Lisa Metheney has been the deputy district engineer for programs and project management since 2014. As the "head civilian," Metheney serves as the constant face of the Charleston District, as the commander and deputy commander alternate each year with their two-year terms. She has worked for the Charleston District for over two decades and has been integral to the success of the District during this time. We ask her eight questions about how the District has been successful for 150 years and what the future looks like.
1. In a few words, how would you describe Charleston District’s 150-year history?
Definitely impactful. Whether it is Fort Jackson, deepening the harbor, or our coastal risk management projects, which put sand on the beach to protect coastal infrastructure, we have absolutely been impactful. I’d also say we’ve been broad-reaching, because when you look at the history of the district in the past 15-20 years, we have picked up significant regional and national programs. We support the 81st Readiness Division of the Army Reserves, which is in nine states and Puerto Rico. Then you add to that our more national programs, like our support to the Marine Force Reserves and support to the Defense Logistics Agency. They are just some of the broad-reaching and impactful missions we have.
2. What do you think makes Charleston unique among the other USACE Districts?
I would say it mostly comes down to our people. We have a mix of people with very different backgrounds, but everybody is extremely dedicated to the mission at hand, and to providing excellent customer support to the folks we serve. I think the mix of people we have here is that extra something special that makes us great. We have people in the district that could work for Fortune 500 companies, but they want to be in Charleston. And of course, being the second smallest district in terms of employees allows us to be a little more flexible and agile than some of our sister districts. Literally we can fit everyone in the parking lot and still have room to park cars.
3. In three words, how would you describe the District team?
Caring, professional, and dedicated. Those working here care deeply about the job they do, the people they work with, and the community they serve. The level of professionalism we have here, regardless if someone is a GS-5 Admins Assistant or a GS-14 Division Chief, is amazing. I never worry about any member of the district meeting with the public because I know they are going to represent the Corps well. And you won't find a more dedicated group of employees. Between people that will volunteer to work 18-hour days when disaster hits, to the people that work late on a Friday just to make sure they get a contract on the street, our staff is truly what makes us great.
4. What is your favorite memory while working for this District?
I think my favorite memory is when the Chief of Engineers signed the Chief’s Report for the Post 45 Harbor Deepening Project. We were the first project to go start to finish through the new 3x3x3 process and we plowed new ground the whole way through. We completed that feasibility study and got to the Chief’s Report within 37 months, something that had been unheard of for a very long time, particularly for a project as complex as the harbor deepening.
5. What makes this a special place to work?
The people, that’s what really keeps me coming back every day. Getting to work with the folks in this district to solve problems and make a difference each day is what makes it special for me. It doesn’t just happen though. While to a certain degree it is the right mix of people and the missions we have, I also think it's all the leadership here in the district. From the commander to the branch chiefs, everyone really cares about what they do and want to feel like they have made a difference. They care so much about helping people achieve and that to me is what really makes it special. I think it’s like making a stew; each of the ingredients themselves are good, but when you put them all together, they become amazing.
6. What is something most people don’t know about the District?
Most people don’t know exactly how robust the portfolio of programs and projects we have is. Most members of the public interact with us on one thing, whether it's getting a permit through regulatory, seeing the dredges in the harbor, or they have been at the beach when we're doing a renourishment. They usually only have this one narrow interaction with us. But the fact that we average $350 million per year across all our programs and work at Joint Base Charleston and Fort Jackson, and even all the way in Barstow, California.
7. What is your vision for the future of Charleston District?
I see our missions and programs being similar to the work we currently do, but adding new people to the mix to make it even better. I think we will see the district become 275 folks because I think the support we’ll be called on to give will probably take that many of us in the future. We never know what the next thing mother nature will bring us is, but I think we will still be the people the state and nation call on not only to support them after a disaster, but to help them plan and develop projects that will keep those impacts reduced into the future.
8. In a few words, what does the USACE motto Essayons mean to you?
I can't think of a more fitting motto for the Corps as an agency because when nobody else will tackle the problem, we say, “Hey, we’ll give it a try.” When the pandemic hit and they needed someone to figure out how to do Alternate Care Facilities and get them constructed in record time, they came to the Corps for that. When I think of Charleston specifically, we put the emphasis on the “us” in "Let Us Try." We are always willing to take on a new mission or do something different. And even though we may be smaller, with the synergy we have from everyone involved, we can bring a lot to solve a problem and we're not afraid to try new things.