Newly appointed 53rd U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, was taken on a whirlwind tour of major projects happening in the Chicago District during his Aug. 27-29 visit.
Chicago District staff were honored to show off the significant strides they are making on a variety of projects to the senior military officer overseeing most of the Nation’s civil works infrastructure and military construction. Projects visited covered a diversity of mission areas, including flood-risk management, navigation, ecosystem restoration and invasive species efforts.
While the Chicago District covers a relatively small geographic area in comparison to other USACE districts, the projects underway bring great value to the Chicago metropolitan region, which is a unique urban area of about 5,000 square miles with a population of about 8 million.
Prior to the site visits, Bostick attended the Chief of Engineers Environmental Advisory Board public meeting, focusing on current issues presented from both the board and members of the audience and a discussion on the path forward on major USACE initiatives and policies.
“We must ensure our resources align with what we want to do, and we have integration with the key players,” said Bostick during the meeting.
The board, whose members are drawn from diverse environmental backgrounds ranging from academia to the State Director of The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, to the Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Great Lakes Fishery Commissions and more, was created in 1970 to provide advice and recommendations from outside experts on environmental issues facing USACE. Recommendations include the recent reinvigoration of the USACE Environmental Operating Principles that encourage employees to consider affects on the environment in all they do. Over the years, the board has aided in building partnerships, understanding and cooperation with the environmental community and public.
“The Corps, the locals and the nation all benefit from the creation of this board,” said Bostick. “I appreciate all of the hard work going on. It’s really a team effort with a lot of win/wins.”
The first stop on the project tour was the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Main Stream Pump Station and the McCook Reservoir flood-risk management project and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Electric Dispersal Barriers prevention effort.
The McCook project team is constructing a 10.5 billion gallon reservoir of storage for combined sewer overflows from the City of Chicago and surrounding areas that protects 550,000 structures from flood damage. Construction is almost fifty percent completed.
“This is by far the largest project that I have worked on,” said Project Manager Mike Padilla. Bostick was also amazed with the size and scope of the project, said Padilla.
The second stop on the tour was the Aquatic Nuisance Species Electric Dispersal Barrier Project. The barriers are an essential part of the USACE four-pronged approach to Asian carp management. The barriers are designed to prevent the transfer of the invasive Asian carp into the Great Lakes via the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal by creating an electric field in the water.
Although the site is bleak, it certainly garners the most media attention of any current Chicago District project.
Bostick took a great interest in aquatic nuisance species prevention efforts and had many questions for Project Manager Chuck Shea, from the hydrology of the Chicago Area Waterway System to current and future controls.
A monitoring tool that tests the effectiveness of the barriers tracks fish tagged with individually coded transmitters through a network of receivers. To date, 182 tagged fish in the Chicago Area Waterway System have had a 75 percent detection rate with over 5.4 million detections, indicating no tagged fish have crossed the barriers heading toward the Lake Michigan.
Day two kicked off with a handful of district employees accompanying a speedy general on a sunrise run to Northerly Island for a project briefing.
Northerly Island is a 40-acre Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Project on a manmade peninsula found along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. The goal is to improve the overall ecological integrity of the area to include native plant establishment. Anticipated construction award is this fall.
After a respite and a change into ACUs, it was off to the Chicago Shoreline Project. This project provides storm damage protection to the Lake Michigan shoreline and, in particular, to Lake Shore Drive, a major transportation artery in the City of Chicago, through the construction and reconstruction of breakwaters, revetments and beach stabilization.
Then it was off to Northwest Indiana and a stop at the Indiana Harbor and Canal Dredging and Disposal Project. This project involved constructing a confined disposal facility to remove and safely dispose of sediments dredged from the federal channel and adjacent dock areas in order to improve the environment and the conditions for draft commercial navigation. There is an estimated backlog of 1.6 million cubic yards of sediments currently in the harbor and canal.
The Little Calumet River Project was last on the agenda but certainly a very high priority. It is about 95 percent complete and consists of 22 miles of levees and floodwalls, installing a control structure at Hart Ditch, building almost 17 miles of hiking trails and preserving over 550 acres of wetland. Little river, big project!
“More than 9,500 homes and businesses in Gary, Griffith, Hammond, Highland and Munster will be protected at a 200-year level through this project and will prevent nearly $11 million in average annual flood damage,” said Project Manager Natalie Mills.
Pictures from the visit can be found on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/usacechicago/.