservoir. It's what's
going on in the river there, it has nothing to do with the reservoir. We would
have that kind of going on. It was a tough thing also from the standpoint of
recreation because there would be weed problems and a lot of snags and
stumps. It was a tough reservoir to get around, so you had that going on.
I think another thing that we did from the Corps standpoint that was hard for this
project was, being in the limbo that it was, it was kind of like, well, what's going to
happen to the reservoir, what's going to happen to the project. So, a lot of times
I think there were some limitations on how much you could really do from a
management standpoint because you couldn't finish things maybe you needed to
finish. An important thing over there was to hire a park ranger at Inglis to try to
help out with managing the resource over there. I thought that was a good
move when that was done, to try to deal more with the local folks and the public
over there. That's kind of some of my thoughts, I guess, maybe, about Inglis.
Then Inglis gets tricky because people downstream of the bypass spillway, there
on the title reach of the Yankeetown and Inglis, and we tried to operate the
bypass spillway when there was a storm surge. We tried to reduce the flows
through the bypass spillway to reduce the impacts on the people downstream
during a storm surge situation, but you had to be real careful because if you did it
wrong, if the tide went out, then we could put their boats on the ground. That
made some interesting things for management during hurricanes and even
noreasters [strong northeastern winds], how we would try to cut the flows back
there and then we could ship it out the main spillway out through the Barge Canal
channel where it wouldn't impact people. We would generally cut back maybe
to 300 cubic feet per second at the bypass spillway to try to not make it any
worse for the folks that were living there in Yankeetown and Inglis along the
whole river channel.
B: It's very, very complicated business you're in. There are meteorological impacts
and human use impacts, demand, and factors. All of that's sort of layered on
top of the hydrologic and hydraulic issues that maybe seem more routine than
day to day, but it makes it all pretty complicated. I can see where you come to
be the generalist, I guess, that you referred to earlier.
Florida Power created a dam in a lake there sometime before the Corps came
into the picture. The Corps engineered a spillway and a much more
sophisticated dam and lock set of structures there. Now, if we conclude, as I
think everybody has, that the canal is not going to be built, are there issues that
are peculiar to the dam and lock the way they were engineered in the 1960s that
complicate the management that continued operation and management of Lake
Rousseau and that watershed? I guess, what I'm wondering is, do you see
there being a need for structural changes in that end of the system that would
make management of all these complicated issues we've talked about more
V: Well, one thing that comes to mind, I'm sure people have struggled with this one,
is, what do you do in terms of maintaining navigation and boat traffic on the river?
You don't need this huge lock.
B: What are the dimensions of that lock? Do you recall it?
V: I could look them up in here, but it's huge.
B: It's about 600 feet long, as I recall, by whatever a couple of barges width is,
somewhere around 100 feet or so. It's a big structure.
V: You have that issue of what do you do. You have an impediment to navigation
on the river with the dam, but can you really afford to operate a big lock? Do
you need to operate a big lock? I'm sure people have been struggling with that,
what to do. I don't know what they decided to do with that, but that's one issue.
B: They've done nothing yet, but there is a struggle.
V: Some people might advocate just close the lock and people can portage around
the dam, and others would say, can we replace it with something smaller and
more efficient, and probably others would say, no, maintain the lock. So, that's
at least some of what comes to mind.
B: As I understand it then, from your point of view the lock really serves no function
other than navigational, and you could manage the resources effectively just with
the dam and spillway.
V: What the lock does give you is, that in an emergency there is a procedure that
could be used to discharge water through the lock, for example if for some
reason we had problems with the spillway gates at the main spillway. We have
done this and there is a procedure set out to where you can use the lock in an
emergency. It's rarely, if ever, used. I don't know if we've used it at Inglis. I
think we might have used it at Rodman before. So, that's there in my mind. I
don't know if that provides a strong rationale for keeping it because that's not it's
intended function. It's not intended to discharge water from the lake in an
emergency, but we're always looking for backup plans. We figured, yes, it can
be [done] and here's how we could do it. We wouldn't recommend doing it, but
it could [be done].
Some other things that come to mind there would be there's always going to be
this dilemma with the flooding stuff upstream, because the Barge Canal channel,
in theory the idea was, that would provide sufficient capacity through the
Dunnellon area to where you wouldn't have to draw the reservoir down to prevent
the flooding upstream. So, that's one of those unintended consequences of not
completing it. [What] was going to take care of that problem, our designers
thought, well, now you don't have that. That's an issue dealing with that.
Probably [we had] some geotechnical issues. Geotechnical deals with seepage
and stability, earth-type things. There's been issue with seepage there at the
dam over the years. I know we did some emergency work, I want to say
probably in the 1960s, with grouting and stuff. Our geotechnical people have
kept an eye on seepage problems at the dam. I don't know what the final
outcome was. In the future, you've got to continue to do monitoring and
maintenance work on the filters. You just can't walk away from it, because you
don't want to have problems develop at the dam. You've got to keep your
spillway gates operational. You've got to maintain your inspections of the dam,
make sure there's no problems and stuff like that.
Let's see what else [we deal with]. I guess, the question would be what do you do
with the Barge Canal downstream of the dam? I mean, do people want to try to
restore that in any shape, form, or fashion? It has some value from the
standpoint of making] high releases through the main spillway through there and
not really cause flooding impacts on people like it used to be downstream of the
old dam. See, under the old dam, when they released water through the Inglis
dam, it went down the lower river channel through Yankeetown and Inglis. Now,
those people have gotten an unexpected reduction in flood conditions, because,
historically, if we had a flood, Florida Power would have to release all that water
straight down the old river channel. So, they'd have a storm surge [and] here
would come water on top of it. Now, we can divert it all through the Barge Canal
channel and help reduce the flood impacts in Inglis.
B: So, on the lower river, they have become accustomed to a very nicely managed
V: Well, they may not say it's nicely managed, they may have a different opinion,
but they have gotten accustomed to [our managing the flood levels]. They'd still
get flooded out with a storm surge, but it could be worse. It's not as bad as it
could have been, and they've probably become used to that. For all that I know,
there may be people living there that have no idea, because how many people
go back that far or would know? They would be surprised if suddenly you
discharged all the water down the old river channel. They could be in for a
shock. I haven't been down there in years, but typically what happens is, people
might tend to encroach down on the river with docks and things because it
doesn't get that high. That would be a thing. I wonder what people want to do
with the old Barge Canal channel. Do they want to try to fill it in? Do they want
to restore it? Do they want to put weirs in it? What do you do with it? Do you
just leave it the way it is now or do you try to do something? You don't need that
Barge Canal channel anymore, so what do you do with it? It does have some
value or some uses from the standpoint of some of the way you operate stuff. I
would think people would want to at least be cognizant of that, and at least
acknowledge it or address it, or just say we're going to change it anyway and put
it back the way it was, but at least realize that there is something there. That's
some of the few things that come to mind, I guess.
B: What about on the other end on the Oklawaha River Basin area, the Rodman
Dam area? We've talked a little bit about the fact that the Rodman Reservoir has
really sort of matured into an ecosystem in its own right, now at this point, of
fisheries and recreational resource. The flood issues are different there, as you
had said, because there is not as much residential use around there. Are flood
control issues really pretty much noncontroversial at that end anymore, at this
V: I would say, yes. I can't think of anything that really comes to mind from a
flooding issue because [of], like I said, what the state has in terms of land and, I
guess, for that matter, the forest service has. I can't really think of a big flooding
issue that's there. Now, I assume the state has a flexibility to manage it over a
much wider range of water levels, which I assume that they do. They no longer
are constrained by the injunction and stuff like that, so they probably have more
flexibility to manage it for different reasons. [There's] the same question with the
lock. What do you do about the lock? What do you do about navigation?
B: The issue there, apparently, has more historical consequence because the
Oklawaha River does have history in having been used for some commercial
navigation. As someone with a personal history in Florida and a sense of history
as a Floridian, do you have any opinions about the navigational issues there or is
it meaningful to your way of thinking to maintain it as a waterway that's got the
potential for navigation? How far would you go?
V: Oh, that's a good one. Both the Oklawaha and the Withlacoochee River have
Corps authorized navigation projects on it from many years ago. The Oklawaha
project must have been [from] the early 1900s. It was a small project. I mean,
we're talking small stuff here. The Withlacoochee River was authorized
probably in the late 1800s. In fact, I have a lot of the old annual reports and the
House [of Representatives] or Senate documents that went with those project.
B: Yes, we'll have to talk about those documents, but that's something that I was
not aware of.
V: I know these questions have come up in the past. I don't know how our district
engineers responded to them. I don't know what our current policy or position
is. I think, in the past they kicked around [the question], okay, so we have these
authorized projects, what does that mean? How do you deal with that? In
other words, does somebody want to de-authorize that and say there's no longer
a federal interest in the navigation there? I've heard some other people say,
that doesn't mean you have to keep a lock operating all the time, that to maintain
the federal navigation channel perhaps it's once a week, perhaps it's once a
month. I've heard some of these kinds of discussions in the past, but that is
something that has been brought up before.
Realize these are small projects. I mean a lot of them involve snagging and
clearing, there might be a little bit of dredging, so these are not authorizations for
huge navigation projects. They really, in my view, reflected the time that people
were doing logging. They were seeing log rafts or there was steam boating
going on. In fact, talking about the personal interest, I've found that one of my
mother's uncles served on steamboats on the Oklawaha River in the early 1900s.
In fact, he was the engineer on the Metamora that sank in the Oklawaha River
and had a couple people drown.
B: Yes, that was a famous incident. Are there any mementos, recollections,
memoirs, journals, anything from him?
V: [No] not from him. I have found the newspaper articles from that time period. I
wish I had some of the stuff. It ended up, I found that he was in the 1910
census. He was living in Palatka and he listed his occupation as a steamboat
captain, so I guess he must have made captain. Anyway, that's off the point for
what we're talking about here.
So, that was kind of the focus of the discussion. That Withlacoochee report
talked about phosphate had been discovered, as I recall, so there was some
phosphate out. Realize these are small scale type projects. So, you've got that
piece of it. Just my own personal view is, I would hope that navigation could be
maintained, because it's not so much that you have what I would call commercial
navigation now, it's just that people like to recreate and they like to be able to
boat. Probably your commercial navigation now involves the people that maybe
run tours on rivers. You've got the people that want to fish and want to be able
to go back and forth. I would hope, as I said, from a personal standpoint, that
some kind of access along the river could be maintained. The tricky part is, how
do you do it and how do you be cost effective, and there's probably a lot of
different ways to get there.
B: Do you think that the management issues, with respect to those resources at
either end of the project, are going to be changing in the future or are the issues
that we face now pretty much what the state will be facing as time goes on? Do
you perceive any changing dynamics to the management questions?
V: Not that I can see, but just observing history of water resource projects in Florida
I would say yes they'll change. Something will change over time. I'll take an
example down in south Florida. Who would have foreseen the impact of the
Cuban Revolution (1952-58) and Fidel Castro [Premier and President of Cuba,
1959-present] and the impact on the Everglades agricultural areas? When they
were doing the planning for that project in 1948 and they wrote that report, who
could have realized the impact that would have had on the project? Our C&SF
[Central and Southern Florida] project, our people estimated maybe 2 million
people would be living in Florida. I don't remember the exact numbers, [but it
was estimated that] maybe 2 million in the year 2000, [but] there was 7 million in
the area. Just appreciating history, I look back and, I'm sure there are things
that are coming that I don't know about or I can't see that will have an impact.
B: Never say never.
V: We talked about your work you're doing on Tampa. I mean, I think a major
impact on Florida was air conditioning. So, I've given you a long-winded
answer, but there's probably something out there. Some of the things were
changed. I do notice that a lot of the times we do deal with the same issues
over and over again, so I think a lot of the same issues will still be there. The
curious one to me is, what's going to be the fate of Rodman Reservoir? That's a
big one to me that will have a lot of impact on what finally ends up happening in
B: Are you settled in your mind as far as your convictions about what ought to be
done with the Reservoir? This is a controversy that's going on. What do you
V: Well, I'm going to waffle on you and say I don't have a strong feeling either way.
I see both sides of this debate. I really think it almost comes down to your
values question. Which value does society place the most on? I see the value
of it from a recreational and fishery standpoint. It's got value from an
environmental standpoint, but I see the other point of view of it's not what the
river was there historically. Can we put it back? We're doing other restoration
work in the state of Florida. We're redoing the Kissimmee River, we're redoing
the Everglades, so society has valued those in a way to say, yes, it is important
to restore those and to try to put them back the way they were.
Like I said, I can see it from both sides. I mean part of me would like to see it
the way it used to be, as a historic river. It's interesting in reading some of the
old annual reports. When you read [of] officers doing their surveys in the late
1800s, it's interesting hearing them talk about it, or looking at old pictures, or
reading some of the old accounts of going along the Oklawaha River. What a
fascinating place, the back and forth, the twist and turns, the cypress. How
about that for a waffle for you?
B: I wouldn't call it a waffle, but it's faithful to what you have expressed. There's
not much in life that comes down clearly into sharp black and white focus.
[End side A2]
B: This is tape B from the Jim Vearil interview on July 17, 2003 at his office at the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville. We just concluded with the
discussion of Mr. Vearil's assessment of the debate over Oklawaha restoration,
the restoration of the Rodman Reservoir. He put that in a context. You were
talking, Jim, about some of the other really major restoration projects that Florida
has undertaken [such as] the Kissimmee River Valley project and the Everglades
Project, which you're involved with professionally today. I wonder if you have
anything to say by way of broad opinion or interpretive comment about the
relationship between science and policy. What comes to projects like this?
V: Wow, you hit on an interesting topic for me that I struggle with quite frequently. I
could go on for a long time probably about this. I have to be focused on my
B: If you can put a focus on it, I would ask that you try to aim the focus toward the
Canal Project and what we now we wind up with as the people of Florida own
this ribbon of land all the way across the peninsula. The fact that they do really
is complicated by this tension between changes in policy and changes in science
and changes in the way people interpret those, people who are neither policy
makers nor scientists.
V: Some of my thoughts on that would be [that] this is a difficult topic. I think
people have a tendency to think of science as being black or white. In fact, it's
interesting you ask this. I'm reading a book right now by Thomas Kuhn. He
wrote a book about how scientific revolutions take place. I'm intrigued by what
he talks about because I've read some of [what] people have said about his
theories and I'm trying to actually get into his book and read it. Kuhn seems to
be arguing that scientific revolutions don't occur the way we think of them, like
the scientist are very apolitical, no impact on social values, they just go in a room
and they analyze the data and everybody reaches a conclusion and science
marches on. From what people have written about his work, the impression I get
is, he writes more that scientists are like everybody else. They are affected by
their values, their perspectives, societal influences. He tends to think science
occurs as a revolution. In fact, he's accredited with coming up with the word
paradigm and paradigm shift; it's attributed to him in some of these articles. He
gives examples like people used to think the sun revolved around the Earth and
everybody believed that, and it took a revolutionary scientist to argue, no it's the
other way around. Eventually, the other school overtakes the school of thought
that was en vogue, that was the accepted school. So, he says it really takes
revolutionaries to come in and break it. So, I've been thinking a lot about that in
terms of science.
Some of my other stuff comes from one of my other favorites, a person named
William Lord. He wrote several good articles, in my view, in the 1970s about
water resource issues. Also, our folks up at our Institute of Water Resources
[wrote good articles]. So many of the projects I work on, and the Barge Canal is
this way too, [are controversial]. What is about water projects that have so
much controversy, particularly here in Florida? I used to joke, I've worked on so
many lawsuits; every action we took provoked a lawsuit. Everybody ran to the
court and litigated and everything, and there's all this controversy. To me, part
of the problem with dealing with controversy is, William Lord talks about this, the
guy at IWR [Institute of Water Resources] talks about this, people have a hard
time separating [things]. Often times we couch things as argument over the
data. For example, Rodman Reservoir is bad water quality [or] no, Rodman
Reservoir is good water quality. Rodman is a good fishery, no it's a bad fishery.
We tend to argue things like, here's the data, how come people can't see this is
what the data shows? Bill Lord argues that many conflicts, you have to
understand when you're arguing over data or when you're really arguing over
values, when you're arguing over essentially positions. There's like four things
that they catagorize.
Jerry Delli Priscoli at IWR has written a lot on conflict, so I've read a lot about
conflict, and I think what tends to happen is, people don't understand what
they're really arguing for, I think, a lot of times. They want to argue the data
says this, and it's really about my values that leads me to examine the data in a
certain way to reach certain conclusions. So, that's part of what I see as what I
think needs to be better understood. I see too many conflicts where managers
are frustrated because they feel like technical folks can't agree. [They say] you're
just working with the data, it's just a model, why can't you agree? In reality,
often times they're not arguing over the technical details, or if they are, it's
because they have a different value structure. They see the world in a different
way, they attack the problem in a different perspective. Technical folks, I think,
have a hard time understanding that. They see it as a technical issue, probably
don't even realize they have value or interest conflict, and that's why they see the
world in a way.
I think decision makers and managers often times don't want to deal with the
hard choices. What I see is that if there's a hard choice people don't really want
to make that hard choice, so they do what I call kick[ing] the can down the road
or they punt. There's a tendency sometimes to shift that back to technical
people and say, well, you guys just go in a room and solve this. They don't want
to face the hard decision or hard choice. In fairness to the managers and policy
people, often times we technical people don't articulate things very well, we don't
give them what they really need, or we don't really do the job they ask us to do
and be the technical piece. We have our own agenda, our own interest in mind.
A lot of this is probably subconscious, I think, so that different people look at it
differently and reach a different conclusion.
So, this is a very interesting topic that I've thought a lot about. I see a lot. I
mean I've been involved with the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow nightmare down
in south Florida. I've seen a lot of the lawsuits. It's something that we're trying
to work with in south Florida with, how do you incorporate science into this?
How do you deal with policy makers? I saw some good presentations on this at
the Greater Everglades [Ecosystem] Restoration Conference, the GEER
Conference, a couple months ago where there was a session on this issue.
This is really mostly scientists, but they brought in some policy makers and talked
about this. Somebody from the University of Florida came and spoke. [He was]
one of our keynote speakers, [but] I can't remember his name right now.
I'm giving you a lot of big picture stuff, but I think there needs to be more thought
given to this. I think there's really something here with this science versus policy
[issue], or the interaction of science and policy and how you deal with it and do it.
How do we ask the right questions and how do we have the right people?
Sometimes there's a tendency, I think, for politicians to try to do science and
scientists to do policy. How do you separate these out? How do you get the
right people into the right box? How do you do this interface? A big change
I've seen, particularly with the Corps, is a lot more focus, and I think it's a good
thing, for these multi-disciplinary teams inter-agency approaches. I think, for
years in the Corps we kind of had [the mentality of] we're the Corps, we know
what we're doing, here it is, here's the plan. Now, I see a lot more efforts toward
trying to bring people in, trying to build [relationships]. You can't be just a bunch
of engineers deciding this, you need a wide range of disciplines. You need
biologists, you need economists, well, we've used economists in the past;
sociologists, or whatever it takes to come up with a better answer. There's a lot,
I think, going on with how you bring a lot of this into the effort. I guess you want
me to kind of focus maybe on the Barge Canal. I kind of got on my soap now.
B: Well, you anticipated and answered the follow-up question I had, which was, how
you see a large, technically-oriented institution like the Corps responding to the
demands of these complications or the friction or the tension between hard data,
science, and policy making, and the politics of human use and that sort of thing?
So, that anticipated that question well. Do you see anything that you would add
to that with respect to the canal project itself as work? That segues into a
question that I wanted to get to eventually, which is, how would you hope to see
the Greenway treated by Floridians in the future?
V: Other thoughts specifically for maybe helping with the Barge Canal [question]
would be, DEP is very involved in the Everglades restoration efforts, so I'm sure
they're familiar with at least some of the strategies there, the [following] things.
Do you have groups that have a lot of disciplines here involved on the efforts for
the Greenway? Do you have a lot of agency involvement? What about
stakeholder involvement? How do you incorporate that involvement? How
stakeholders feel that they're part of the process and they're not just reacting
things that agencies produce? I'm not saying this is easy. We still, I think,
struggle to get this right. In getting stakeholder involvement to where they feel
like they're part of the process, how do you use committees, task forces? I'm
not sure what all is envisioned for doing this.
Another technique that's very en vogue right now that we're trying to apply is this
concept that's very important to the restoration effort, [it] is adaptive
management, where we recognize we don't know all the answers, that we're
working with incomplete information and knowledge. So, you try to structure
your processes to build on that uncertainty, to say, I want my solutions to be
flexible, I want to monitor, and I want to be able say ten years from now, you
know, really we've learned since then, now, we really want to try this. That's a
philosophy. Steve Light from the University of Minnesota has been very
involved in this. There's a group called the Adaptive Management Consortium,
or whatever, practitioners that are doing a lot of this. That's kind of where I see
a lot of things heading, and that appeals to me.
In fact Buzz Hollings who was at the university, he's retired now, he lives over in
Cedar Key, is one of the pioneers of adaptive management, environmental stuff.
I went to several of his workshops back in the 1990s. It's appealing to me
because, once again, to put it in this history context, one of the things I see a lot
about the history of projects is the famous law of unintended consequences.
[There are] many things we don't know, we didn't see, [and] we miss it. I think
it's a change from a little bit of almost an arrogance of we build projects, we've
got the solution and this is going to be the solution. To where, if you go into
adaptive management, you acknowledge, I don't know everything, I don't all the
answers, science is imperfect. I'll structure a process to account for that and
being willing to change in the future to adapt as we go, to changing information or
even, for that matter, changing societal values. I know people are aware of this.
I don't know if it's applicable to what they're doing, but if you're asking what are
some of the things I see going on in pieces that I'm working on, that's one of
them, this whole philosophy of trying to say, I don't know all the answers, how do
I make things to where our successors can adapt and change and, as they
gather information and learn, to adapt the project? I think that, as a student of
history, makes sense because that gets you out of that mode of, we know all the
answers. We acknowledge, no, we don't know all the answers.
B: Do you see this openness to ideas such as adaptive management, do you see
that as being evocative of the culture of institutions like the Corps of Engineers
as we move into the twenty-first century now? Is that more the way the Corps,
as a collective group of thinkers, looks at projects that it embraces or takes?
V: I would say, yes, and I'll caveat it with some things. I think, in particular here on
the work we're doing in south Florida I would say, definitely, yes, particularly the
restoration effort. It's in the law. I mean, when Congress passed the Water
Resource Development Act of 2000, they put adaptive management in there.
B: Really, that wrote that in those words?
V: Well, [they wrote in] words to that affect. I mean I'm working in this recouer
B: What does recouer mean, by the way?
V: [It means] restoration, coordination, and verification. It's all about adaptive
management. It's all about science incorporating in a decision. Well, that's not
what it's all about, but that's a big piece of it. So, this whole concept of this
whole recover, adaptive management was in the center of the law. I think,
Congress kind of bought into this philosophy. I think it was important to them in
order to approve this big project [to say], we're not going to spend all this money
and build something that's going to be lemon. We want you to be able to adapt
as you go and change.
B: If you had to point to any historical forces that have led scientists and engineers
to this paradigm, what occurs to you as a force in history that has provoked that?
V: Well, you're going to get an interesting view from me and it's going to be maybe
a narrower view. I think some of it is people like Buzz Hollings. Buzz has been
an advocate of this.
B: What was he at the University of Florida?
V: He was in the department of zoology. He was in the Arthur Marshall Chair. [He
was] a great thinker. For me, personally, he had done some work with what's
called resilience. Resilience is something we work with in engineering systems
and our resource systems. He applied it to ecological systems. He worked
with a water resource engineering-type person on these issues. He was a big
proponent. It's just not him, I mean it's others. They were doing stuff on the
Columbia River Basin. I guy named Lee, I've seen his work.
B: So, when you say people in response to that, you mean people with innovative
V: Yes, [I mean] the good thinkers. Like I said, I don't have the whole view.
There's some others I could point you to to give you a better view, academics
and practitioners who have been thinking about this. Steve Light, he was at the
South Florida Water Management District, that's where I knew him from, as a
policy director. He's gone up to University of Minnesota working on adaptive
management. In fact, another one of their students was Lance Gunderson
who's now at Emory [University]. They wrote a book called Barriers and Bridges
to Ecological Restoration that gets into this. They've just done a lot of work, so I
think it kind of starts with that.
Another big person I want to give a lot of credit to is John Ogden at the South
Florida Management District. John is head of the recouer group down at the
South Florida Water Management District with my boss, Stu Applebaum. John
went to a lot of these workshops. It wasn't that things changed over night. I
think the method to Buzz's idea was, you start slow and you start promulgating
ideas, and it might be ten years before something shows up. Buzz may not
think we're even there yet. I mean, I don't think what we're doing is even exactly
what he had in mind, but [there's] kind of this philosophy. I think John, to me,
has been a big proponent of this. He's a visionary. He had worked for many
years at the Everglades National Park as a biologist. He went to work for the
Water Management District as a senior scientist. John is a thinker and he's
been a proponent of this. In fact he and Steve Davis wrote a book on the
Everglades and edited the book in 1994. I've got it on my desk [and] I can show
you. I consider it like a classic on the Everglades with a bunch of papers on
where to go, so I think John had a lot to do with it. Stu, my boss, had a lot to do
with it. Stu is a very innovative thinker. That's Stu Applebaum.
Another person would have been Dennis Duke, who's the chief of our restoration
effort here. He's another innovative thinker. I think some of it was my
perception. They probably would tell you the real story or their version of the
story, but some of the things that I've observed is just having people like Buzz
push the ideas, then other people picking up on the ideas and people becoming
proponents, and then it ended up in the WRDA 2000 [Water Resources Act of
2000]. I think another impact has been our chief of engineers now, General
Flowers is a very innovative thinker. I think he's really pushed us a lot on
environmental operating principles, trying to change our culture from a standpoint
of looking at some of these kinds of things. So, a lot of this, I think, is a variety
of efforts and a variety of people having influence on the effort.
B: When we talk about how you would want to see the people of Florida use the
Greenway resource in the future, I guess it sounds like you're saying that it would
be most desirable to leave it in sort of a dynamic model and have it be something
that people can use in response to the changing social priorities, changing policy
demands, changing environmental conditions. Is that a fair statement?
V: It could be. I think you have to kind of think about, are some of the things I've
talked about really applied to this. I think part of this is the definition of what do
people want the Greenway to be? Maybe adaptive management applies,
maybe it doesn't. When I think about the Greenway, some of the things I think
you have to deal with [are] how are you going to operate the lakes and the
reservoirs and what's going to happen to them. That's a piece. How do you
want to manage the Greenway itself, the land base pieces of it. I can see
different things. I would advocate [that] some of it is, what's good for recreation
there. I mean, what about hiking trails, bike trails? Do you want to have parks?
Do you just want to leave it natural?
I think there are some things of historical interest [that] I hope are done. There's
the piece out there in the Greenway where the digging was done in 1935 for the
ship canal. Have some interpretation or something like that. Payne's Landing,
where the treaty was signed with the Seminoles, you've got a history. There are
other things [such as] steamboats on the river. So, you've got different things
like that. Marshall Swamp, there's some history there. I've seen things from
Civil War history. I think there was a big raid on a sugar place [plantation] there.
So, you've got that from a historical perspective.
I think there's a lot of recreation there with that land through there that can be
used for different recreational purposes. Perhaps adaptive management is not
appropriate. I would kind of believe [that] you study around and you look for
other examples, and you say, do things fit my case. If they do, can I adapt them
or modify them to fit my example? That's kind of my feeling of [when] you look
around for ideas. I don't want to make this blanket statement [that] adaptive
management is the way to go for the Greenway, because it may not be. I would
like to at least pose it as, that's out there, that may fit on some things that they're
trying to do on certain operations. Other things may be much more straight
forward. My other point is, how do you get stakeholder involvement? What
level of stakeholder involvement do you have? The hardest thing is probably,
what do you do when you have conflicting objectives? How are you going to
resolve those conflicts? Do they have conflicting objectives on their
management pieces? Maybe it's easier than that, maybe it is more straight
forward and simple? Did that help clarify any of this?
B: Yes, that was a good and complete, and very articulate, response. I think that I
have reached the end of the line of questioning that I had laid out for us for this
morning, and we've used a good chunk of the time that we both allocated for this.
I wonder if there's anything that occurs to you that we've left unsaid that you
would want to add to your comments about the relationship between you, your
operations, your career with the Corps and the canal and Greenway projects?
Is there anything that you would add in conclusion?
V: Yes, I would say it was a good experience for me, the work I did on it. I got to
do different things. I got to see a lot of that part of the state from a standpoint of
starting my days collecting water samples to actually operating a project. It was
interesting working on some of these [projects] like the Lake Rousseau task
force. That was hard because it was having to deal more with the public. It's a
funny thing, as an engineer, basically, I think I'm introverted, but I find in doing
water management stuff you have to get out and do more with the public, and I
wish I was better at it. I wish I was more articulate. I find it hard, but it's got to
be done. So, that helped me grow as a person. Dealing on that task force, like I
said, you're working with the park managers over there, working with Dave
Bowman. I've worked with a lot of good people in the Corps, on the Barge
Canal. [I worked with] Dave Bowman for many years, lock masters, operations
maintenance people like Tommy Gaskin, people I had mentor and teach me here
like some I mentioned earlier; so that was a good experience for me.
I learned a lot, [and] it also helped illustrate, as I talked earlier about, how
everything is not so simple, that there's tough choices. Some of these debates
over the value that society places on certain things, so dealing with that. It was
a good experience working with a lot of the operations where I learned things
about flooding stuff [and] how to make operational changes. For me, I've done a
lot of different things on it. Working with people in our real estate division who
knew a lot about it, so it helped me grow professionally. It wasn't always easy.
There were a lot of hard things with it, but I had a chance to work with people
who knew a lot about the Barge Canal. I actually worked with people who had
done a lot of work on the Barge Canal back in the 1960s, so I learned a lot from
them about the history of the project, and they would be people who would be
interesting at some point maybe to talk to or interview if they would be willing to.
Finally, the interesting part, that we probably started the interview with, is just
kind of realizing some of my personal family history connections to this area.
I've found that I had an ancestor, back in the 1830s there was a territorial
legislature passed a law where, he was going to be one of the ones to help
improve navigation on the Oklawaha River. The three of them was John Mizell,
Gad Humphreys, and somebody else were appointed to do that. Having family
living down there, and having some family living in the Gorge Landing area in the
1850s. We also have another group of ancestors that live in Citrus and Levy
County that were in the Withlacoochee basin. In fact, one of them apparently,
from what I can tell, was part of the Orange State Canal Group that did the
Orange State Canal that goes into the Tsala Apopka Lakes. I've found some
documentation, at least some of it's secondary sources and even a little bit of
primary sources, that apparently, I think, he might have been a stockholder or a
shareholder of that company that did that work. James Priest was his name.
So, that part has been kind of interesting in hindsight as I go back and going
wow, I had more interesting kind of ties and connections from that standpoint too.
That's what I can kind of, off the top of my head, answer on that question.
B: Okay, for the purpose of the taped part of the interview I would like to say, at this
point, thank you, Jim Vearil, for your time and for your thoughts. I have some
other questions for you that don't run with the interview. We'll just get to those
off the tape. That concludes this interview now.
V: I want to say thank you very much, Alan. I enjoyed talking with you.
B: Thanks to you.
[End of interview]