Port Profile: A Good Neighbor

Frank Hamons with students from the living classroom at the Masonville Cove Festival in 2010. The picture shown that was painted by the students now hangs on Hamons' office wall.

Frank Hamons with students from the living classroom at the Masonville Cove Festival in 2010. The picture shown that was painted by the students now hangs on Hamons’ office wall.

Community outreach has played a key role in the dredged materials management program that Maryland Port Authority’s Frank L. Hamons has spent the last three decades building

By Sarah Sain

Frank L. Hamons has received a number of awards and recognitions over the course of his 34-year career as Deputy Director for Harbor Development at the Maryland Port Administration, but when asked of which he holds dear, he instead points to a simple painting of a container ship at berth.

The painting was done by students of Living Classrooms studying at the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center as a thank you for the Center, built by the port in 2009. The painting is a testament to the relationship Hamons has spent more than three decades building with the community.

“When they (the students) chose the subject, they didn’t choose the cove, or the environmental center which was built for them, they chose a terminal as a thank you to the port,” he notes. “I think that really shows that sitting down and working out port issues with the port’s neighbors is the best way to do the port’s business.”

Joining the Port

Hamons, whose background is in biology and ecology, spent 13 years at the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland before joining the port. While working for the DNR as the chief of technical analysis, Hamons was asked to develop a monitoring plan for maintenance of the Port of Baltimore’s harbor channels, which hadn’t been maintained for five years at that time because of controversy over where to place the dredged materials.

Hamons developed a state-of-the-art program that monitored the whole operation, addressed the questions raised and enabled a successful project conclusion. What followed was an invitation from the Maryland Port Administration to develop a dredged materials management program.

“When I got here there was no program for managing dredged materials. I had the opportunity to start from scratch and put one together, and I’ve been playing the same role ever since,” Hamons recalls. “It’s been a very unique opportunity in the sense that what we developed is a program that does long-range planning, option selection for what to do with dredged material, engineering and design of the selected option, site construction and we operate the sites.”

Hamons officially joined the Maryland Port Administration on April 20, 1980. For the 10 years prior, since 1970, the port had an authorized 50-foot channel project, but it had nowhere to put the materials, so the deepening never got off the ground. Construction of a 1,140 acre placement site on Hart-Miller Island had stalled, and resistance to the project from conservationists had reached the Supreme Court.

“One of the first things I did at the port was to start doing public outreach. It hadn’t been done at all at that point,” he says. “We began efforts to bring people onboard the program, which was a little tough with Hart- Miller because the state had studied and selected the site without involving local citizens. We had to sit down with them and find ways to bring them in.”

After 14 years of planning and construction, Hart-Miller Island opened in 1984 and took in between 100 million and 110 million cubic yards of dredged material before closing in 2009. Today, the site is home to Hart- Miller Island State Park, which is included on the Audubon Society’s list of Important Bird Areas. Thousands of Maryland citizens visit the park by boat each year.

With Hart-Miller in place, the port was able to complete its 50-foot channel deepening project between 1986 and 1990, but Hamons already had his sights on the future.

“We knew that what we needed to do next was a beneficial use project,” he says. “Chesapeake Bay is one of the most scrutinized bodies of water in the world. Whatever you do, a lot of people are interested in it, and they want to know the environmental implications of what’s going to happen.”

Poplar Island, originally more than 1,110 acres in size in the Chesapeake Bay, had eroded down to just 5 acres. Hamons saw the project as an opportunity to restore the island’s habitat. With strong support and input from citizens, and with the Corps of Engineers as its project partner, the plan for Poplar Island was authorized in 1996. Construction started in 1998, and the 1,140-acre facility was operational in 2001.

Today, almost 100 different species of birds have been seen on Poplar Island, including eagles, herons, pelicans, egrets and double-breasted cormorants, as well as otters, raccoons, beavers and deer.

Building Trust in the Community

In 2003, Hamons helped develop the Harbor Team, which includes local jurisdictions, citizens, community organizations and activists, members of maritime industry – anyone with a vested interest in the port – to help the port develop dredged material management options for Baltimore Harbor.

While in agreement that the port needed to be maintained, in the beginning there was a high level of distrust of the port by members of the committee. To combat that, the port spent six months educating the group and offering presentations and explanations on what ports were doing around the world.

“In the end, we developed – they developed – a list of recommended options to be pursued,” Hamons says. “All our projects in the harbor since then have come from that list. Once the members of this team understood what drove us and we understood and responded to their issues and concerns, they came up with a list that was likely what we would have come up with in the end. But it wasn’t our list, it was their list. That has made all the difference.”

One of the sites recommended by the Harbor Team was Masonville. Whereas Hart-Miller Island took 14 years to complete and included legal fights at the nation’s highest court, there were two public hearings on the Masonville project, during which not a single person spoke out against the port’s plan.

Masonville, a 141-acre former brownfield, went from conception to completion in just six years. The site includes the dredged material placement site, but also the rehabilitated Masonville Cove, which has become an environmental centerpiece and educational resource. The Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, which serves local schools and community groups and hosts programs by the National Aquarium and Living Classrooms Foundation, opened in 2009.

“They named the local high school the Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove. I’ll bet you there isn’t another high school in the country named after a project like this,” Hamons says. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my career. “

Active in AAPA

Hamons began attending meetings of the American Association of Port Authorities on behalf of the Port of Baltimore as soon as he joined the port in 1980. He has since been involved in the Harbors & Navigation Committee, which he currently chairs, as well as AAPA’s Quality Partnership Initiative with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Whereas the committee is a resource for ports to discuss issues on a national basis and offer suggestions to ports on an individual level, QPI is more action-based.

The initiative focuses on three different areas: determining authority, communication and civil works project delivery. The delivery aspect is based on an idea that came out of the Harbors & Navigation Committee, which is always looking for ways to more efficiently realize port projects. The Corps at one point estimated that it takes an average 14-16 years to take a project from conception to completion.

“The QPI looks at how ports and the Corps can work together to get projects done more quickly,” Hamons says. “We’re supportive of Major Gen. Michael Walsh’s 3-3-3 initiative; we’re all trying to find ways to get more projects done. Some project studies have gone on for 20-22 years, and that’s so frustrating for ports. You just can’t afford to spend that much time producing something you need now to compete.”

‘A Critical Job’

Hamons will be retiring from MPA at the end of the year after 34 years at the port, but it will be hard for him to completely leave behind a career and an industry that has meant so much to him throughout his lifetime.

“I have a world map on the wall of my office,” he says. “This industry – the maritime industry – connects you to the rest of the world. I frequently look at that map when I think about the issues that MPA has, which often have international implications. This is not the largest industry in the country, but boy it is a good one. It’s loaded with competent, professional people who are trying to do the best job for port and country – and it’s a critical function for this nation. About 95 percent of the world’s commerce moves on ships.

“Ports serve an absolutely vital function,” he continues. “I’m sometimes surprised at how little the average person on the street knows about that when we’re so critical to their quality of life. We are an essential component of the nation’s economy, so you just keep working to make it better. That’s why I’m here 34 years later.”