Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, visited Jacksonville District project sites in south Florida Jan. 23 and 24, including the Tamiami Trail Modifications project and the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation project.
“Jacksonville District has the second largest civil works program in the Corps and is responsible for some of our most significant civil works projects,” said Walsh. “By visiting Herbert Hoover Dike and ongoing Everglades restoration efforts, I saw the great progress that has been made to date. Equally as important, I was impressed by this district's dedication to delivering the best possible engineering solutions and services that contribute to the nation’s economy, environment, safety and quality of life.”
One of Walsh’s first stops during his visit was to the Tamiami Trail Modifications project in Miami-Dade County, Fla., where he was able to walk along the completed bridge deck and receive an update on the current construction status. Once completed, the Tamiami Trail Modifications project will allow for increased water flow into Everglades National Park. The project is scheduled to be completed in December 2013, with the bridge itself being scheduled for completion next month.
“Three months ago, we brought our Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Bostick, to this site and concrete was still being poured on this bridge deck. Now we are able to walk completely across it,” said Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alan Dodd. “The level of commitment this team has to delivering a quality project on schedule is extremely commendable.”
After visiting the bridge site, Walsh took an airboat ride through the Everglades alongside Dan Kimball, superintendant of Everglades National Park, and Dave Sikkema, the park’s project manager, to see the Everglades first-hand and see where the resulting increased water flows from the Tamiami Trail project will have a direct benefit.
He then flew over to the district’s Picayune Strand Restoration Project in Collier County, Fla., where 55,000 acres of native Florida wetlands and uplands are being restored by plugging 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling road, and building and operating pump stations to direct fresh water to the drained wetlands. Besides restoring fresh water wetlands, the project will improve estuarine water quality by increasing groundwater recharge and reducing large and unnatural freshwater inflows. Construction of the Merritt Canal Pump Station at the Picayune Strand Restoration project is scheduled to be complete this year, and the Corps awarded the construction contract for the Faka Union Pump Station in 2010.
After witnessing these construction projects near the southern end of the Everglades ecosystem, Walsh then visited the district’s ongoing construction project that surrounds the liquid heart of the Everglades ecosystem – Lake Okeechobee and the Herbert Hoover Dike in Palm Beach County, Fla.
The Herbert Hoover Dike consists of a 143-mile embankment system surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The Jacksonville District is working to reduce the risk of embankment failure by installing a cutoff wall, along with the removal and replacement of water control structures (culverts) around the lake. In addition, a comprehensive system wide study is ongoing to identify and prioritize additional risk reduction features to help ensure the safety of south Florida residents.
“Public safety is our top priority,” said Dodd. “We recently completed the installation of 21 miles of cutoff wall between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade and expect to complete the replacement or removal of 32 water control structures by 2018. We are constantly looking for the most structurally sound and cost effective means to strengthen the dike, as each improvement reduces risk for the communities that depend upon it.”
In addition to visiting the Jacksonville District projects that are currently under construction, Walsh also paid a visit to the Central Everglades Planning Project team during a Project Delivery Team meeting they were holding in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The Central Everglades Planning Project is one of two national pilot projects being conducted by the Jacksonville District. The goal of this project is to deliver, within two years, finalized plans for a suite of restoration projects in the central Everglades for congressional authorization -- providing the first step in restoring conditions within -- and natural flows to -- the central Everglades.
“Many people are looking at what you’re able to accomplish,” said Walsh. “Not just for the Corps’ pilot project, but also for the President’s ‘We Can’t Wait’ Initiative. The lessons learned in this project will not only change the planning process for south Florida, but for the Nation.”