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The history of the United States Army Engineers can be traced to June 1775, when the continental Congress organized an army and appointed Colonel Richard Gridley as General George Washington’s first Chief Engineer. However, it was not until 1779 that Congress created a separate Corps of Engineers. Army Engineers played significant roles in some of the major battles of the Revolutionary War, and afterwards the Engineers mustered out of service. In 1794, Congress organized a Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, but it was not until 1802 that it re-established a separate Corps of Engineers; it is from that year that the organization’s continuous existence dates. In that same year, Congress established a military academy at West Point, New York, and its first superintendent, Colonel Jonathan Williams, also became the first Chief Engineer of the Corps. From its beginnings, many of the Nation’s leaders advocated that the Corps contribute to both military construction and works of a “civil nature.” Throughout the 19th century, the Corps supervised the construction of coastal fortifications and, with the Corps Topographical Engineers, mapped much of the American West. The Corps also constructed lighthouses, helped develop jetties and piers for harbors, and surveyed and mapped the channels of many rivers for navigation improvements. Congress passed the General Survey Act in 1824, appropriating $75,000 for the Corps of Engineers to remove snags and sandbars from the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Thus, both military and civil works construction are ingrained in the Corps’ heritage.
In the organizational evolution of the Corps, District Offices began to be formed in the 1870s and Division offices were created by General Orders in 1888. Louisville Engineer District was officially established in 1886, and Major Amos Stickney was the first officer in charge to actually have the title “District Engineer.”
The history of the Louisville District is rooted in the role that it has played in the development of navigation projects on the Ohio River, most notably those constructed at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville. The presence of Army Engineers at the Falls can be documented over a period of 200 years. Initially, the engineers assisted local surveyors in mapping and laying out the best route for a canal to bypass the treacherous Falls. The Louisville and Portland Canal opened in December 1830. Later, as the private company which operated the original canal sought to provide safe navigation over the Falls at high water, they turned to the Federal engineers to survey areas where the navigable passes could be improved. The company sought federal assistance in a major improvement project in the 1860s and 1870s, and in fact, Army engineers completed that project in 1872, widening the canal and constructing a 2-flight lock, the largest in the world at that time. That work was directed by Major Godfrey Weitzel, who by 1879, had also supervised construction of the first moveable dam over the river at the Falls. When the Federal government assumed jurisdiction at the Falls in 1874, the chief concerns of the Corps were the challenges presented in maintaining the navigation structures, and in continuing to remove rock and widen the dangerous passes over the Falls.
The 20th Century mission of the Corps at the Falls has been the assurance of safe and efficient navigation through construction and maintenance of numerous projects, consisting of canal widening, and larger locks. As we enter the 21st Century, a second 1200’ lock chamber is under construction, which will continue the Corps navigation heritage at the Falls of the Ohio, well beyond the 200 year mark. In addition to its activity at the Falls, the Louisville District played a major part in developing the first canalization project on the Ohio River, which when completed in 1929, consisted of a system of 50 locks and dams from Pittsburgh to Cairo. In the 1950s the old moveable wicket dams began to be replaced in a navigation modernization program, now comprised of 18 high-lift dams, 6 of which are in the Louisville District. Locks and Dams 52 and 53, the last of the moveable dams, will be replaced by Olmsted Locks and Dam, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2009. With a cost of $1.1 billion, this is the most costly civil works project ever undertaken by the District. Further attesting to its heritage in navigation development is the fact that since the 1880s, the Louisville District has operated locks and dams systems on the Green and Kentucky Rivers.
Since the mid 1800s, Federal engineers, in response to recurring floods and a growing public outcry for relief, have debated effective flood protection measures. Legislation passed in the 1920s further defined a federal role in flood protection, but it was the 1936 Flood Control Act that recognized flood damage reduction as a “proper activity of the Federal government in cooperation with the States…” That landmark legislation, together with record floods in the Ohio Valley in 1936 and 1937, marked the beginning of comprehensive federal flood damage reduction work by the Corps. In the 1940s the Louisville District began construction of local protection projects, which are operated and maintained by local government. The District has constructed 20 multi-purpose flood reduction lakes, which are part of a coordinated protection system consisting of 78 lakes located throughout the Ohio Valley. Cagles Mill Lake, completed in 1953, was the District’s first multi-purpose project; Taylorsville Lake, completed in 1983, is the most recent. The local protection projects, together with the multi-purpose lakes, have provided over $1 billion in flood reduction benefits.
The military construction mission of the Louisville District has its beginnings in the World War II era. In October 1940, the Corps of Engineers was assigned part of the airport construction program for the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), and one month later was given the job of building installations for the Army Air Force. The airfield construction activity occurred primarily in Kentucky and Indiana, and the District played a crucial role in that program. In December 1941, Congress transferred to the Corps responsibility for real estate acquisition, construction, and maintenance for Army facilities, including training camps, government-owned munitions plants, air bases, depots, and hospitals. The new mission meant vast increases in workload and personnel for the District. In 1942, the peak year for wartime construction, daily expenditures in the District often exceeded $1 million, as work progressed on as many as 50 projects. The District undertook enormous construction projects at Fort Knox and Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, and at Camp Atterbury and Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. In its diversified construction activity, the District built complete airfields, frame barracks for troop housing, mess halls, fire houses, roads, warehouses, hospitals, utilities systems, and huge munitions production facilities, such as Indiana Ordnance Plant at Charlestown, Indiana.
In the District’s current military program, our customers are a diverse group of installations which are served by providing master planning, design and construction, and real estate management for the Army, Air Force, and Department of Defense agencies. Within the 5 state military area, the District supports 4 Air Force and 10 Army installations, 2 Department of Defense sites, and 6 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) sites. Among the District’s major projects are Consolidation Acquisition Management Complex, Phase 4B ($15M), and the Air Force Museum ($20M) at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH; MPDTR Wilcox Range, Fort Knox, KY ($7.2M); Child Development Center, Rock Island, IL, ($3.5M); and DISCOM Barracks, Phase III, ($47M) and the Passenger Processing Center ($11.4M), Fort Campbell, KY. In addition, the Louisville District is the Corps of Engineers Program and Design Agent for the U. S. Army Reserve. As such, the District provides a diverse range of services to the USAR, including construction, maintenance and repair, facility revitalization, and furniture design, purchase, and installation. Also, the District is the program manager and lead project manager for the U. S. Air Force Reserve, performing similar functions to that for the Army.
The District is active in the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program, identifying, investigating, and cleaning up contamination at properties once owned or used by the Department of Defense. FUDS projects fall within one or more categories: Hazardous, Toxic, and Radioactive Wastes (HTRW), Ordinance and Explosive Waste (OEW), or Building Demolition and/or Debris Removal.
The District plays a support role in NASA’s project to decommission the Plum Brook, Ohio Reactor Facility, providing project management and engineering functions. The project is expected to be completed by mid- 2006 with all buildings being demolished and the site released for unrestricted use, with NRC license termination by the end of 2007.
The future of the Louisville District is promising, with a combined military and civil works budget in Fiscal Year 2003 of over $575 million. With a vision based in customer satisfaction and the provision of excellence in engineering services, the District team anticipates future challenges with assurance of a capability to deliver timely and effectively in the best Corps tradition as Nation Builders.