Col. Richard P. Wagenaar
Commander and District Engineer, New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Posted January 2007
Col. Richard P. Wagenaar FRM '82 was just six weeks into his new job as leader of the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when Hurricane Katrina blew into southeastern Louisiana.
"When it struck, I still hadn't even met some of my employees yet. I didn't know all the streets in the city," Wagenaar said. "The hurricane was truly an indoctrination I didn't expect."
Within a few weeks, Wagenaar saw his annual budget balloon from $350 million to some $3 billion. The focus of his work narrowed from a variety of areas to hurricane protection and environmental restoration.
As the Corps continues its work in New Orleans, Wagenaar approaches his job with the sensibilities of an environmental scientist.
"The Corps of Engineers is probably the largest civil engineering organization in the world, and probably 50 percent of the leaders are engineers," he said. "They typically don't have environmental scientists as leaders. I just lead the district a little differently."
Wagenaar spent his childhood on a farm in Carthage, N.Y., 85 miles north of Syracuse. He was recruited into the ROTC program at the New Mexico Military Institute, where he earned an associate's degree in biology. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army and returned east to study forestry at ESF, graduating with his bachelor's degree in 1982. He later earned master's degrees from Cardinal Stritch College in Wisconsin and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
The Army matched him with the Corps of Engineers because of his interest in the environment.
"I was always an outdoorsman. That's the way I was raised. I wanted to study environmental science and forestry because I thought it would be great to work outside."
His career took him to Massachusetts; Kentucky; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Minnesota; and Virginia. He also served in Korea and Germany. His most recent assignment before taking over in New Orleans was as chief of the Engineer Plans Division with the Republic of Korea Combines Forces Command.
"I look back at ESF and see that degree is paying dividends because I look at things as an environmental scientist would, which is very beneficial in this day and age," he said.
When he joined the Corps, Wagenaar said, it did not have a reputation as an environmentally friendly organization. "Now, when we take an action, we're doing environmental consideration at the same time," he said.
He emphasizes that perspective as the Corps focuses on rebuilding levies and protecting New Orleans from future hurricanes.
"My first thought is, 'How are we going to protect the marshes and ensure there's fresh water flowing?' I think about the surrounding ecosystem. A lot of folks aren't used to that type of thinking from the Corps."
ESF Alumni Have an Impact
- Class of '17 Joins ESF Alumni RanksDegrees and ESF flags in hand, graduates celebrate accomplishments
- ESF Alum Honored by White House Science teacher lauded for excellence
- ESF Alumnus Wins Award for Sustainable Dog TreatsFull Circle Feed honored with People & Planet Award
- Verostek to present on Fletcher Steele Famed landscape architect designed over 700 gardens in U.S.
- ESF Education Helps Alumnus Launch Agritourism SuccessCritz Farms expands into craft beverage movement
- Alumna's Career Changes But Environmental Focus RemainsWildlife ecology class earns credit for her mindset
- Alumna Launches Career with Saws and LlamasForest service job takes graduate deep into the Rocky Mountains
- Advice for Graduates: Stay United, 'Enjoy Your Wisdom'Class of 2016 celebrates at Commencement
- Michael AmadoriEntrepreneur makes, sells sustainable dog treats
- Dr. Nancy MathewsEducational leader
- Holly AndersenReshaping a campus through sustainable construction
- Wendy AndringaLandscape architect thinks vertical with Green Walls
- Robert W. HargroveDirector EPA's NEPA Compliance Division
- Zachary WentworthLawyer
- Howard "Bud" RisRetired president of Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) MLA, 1975
- Matt RayoSyracuse Common Councilor
- Ana Maria MenezesUnited Nations Consultant
- Stephen KayGolf course architect
- Delfin Ganapin Jr. Global Manager of the UN Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Program
- Douglas G. DellmoreRetired business entrepreneur supports ESF student research
- Scott FonteDirector of aquaculture for Aqua Vita Farms
- Mary GiffordInternational Experience
- Anne PapageorgeVice President of Facilities and Real Estate Services, University of Pennsylvania
- Matthew Thornton Peace Corps Volunteer
- Marc ZeppetelloLawyer receives state honor
- Joe MartensCommissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
- Don MooreSmithsonian National Zoo
- Nicole FormosoLandscape Architecture
- Andrea VanBeusichemMontezuma National Wildlife Refuge
- Cariann QuickDirector of Government Relations, SUNY Student Assembly
- Scott KasprowiczBroke circumnavigation record - One stock helicopter, two guys, 15 countries, 24 time zones, 23,000 miles, in less than two weeks.
- James "Jake" McKennaOwner of Parsons-McKenna Construction Co.
- Jeff LyngColorado Governor's Energy Office
- Ronald J. Eby, Ph.D.Renowned researcher
- Robert R. PageFoundation director for the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation
- Peter J. GabrielsenChief hydrologic services for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service
- Bruce BrownellOwner of Adirondack Alternate Energy (AAE) in Northville, N.Y.
- Stacey L. DoddProgram director, Habitat for Humanity Ireland
- Col. Richard P. WagenaarCommander and District Engineer, New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers