ST. PAUL, Minn. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, is celebrating its sesquicentennial throughout 2016.
The district marks Aug. 17, 1866, as its birthday. This is the day Maj. Gouverneur K. Warren, a West Point graduate widely acclaimed for his leadership at the Battle of Gettysburg, arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota, with orders to set up an engineering office. And since its creation, the district’s history has been entwined with the history of the region.
Warren’s first mission included surveying the Upper Mississippi River and acquiring the district’s first floating plant for the creation and maintenance of a 4-foot low-water channel between St. Paul and St. Louis.
Three years later, the Eastman Tunnel of Nicollet Island in Minneapolis collapsed. The St. Paul District responded to its first disaster by designing and building several structures to save both Nicollet Island and St. Anthony Falls. Those structures are still in place, and in use, today.
In 1884, the district completed America’s first reservoir on Lake Winnibigoshish, located near Deer River, Minnesota, and then its first reservoir system, made up of the Winnibigoshish, Leech and Pokegama reservoirs in the Mississippi River Headwaters. Later, the reservoirs of Sandy, Crosslake and Gull were added to this system. Built to augment flow on the Mississippi River as an aid to navigation, these reservoirs now provide exceptional recreation opportunities.
In 1883-1884, the St. Paul District designed and developed the road network in the nation’s first national park – Yellowstone. The first officer in charge of this project was Dan C. Kingman, who became Chief of Engineers in 1913.
In 1917, the district constructed the first Amberson Dam at what is now Lock and Dam 1 near Minnehaha Park and built the foundation to support hydropower. The nation was debating what the federal role in energy development should be and the power plant was eventually built and operated by Ford Motor Company.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the St. Paul District built the 9-foot navigation channel project in its area of responsibility, which included the building of locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River. Construction employed a huge labor force, helping the nation recover from the Great Depression. Today, around 90 million tons of commerce is moved on the upper river annually.
After the passage of the Flood Control Act of 1936, when Congress stipulated flood control was an appropriate federal activity, the workload of the Corps of Engineers increased. To date, the St. Paul District has completed a number of large flood damage reduction projects for such cities as Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Mankato in Minnesota; Grand Forks and Devils Lake in North Dakota; and La Crosse and Portage in Wisconsin.
During World War II, the St. Paul District dredged the Minnesota River to the Port of Cargill, where the Minnesota-based Cargill was building ships for the war effort. The district also constructed a new ordnance plant in Arden Hills, Minnesota, and airports for Fargo and Devils Lake, North Dakota.
In the 1980s, the St. Paul District was involved in the first joint-agency, interdisciplinary approach to environmental design in the Great River Environmental Action Team, or GREAT, study on the Mississippi River. In this process, the district developed close working relationships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state resource agencies. The success of the GREAT Study set the stage for future cooperative programs and projects to include the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program, or UMRR. To date, the St. Paul District has completed more than 27 environmental restoration projects benefiting more than 62 square miles of river and floodplain habitat.
In 1984, the district completed the Corps’ first major nonstructural flood control project at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. With cooperation from the city, state and other federal agencies, more than 100 families and approximately 12 businesses were relocated from low-lying St. Feriole Island.
Today, the St. Paul District is responsible for supporting inland navigation by operating 13 locks and dams and by maintaining a 9-foot navigation channel on the Mississippi. The district helps communities reduce damages caused by flooding by building flood risk management projects and operating 16 large reservoirs for flood risk reduction, recreation and fish and wildlife habitat. It can assist communities by responding to floods and other natural disasters. It provides engineering services to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to include the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It issues permits for work in wetlands and navigable rivers and is responsible for an environmental restoration program to improve fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, the district maintains 49 recreation areas open to the public.
“Our work strengthens the nation’s economy, enables the movement of goods and people, reduces damages from disasters such as flood and drought, restores and maintains aquatic ecosystems and provides outdoor recreation for millions,” said Col. Daniel C. Koprowski, the St. Paul District commander. “We are proud of our past and present service to the region, and we are continually transforming to be able to meet the needs of our nation well into the future.”
In celebration of 150 years, the St. Paul District will host several public open houses at its various sites throughout the year. Announcements will be sent out as it gets closer to the events.
The nearly 600 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, employees working at more than 40 sites in five upper-Midwest states serve the American public in the areas of environmental enhancement, navigation, flood damage reduction, water and wetlands regulation, recreation sites and disaster response. Through the Corps’ Fiscal Year 2015 $100 million budget, nearly 1,600 non-Corps jobs were added to the regional economy as well as $155 million to the national economy. For more information, see www.mvp.usace.army.mil.