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Passing the baton of the CEDA Presidency

2024-04-04 Paul Levey
After eight years as President, Polite Laboyrie is stepping down and Kathleen De Wit has been elected to the role. In this article, they reflect on their CEDA journeys and discuss challenges affecting members and plans for the organisation's future.

CEDA President-elect Kathleen De Wit and CEDA President Polite Laboyrie

What first inspired each of you to join CEDA and what drives your continued interest? 

Polite Laboyrie (PL): I joined CEDA soon after taking a job at the Port of Rotterdam in 1986 and quickly discovered that CEDA is unique because it represents the spectrum of dredging stakeholders, including contractors, consultancies, academia, clients (project owners), hydraulic institutes, suppliers, shipbuilders, government institutions and more. The breadth of membership means there are always different ideas to explore and conversations to be had. 

Given my background in coastal engineering, I gravitated towards several Dredged Material Handling Working Groups. From there, I joined the Environment Commission, eventually becoming its Chair and a member of the Board, before being elected President. The role of CEDA President is not a full-time or salaried position, but it is very challenging and requires commitment also from the organisations I was working for. I have found the last eight years incredibly rewarding and it’s been an honour to lead the organisation. 

Kathleen De Wit (KDW): As a young mining engineer working for IMDC, I was eager to learn more about the dredging industry and its wider stakeholders. I joined CEDA in 1998 and the passion and enthusiasm of its members inspired me to network, build relationships and broaden my understanding of the sector. The International Board introduced me to the National Sections, our sister associations, and CEDA’s various working groups and committees, and demonstrated the importance of CEDA’s role. The opportunity to lead our organisation, and focus on its overarching success, was one I could not ignore.

The wonderful thing about CEDA is its unique composition of members, which allows us to consider dredging issues from the broadest perspective. This often leads to new insights, a better common understanding and more widely accepted solutions. Importantly, our wide range of stakeholders makes us more credible and objective when we offer a point of view. 

What accomplishments are you most proud of during your Presidency?

PL: The publication of the ‘Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure’ book in 2018 remains one of the highlights of my Presidency. Not only was I responsible for developing its content, in collaboration with IADC, as Chair of the Environment Working Group, but I also organised its issuance as CEDA President. 

While recognising that the Environment Commission was the engine of CEDA, I also wanted to ensure the prioritisation of issues such as contract management and project management. I promoted the establishment of the Dredging Management Commission (DMC) in 2016 to leverage the expertise of our members to consider such efficiency factors. I also wanted to involve more ports, extend CEDA membership to more companies and countries and actively recruit younger members. As an organisation, we have successfully met these targets — although of course there is always scope to do more. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced, and what challenges do you foresee on the horizon? 

PL: The most significant single challenge during my Presidency has been decarbonisation – namely climate change adaptation and energy transition. In 2022, we established the Commission on Decarbonisation (CCD) as an expert forum for discussion and policy development to support the goal of reducing emissions. While CEDA members are making concerted efforts to adopt more sustainable practices, continued uncertainty is undermining efforts to reduce emissions. 

Outside the industry, reservoir dredging is a lesser-known challenge. Hydro dams, built decades ago, are silting up and there is no efficient way to dredge them. Disposing of material is also very contentious. To tackle this issue, together with our sister organisations WEDA and EADA, CEDA has created a Reservoir Working Group to develop industry guidelines and I will continue to chair this group after stepping down as President. 

What challenges do you anticipate during your term as President? 

KDW: CEDA members face a complex process to help address climate change. Although they are investing, investigating, experimenting and innovating to help address climate change, the future fuel debate also affects clients, as well as contractors and shipbuilders. It is difficult to objectively compare environmental performance, though we have taken steps to develop frameworks to compare projects and companies based on their carbon footprint.

While the shift towards nature-based solutions and devising positive environmental solutions to restore habitats and improve ecosystem health is ongoing, we still need mechanisms to evaluate and prove their effectiveness. This will be key to persuading clients that the often higher initial costs are offset by long-term benefits. I am also particularly concerned about the PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) issues encountered everywhere lately. They are responsible for large infrastructure projects being blocked or put on hold, which is affecting many CEDA members. Broad stakeholder collaboration is needed to find feasible solutions to tackle the issue.

As the dredging industry evolves, what steps CEDA is taking to remain abreast of innovation? 

PL: Artificial intelligence, deep-sea mining and engineering are emerging fields that require our collaboration to establish standards and encourage responsible dredging practices. We must identify bodies that are willing to utilise the practical experience and expertise of our members and seek active participation in our various working groups. Engaging with regulators through the London Convention, which grants us NGO status in the IMO, the OSPAR Convention, and our observer status in the International Seabed Authority (granted in 2022), is fundamental to shaping the formulation of realistic international policies. 

Fresh perspectives and ideas are vital to drive CEDA and the industry forward. We have always sought to stay ahead of challenges and provide or share knowledge for the betterment of all. Our new and more interactive Dredging Days conference format is an example of CEDA’s commitment to providing value for our members. Its rollout was delayed by the pandemic and I am excited to hear what our members think. 

We are also working with our sister associations in WODA to optimise information sharing and to develop, where possible, common industry guidelines. Although differences between regional legislation and regulations make integration impossible, they should not be a barrier to interaction. The success of our three inter-association working groups has solidified relationships and proven that we can learn from each other. 

KDW: We must maintain the association’s balance and I will continue Polite’s work in expanding membership in Africa and the Middle East, as we tend to look at things from a European viewpoint. It can only be enriching to get to know the problems faced elsewhere, to learn from others and to share expertise to overcome challenges. As such, the key to unlocking potential is facilitating communication between different stakeholders to enhance mutual understanding and promote cooperation. Together we can find solutions to achieve the best dredging project outcomes.  

I hope my election, as both the first female President of CEDA and the first Belgian, will inspire the next generation and underline the fact that our industry offers rewarding careers. Young CEDA remains very active, and I hope it continues its excellent work in adding immediate value to the organisation and driving it forward.

What goals do you have for your presidency, and how do you plan to build upon the association’s previous achievements?

KDW: I am inheriting an association with very clear values and strong foundations, built upon the commitment of volunteers. Of course, we shall review our strategic goals and objectives, but I do not expect this to result in a complete change of course to the one charted by Polite. I want to build on his legacy but as we are living in a fast-changing world, we need to be adaptable to meet the evolving needs of our members, including how the organisation communicates with them. 

Ultimately, CEDA is a non-profit organisation and we count on our volunteers to achieve success. I want to attract new members as greater diversity can only strengthen the organisation and increase the likelihood of us achieving our shared goals. I would also encourage everyone, member or not, to approach me with suggestions, questions or ideas to be tackled by CEDA. 

As outgoing President, do you have any final words of advice?

PL: Keeping people interested through engagement and transparency is the key to CEDA’s continued growth. Kathleen’s experience as a dredging professional and valued member of the CEDA family means she understands the importance of empowering our members. She also recognises the importance of striking a balance between building consensus among companies and countries and the need for leadership to drive the organisation when required. 

Kathleen recognises that CEDA’s value lies in those who give their time for the greater good of our community. She will rightly put her stamp on the Presidency and identify her priorities. I am leaving the organisation in capable hands and look forward to seeing where she takes CEDA next.

Join Polite and Kathleen at the Dredging Days 2024 conference: “Dredging in a changing world, leading science and business in the dredging industry” in Rotterdam on 27-29 May. Contribute to the discussion on environmental sustainability, decarbonisation, emergent technologies and more, and help shape the future of dredging in the central region and beyond.   

Polite Laboyrie is President of CEDA and International Director at Witteveen+Bos Consulting Engineers.

Kathleen De Wit is the President-elect of CEDA and a Business Development Manager at International Marine & Dredging Consultants (IMDC).

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