Corps Of Engineers Wins Major Engineering Recognition For Flood Fight

ENR Midwest, a major engineering industry magazine, named the Corps of Engineers its “owner of the year” for the way in which the agency handled the flood fight of 2019 and for its promotion of resilience projects, along with maintaining and improving the vast array of infrastructure it manages through the Ohio and Great Lakes, Northwest and Mississippi Valley divisions.

ENR Midwest magazine covers an 11-state region. While the Corps as a whole was recognized for its work across the region, the Omaha Engineer district was singled out for its unique role in the flood fight on the Missouri River, during which levee systems were breached and overwhelmed. The district recently announced that the mainstream Missouri River levee system has been mostly restored.

Rapid Response Disaster Contracts

A $999 million Rapid Disaster Infrastructure contract was the seventh-largest project in the region, according to ENR Midwest’s Top Starts ranking, and is under the direction of the Omaha Engineer District, part of the Northwest Division. Ted Streckfuss,  deputy district engineer of the Omaha District, said the district had been working nonstop on flood fight and flood mitigation measures since March 2019.

Uniquely within the Corps, the team has the ability to get contracts in place within 72 hours. More than 80 Rapid Response contracts were used to repair damaged and breached levees since last year. A Corps spokesman called them essential to effectively addressing the damage to the system.

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“When heavy rains and frozen ground caused floods that resulted in $6.2 billion in damages across the Midwest last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was there, sending personnel and volunteers to do everything from emergency levee repairs to sandbagging river banks and dropping hay from helicopters to livestock cut off by floodwater,” according to the magazine.

The Corps, made up of 37,000 civilian and military personnel, is the world’s largest public engineering, design and construction management agency. Its primary mission is managing and overseeing the system of dams, canals, reservoirs and flood control structures across the nation, but it also manages and constructs everything from shipping infrastructure to government office buildings, such as the $1.7-billion Next NGA West headquarters project in St. Louis.

Lock And Dam Innovations

Across ENR Midwest’s 11-state region, the Great Lakes and Ohio River Engineer Division dealt with the same high water situations and some flooding, although they were not nearly as extensive as what happened in Omaha.

“The great thing is we work very closely with the National Weather Service, and our engineers are able to figure out and then predict, based on incoming storms, where they’re coming in, where that water is going to go,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Whittle, commander of the division. “Sometimes you’re left with an Ohio River that’s in flood stage, and if that’s the case, there are certain types of work that can’t be done on those days. Then we just move forward and do the best we can once the river goes down to get back on track.”

The magazine also noted innovative construction methods used by the Corps on Ohio River lock and dam projects, such as “in-the-wet” construction used extensively by the division to keep the waterways open while still updating infrastructure that, in some cases, was more than 80 years old.

High water had an effect on all of this work, even when floods weren’t happening. A total of $60 million will go to Olmsted Locks and Dam this year, mainly for dismantling Locks and Dams 52 and 53—the ones that Olmsted replaced when it opened in 2018.

For the 2020 construction that’s just now getting underway, the division is planning active rehabilitation projects at Kentucky Lock No. 7 on the Ohio River, and Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4 on the Monongahela River.

National Geospatial Agency Campus

Finally, the magazine drew attention to the Corps’ role in managing new project such as the $1.7 billion Next National Geospatial Agency’s West Headquarters in St. Louis, which was ranked No. 3 on ENR Midwest’s Top Starts list. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is a combination of intelligence agency and combat support agency, whose mission is to catalog and manage all of the federal government’s GIS mapping data.

The campus will replace the current NGA facility located south of downtown St. Louis. N2W will be built on a 97-acre site in a blighted part of town. Estimated completion date is April 2023, and the campus is anticipated to be operational by 2025. The Corps hired the design-build team of St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Company. and HITT Contracting of Falls Church, Va. The completed campus will include a 700,000-square-foot office building, two parking garages, a visitor center and a delivery inspection facility.

Jeff Boyer, McCarthy vice president of operations, told the magazine that N2W is “a once-in-a-lifetime project,” and that the Corps is a client that has given the design-build contractor clear direction and an understanding of its view of the project.