Managing a Castle
Jeff Sammon’s thesis was on the effects of exotic grasses on the rodent community in the Texas Hill Country – nothing at all to do with maintaining the integrity of the concrete of a dam built in the 1940s.
In a way, the journey from biology to dams just happened, said Sammon, the Brazos River Authority’s regional customer relations business manager.
“A lot of people wind up doing things professionally in their career that they didn’t foresee in school. When I went to Baylor University to get my Master of Science in biology, I was doing biological work with small mammals; bat biology, rodent biology. When I was doing that, I thought maybe I’d work for the (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) or something,” Sammon said. “When I first came over to the Brazos River Authority, I didn’t necessarily know I would be here in 2022. Now, I have every intention of retiring from the Brazos River Authority. It’s been a great opportunity for me. I’ve grown quite a bit professionally.”
Sammon, a Waco-area native, graduated from Baylor in 2000 and went to work for the city of Waco’s Water Utilities Department, where he worked in the water quality laboratory and in the field collecting water samples. He was then hired at the BRA in 2005 in the environmental services department, collecting water quality data and assisting in the field. Then two years later moved to an environmental planner position in the Upper Basin. In 2015, he moved to his current role.
Sammon’s position is two-fold. He works with the BRA’s water customers in the Upper Basin, coordinating water contracts for customers representing municipalities, agricultural and mining interests. He also serves as the project manager for capital improvement projects at Possum Kingdom and Lake Granbury. Project Managers are responsible for administering and coordinating projects at the BRA from cradle to grave.
About five years ago, the BRA began a progression of developing and implementing a project management process to standardize work across the basin, Sammon said. His role expanded to oversee two projects in particular.
The first is referred to as CAASLE. At the BRA’s oldest reservoir, Possum Kingdom Lake, Sammon is managing a concrete assessment and service life extension project for the Morris Sheppard Dam. The BRA contracted with Gannett Fleming, Inc. to assess the concrete structure of the dam and provide a long-term repair program to allow for the continuation of addressing maintenance issues to extend the dam’s service life. Completed in 1941 with the aid of the Depression-era Works Progress Program, the Morris Sheppard Dam stretches 2,700 feet long and 190 feet high, or one-half mile long and 13 stories high.
CAASLE is in phase 3 and on track to enter phase 4, or the last stage, this fiscal year, Sammon said.
Sammon is also the project manager for the Lake Granbury’s DeCordova Bend Dam low-flow facilities project. The project involves replacement and repair of various low-flow outlet sluice gates and components to better meet operational requirements. The low-flow outlets consist of six sluice gates that pass water downstream to meet water supply and environmental demands. These are operated when flow requirements do not meet the rates generated by opening one of the larger Tainter gates. The project will significantly improve dam operations and extend the service life of the low-flow outlets.
“You work someplace long enough, you get a familiarity of the workings of the organization and what the goals are. And now, all this time later, I’m managing projects like CAASLE, which has nothing to do with small mammal biology,” Sammon said. “It’s really interesting. The dams, the structures themselves, how they function and work, seeing how a problem is identified and seeing the process it goes through to completion - that in itself is pretty interesting to me anyway. And it’s important. It means something for the people of Texas and the management of our water resource to maintain these structures and facilities.”
The biggest challenge is keeping the projects on schedule with the unforeseen, but inevitable, issues that arise in each phase, he said.
“You have to keep rollin’ with it and pushing it forward,” he said.
Sammon’s experiences and determination have greatly benefitted the BRA and helped ensure projects continue to progress and are brought to ultimate resolution, said Michael McClendon, the BRA’s Upper Basin regional manager.
“Jeff and his wife, Gwen, are avid travelers and focus a lot of the time traveling to outdoor activities, hiking, fishing, and enjoying the mountains or coastlines,” McClendon said. “Jeff also enjoys spending time with his granddaughter and gardening.
Sammon and his wife were high school sweethearts and were married in 1990. The couple met while attending Robinson High School and have two grown children.
“I’ve developed relationships with people here at the BRA. My family is here in Waco. We like the location right now. This is a great job,” Sammon said.