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Environmental restoration summit enhances Air Force partnerships

Suzanne Bilbrey addresses the Air Force Central Regional Environmental Restoration Summit May 17 in Dallas. Attended by regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency’s central regions and 10 states, the summit clarified roles and responsibilities as regulators met with AFCEC leadership and discussed Air Force environmental restoration changing policies and procedures. Bilbrey is the director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Environmental Management Directorate. (Courtesy photo)

Suzanne Bilbrey addresses the Air Force Central Regional Environmental Restoration Summit May 17 in Dallas. Attended by regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency’s central regions and 10 states, the summit clarified roles and responsibilities as regulators met with AFCEC leadership and discussed Air Force environmental restoration changing policies and procedures. Bilbrey is the director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Environmental Management Directorate. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Strong partnerships with regional, state and federal environmental regulators are critical to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s ability to implement innovative environmental restoration solutions and eliminate public health threats.

The Air Force Central Regional Environmental Restoration Summit, held May 17 and 18 in Dallas, clarified roles and responsibilities as regulators met with AFCEC leadership and discussed Air Force environmental restoration changing policies and procedures.

“We all have the same goals: to make sure the water, soil and air is safe for our families and communities,” said Kenny Johnson, the legislative and regulatory engagement division chief under the AFCEC Environmental Management Directorate.

The summit – the first of three 2017 events aimed at enhancing collaborative efforts and improving communication – also gave regional regulators and AFCEC leadership an opportunity to discuss environmental issues and restoration procedures, highlighting restoration success stories and identify additional partnering opportunities. The group also discussed who and how AFCEC addresses environmental quality compliance.

“We’re working partnerships before we need them, to improve relationships (with regulators) and optimize environmental program performance,” explained Kim Fornof, the Air Force summit program manager in the legislative and regulatory engagement division.

Because budget constraints restricted government travel in the past, there were limited opportunities to meet in person, Johnson explained. After some internal restructuring, AFCEC began holding the environmental restoration summits in 2016.

“We discussed our resource constrictions and clarified how the (AFCEC Environmental Management Directorate) was organized, discussing issues and future EPA and State Regulator collaboration efforts,” Fornof said.

Regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency’s central regions and 10 states attended.

“The summit was extremely valuable and especially helpful in understanding the way AFCEC is set up and understanding the roles and responsibilities of each division (within the environmental directorate),” said Tracie White, the federal facilities remediation and restoration unit leader for Colorado.

White manages all the federal facility cleanups in Colorado. She especially valued the networking opportunities the summit provided.

“The Air Force’s approach to managing environmental remediation projects has been extremely collaborative and they work to foster open communication and an atmosphere of working together,” she added.

By building upon those collaborative relationships and educating each other about established processes and partnerships, environmental restoration issues can be handled more quickly and efficiently, Johnson explained.

“We can get to a problem early and do a course correction. We can make sure everyone is working together to (complete restoration projects) and get systems in place to save taxpayer dollars,” he added.

The Air Force Western Regional Environmental Summit is June 14 in Seattle; the Air Force Eastern Regional Environmental Summit is July 12 – 13 in Tampa, Florida.

For more information about AFCEC’s environmental restoration efforts, visit www.afcec.af.mil.