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Day in the Life: Environmentalist helps Army sustain mission

Suzanne Rohrs, Fort Rucker’s National Environmental Policy Act program manager and environmental coordinator, leads a meeting at Bldg. 101 April 7 involving different directorates on the installation and how they consider environmental impacts. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Suzanne Rohrs, Fort Rucker’s National Environmental Policy Act program manager and environmental coordinator, leads a meeting at Bldg. 101 April 7 involving different directorates on the installation and how they consider environmental impacts. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: April 10, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 10, 2014) -- For many years the Army has sought new and innovative ways to reduce its environmental boot print by turning to green and sustainable resources, and one individual is key to making that mission a success, locally.

Suzanne Rohrs, Fort Rucker’s National Environmental Policy Act program manager and environmental coordinator, says that she finds her job not only rewarding, but a passion.

“When I was a kid, I lived near the Great Lakes, and since then I have loved the outdoors. Going camping and hiking as a child really instilled my passion for protecting the environment, and we owe it to our future generations to take care of the environment and to make it a better place for them to live and grow,” she said. “We have to protect what we have left. I don’t want anyone to be afraid to go outside because they are afraid of what might be in the air or the water.”

NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions, said Rohrs.

To meet NEPA requirements, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an environmental impact statement. NEPA reviews and comments on all EISs prepared, maintains a national filing system for all EISs and assures that its own actions comply with regulations, she added.

“So, any time you have an Army action, whether it is a construction or renovation project, any type of new training, stationing actions, plans or contracts, you have to have the NEPA document that gives approval,” she said.

Environmental impacts like hazardous waste, tree removal or asbestos have to be evaluated to make sure all the permits are in order and that they do not violate any laws or regulations, ensuring that it does not have a significant impact.

“It’s my job to look at how a little piece of a pie, for example the new commissary being built, can affect the big picture, the overall environment of Fort Rucker and the surrounding areas,” said Rohrs.

Rohrs sends out subject matter experts to run tests on water, paint, insulation, air emissions, soil and other factors. The information gets funneled through her to make sure everything meets the standards and all laws are being adhered to.

“I attend a lot of meetings around the installation and I do quite a bit of office work,” she said. “But I also go out on scoping visits for new projects when they are in their infancy. I work really close with the Army Corps of Engineers, and I do a lot of training all year long, as well as heading training to educate others all year long.”

Sometimes, Fort Rucker allows National Guard engineer units to train on the installation. They execute earth work and mine detection. Each time, Rohrs has to give the approval for their training to make sure they don’t disturb the wrong things.

“I deal with everything from changing light fixtures and preventing erosion to avoid digging up old landfills and oil pits. Some of the documents I put together are one page, while others are 150 pages,” she said.

Rohrs said her position keeps Fort Rucker out of trouble with the law, because if Fort Rucker is not following environmental rules and regulations the installation will get fined by outside agencies.

“This position is also important because we have stage fields and airfields that are very close to communities outside the gate, and everything we do is going to affect those communities,” she said. “Our storm water does not stop at the installation boundary. Contaminants can run into the creeks and flow out of our control. So, we have to be good stewards.”

Rohrs said that the most challenging thing about her position is finding the time to get everything done, and getting others as passionate about protecting the environment as she is.

“There are so many people that do not understand why there are so many stipulations put on equipment and the like. Some people just don’t understand that it can have a butterfly effect all over the installation,” she said.

But when people finally get why it’s important, when that light bulb goes off, she said it is truly rewarding.

“I want everyone to be able to enjoy the outdoors. That is what is important to me — to save the resources we have left so we can always enjoy being outside with our Families,” she said.

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/124229/

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