By Land, By Sea New England’s Army Corps of Engineers Manages Territory

Fri November 14, 2008 - Northeast Edition
James A. Merolla



This Army covers almost as much territory as the actual U.S. military.

The many, many missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, include flood damage reduction, emergency preparedness and response to natural disasters and national emergencies, environmental remediation and restoration.

It also includes natural resource management, stream bank and shoreline protection, navigation maintenance and improvement, support to military facilities and installations, and engineering and construction support to other government agencies.

According to the Corps, the six New England states cover 66,000 sq. mi. (170,939 sq km) and have 6,100 mi. (9,816 km) of coastline, 11 deep-water ports, 102 recreational and small commercial harbors, 13 major river basins and thousands of miles of navigable rivers and streams.

The New England district operates and maintains 31 dams, two hurricane barriers and the Cape Cod Canal. Through its regulatory program, the district processes about 5,000 applications per year for work in waters and wetlands of the six-state region.

The Army corps employs about 510 professional civilian employees, with approximately 300 stationed at its Concord, Mass., headquarters. The other Corps employees serve at projects and offices throughout the region.

The Citizens of New England

Many citizens of New England have benefited from the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Whether they live downstream from a flood damage reduction project in a river basin, or inland from a barrier-protected harbor mouth; whether they visit a park or recreation site operated by the Corps; or simply cross a bridge to Cape Cod, their lives are touched and improved.

Many citizens interact more directly with the agency. For example, communities experiencing a water resource problem can apply to the Corps for assistance either directly or through their elected representatives. Through its continuing authorities programs, the Corps can address many local problems related to flood control, navigation, environmental restoration and erosion in a timely manner without specific Congressional approval.

Corps engineers from a variety of disciplines are available to work with communities in solving such problems, from analysis of the cause and design of a solution, to management of the construction and operation.

Other citizens interact with the Corps through its regulatory program, which requires a permit for most work in waterways and wetlands in the region. Corps personnel are available to advise applicants about permit procedures.

Today, as in the past, the Army Corps of Engineers is concerned about the quality of service that it provides its customers. Those customers include the Armed Forces, other federal agencies, state and local governments and the citizens of New England. The Corps is proud of a tradition of service in New England that began on Bunker Hill more than 230 years ago. It intends to extend that tradition through this century and beyond.

Since 1775

It is appropriate that the U.S. Army Corps New England Division is headquartered in historic Concord, site of a famous Revolutionary War battle.

The Corps traces its beginnings to the opening days of the Revolutionary War when Boston native Col. Richard Gridley was named chief engineer of the Massachusetts Volunteers and, shortly thereafter, chief engineer of the newly formed Continental Army by Commander-in-Chief General George Washington.

The first Army engineering action occurred on the night of June 16, 1775, when Gridley designed and supervised the construction of an earthwork on Breed’s Hill overlooking Boston Harbor that would prove impregnable against British bombardment during a fierce battle the following day. Although the patriots lost the position after running out of ammunition, the Battle of Bunker Hill marked the beginning of the long tradition of service to New England that the Corps continues today.

After the Revolutionary War, the Army’s engineer corps was dissolved until it became apparent that the growing nation had a continuing need for military engineers. In 1802, the Congress established a Corps-operated military engineering school at West Point, N.Y. West Point served in that capacity until 1866 when it became the U.S. Military Academy. Graduates of West Point — the nation’s only engineering school for many decades — provided the engineering skills that built the nation from the eastern seaboard to western shore.

In 1824, the Congress expanded the Corps’ responsibility by passing the General Survey Act, which authorized it to survey and build a network of internal improvements, including roads, canals and railroads.

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a worldwide organization that provides engineering services and construction support for a wide variety of military and civil projects.

The Corps’ primary military mission is to provide the armed forces with modern facilities, both at home and abroad, to strengthen the nation’s defensive capability and ensure combat readiness.

The Corps’ primary civil works mission is to develop and manage the country’s water resources. Its projects reduce flood damage, improve harbors and navigation channels, protect stream banks and shorelines, generate hydroelectric power and preserve and safeguard the environment.

It is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation. The Corps hosts approximately 360 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches and other areas, and estimates that 25 million Americans (1 in 10) visit a Corps project at least once a year. Supporting visitors to these recreation areas generates 600,000 jobs across the United States.

In addition to water resources projects, the Corps serves as manager for major construction projects undertaken by other federal agencies and allied governments.

The military and civil missions complement each other, allowing Corps professionals to develop, in peacetime, the skills the nation would need in war or other emergencies.

Civilian employees account for 98 percent of the Corps worldwide staff; military officers make up the remainder. There are eight Corps divisions, with 41 districts in the United States. The New England District is part of the North Atlantic Division, which is headquartered in New York City.

Remediation in Mass.

The New England District, Massachusetts chapter, provides support to EPA’s Region 1 Superfund program. This includes site investigations, design work, construction execution and some operation and maintenance at federal lead sites. The Corps is often the first organization contacted when development and construction work intercedes with sensitive wetlands or other environmentally protected areas.

In addition, the district provides other technical assistance (five-year review, real estate support, etc.) at removal and national priority list sites being addressed by the New England region.

Its scope is staggering. As of summer’s end, the New England District is assisting in dozens of ongoing, multi-million projects just in Massachusetts alone, including:

• More than $100 million in work at the site of the General Electric (GE) facility in Pittsfield, Mass., an area of about 300 acres (121.4 ha) along the north bank of the Housatonic River.

According to the EPA, past operations by GE have caused significant contamination with PCBs and other compounds in this facility — soil, ground water and buildings — and in the river. EPA and GE reached an agreement, approved by U.S. Circuit Court in 2000, to clean up the area and restore it.

The Corps’s efforts have included site investigations, the remediation of a 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) stretch of the river, risk assessments, modeling and oversight of GE activities. They are currently taking steps to put a new support contract in place ($25 million in capacity, $5 million in duration) that will be used to support EPA as it works with GE to address the Housatonic downstream from Pittsfield.

The project is ongoing and still fettered with delays and other problems. On Sept. 9, the EPA completed an extensive review of the March 2008 report by GE Corp. regarding GE’s analysis of clean up alternatives and preferences to clean up PCB contamination from the “Rest of River” portion of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield.

In comments sent to GE, EPA detailed critical issues that are inadequately addressed in the report — especially regarding impacts on the river ecosystem during clean up work, and impacts on aesthetic enjoyment of the area by local residents. GE must now address more than 150 new concerns raised by the agency and submit additional detailed information within 90 days in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“Cleaning up the portions of the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield is one of the most significant environmental challenges for this generation of New Englanders,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “It will be complicated and challenging for us to both remove elevated levels of PCBs from the river, while also protecting the valuable aesthetic and recreational values of this beautiful rural waterway. We can all agree that we need to do this work, and get it right.

“We are very fortunate to have such a high level of interest among communities up and down the river, and EPA intends to continue to seek their involvement at each stage as we go forward,” added Varney.

• The Atlas Track Corps. Superfund site in Fairhaven, Mass., is a former industrial manufacturing facility whose soils, sediments, ground and surface water were contaminated with heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and other chemicals.

The site’s wetlands were filled with wastes from the former manufacturing processes that included electroplating, acid washing, enameling and painting. EPA and the corps started site work in 2005 and the remediation and restoration of the site was completed in Sept. 2007. More than 60,000 cu. yd. (45,873 cu m) of soil and sediment were excavated and taken off site for disposal at a cost of about $22 million.

• A New Bedford, Mass., site that has been supported by the Corps through EPA since the mid-1980s. Six separate major dredging projects have been accomplished resulting in the removal of more than 100,000 cu. yd. (76,455 cu m) of PCB-contaminated sediment. The latest effort took place between August and October 2007 and resulted in the removal of about 25,000 cu. yd. (19,114 cu m) of sediment from the northern portion of the harbor.

The corps expects to dredge more at the site in October 2008 — some 20,000 to 25,000 cu. yd. (15,291 to 19,114 cu m) of contaminated sediment would be dredged, dewatered and 80 percent of it will be shipped via rail to an out-of-state disposal facility. The annual cost of this work is more than $15 million.

And many more.

Construction Assistance

The Army Corps of Engineers also helps the U.S. Defense Department and the Congressionally directed effort to promptly clean up of hazardous waste, unsafe buildings, structures and debris at current and former military facilities.

A total of 327 used defense sites (FUDs) have been identified in Massachusetts alone. Site and project eligibility investigations at 325 sites are now complete, including 206 where no work was found to be necessary.

Of the 119 sites where work was needed, remedial construction projects have been completed at:

• The Westover Light Annex No. 2 in Granby, Westover Light Annex No. 3 in Amherst, New Salem Gap Filler Annex in New Salem, Westover Remote Site in Shutesbury, Springfield Armory-Rail and the Chapman Valve Exp. in Springfield, Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Westover Air Force Base in Ludlow, Hadley Nike Site, Swansea Nike Site, Nike Site P-19 in Rehoboth, the Beverly Nike Site, Danvers/Topsfield Nike Site, Fort Ruckman in Nahant, Nike Sites in Nahant and Burlington, Ipswich Data Collection Lab Annex in Ipswich, Lincoln Nike Site, Nike Site in Reading/Wakefield, Fort Strong in Winthrop, Naval Fuel Annex in East Boston, the Charlestown Naval Fuel Annex and Navy Yard, Fort Warren in Boston, Fort Standish in Boston, the South Boston Naval Annex, the Needham Nike Site, Camp Candoit in Cotuit, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, Fort Andrews in Hull, the Army Reserve Training Center, Naval Ammunition Depot and Annex and Nike Site in Hingham, Camp Wellfleet, Fort Revere in Hull, Nike Site in Quincy, Camp Edwards in Sandwich and a dozen more.

Construction rehab is ongoing at the Hingham Former Burning Ground in Wompatuck State Park, the site of the former Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, the Naval Fuel Annex, the Watertown Arsenal, the Charlestown Naval Yard, Camp Wellfleet, Osborne Pond and Camp Goodnews.

The Corps also helps with military base realignment and closure. Much of this involves new construction projects, like the $31.5 million design-build contract for an Armed Forces Reserve Center at Westover Air Reserve Base, which was awarded to Consigli Construction Company Inc. of Milford, Mass. (and Portland, Maine), on May 31, 2007.

The design is completed and construction is starting as of press time.

• The Defense Environmental Restoration Program is a congressionally directed effort, which provides for expanded work in environmental restoration. It emphasizes the identification, investigation and prompt cleanup of hazardous and toxic waste; unexploded ordnance; and unsafe and unsightly buildings, structures and debris at facilities currently or formerly used by the Department of Defense. To date, approximately 700 sites have been identified in the six-state New England region.

Dams and Floods

Working in cooperation with agencies of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the corps supervises flood damage areas and provides diverse “quality outdoor recreational opportunity” on each of the 11 flood damage reduction reservoirs it has constructed in the Bay State, the Cape Cod Canal and the Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area.

These include supervising:

• The Barre Falls Dam on the Ware River in Barre, an 885-ft. long (269.7 m) and 69-ft. high (21 m) dam that was built in 1958 and can store 7.8 billion gal. (30 million L) of water. Barre Falls has prevented an estimated $49.7 million in flood damages over the decades.

• The Birch Hill Dam on the Millers River in Royalston, which was built in 1942. The 1,400-ft. long (426.7 m), 56-ft. high (17 m) dam can store 16.2 billion gal. (61.3 billion L) of water and has been estimated to prevent some $70.8 million in water damages.

• Buffumville Lake on the Little River in Charlton, built in 1958. This 12,700-acre-ft. of storage at Buffumville is equal to 3.9 billion gal. (14.8 billion L) of water and is impounded by a 3,255-ft. long (992 m), 66-ft. high (20 m) earthen dam which has prevented an estimated $88.9 million in damages.

• The Cape Cod Canal, the widest sea-level canal in the world, which extends 17.4 mi. (28 km) across the narrow neck that joins Cape Cod to the mainland. The corps operates and maintains the Canal from a field office in Buzzards Bay, about 50 mi. south of Boston.

The canal, with a 32-ft. deep (9.7 m) by 700-ft. wide (213 m) approach canal, saves commercial and recreational vessels 65 to 150 mi. (depending on trip origin and destination) from the route on the outer Cape, where shoals and treacherous currents have made navigation hazardous for centuries.

The toll-free waterway, with two mooring basins, is open for passage to all boating craft properly equipped and seaworthy. The corps has operated and maintained the canal since the title was bought and obtained from the U.S. government in 1928.

In 1933, three bridges were authorized and constructed over the canal — the Sagamore and Bourne highway bridges and the Railroad Bridge at Buzzard’s Bay — all maintained and operated by the Corps.

• The Corps also is responsible for 10 more dams and recreational areas.

For more information, go to www.nae.usace.army.mil/ CEG