CHICAGO – About 90 leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, participated in the Division Virtual Senior Leader Conference (SLC) Feb. 16-18, 2021.
The SLC allows leaders the opportunity to gain exposure to the different and unique challenges and opportunities USACE faces across the region.
The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division is “two watersheds – three lake districts, four river districts – but we’re one team and there’s a lot of synergy with that,” said Maj. Gen. Robert F. Whittle, commanding general of the division, in his opening remarks.
The general went on to introduce the three-day conference theme as “Winning the future with people, partners, and data” with remarks, presentations, and breakout sessions focused on that.
“We succeed by making our peers successful,” he continued. “Everybody online now should be invested in making everyone else successful.”
The conference originally had been planned to be mixed virtual and in person hosted by the USACE Chicago District until extreme winter weather across the Midwest altered travel plans.
“We originally planned this event to take place in the great City of Chicago, but due to inclement weather we had to readjust our plans. I still want to thank everyone for the tremendous amount of hard work and effort that was put into preparing for an in-person SLC,” said Col. Paul B. Culberson, Commander and District Engineer of the Chicago District.
Col. Culberson led an overview of the Chicago District and its projects to include a brief history presentation on day two, Feb. 17. Participants gained a better understanding of the district’s civil works program and the district’s role in solving Chicago’s water resources challenges.
“We believe the history of Chicago is the history of our water,” said Col. Culberson. “In 1803, Fort Dearborn was established on the south bank of the Chicago River, marking the Army’s first presence here. In 1833, work on the Chicago Harbor began and Chicago quickly grew into a busy port. Thirty-seven years later, in 1870, the Corps’ Chicago District was established and 2020 marked the district’s 150th anniversary.”
A special session on Great Lakes dredging hosted by Steve Fischer, Deputy Chicago District Engineer, took place in the afternoon of day two and included a panel of division experts on dredging. Dredging operations have taken place on the Great Lakes for well over 100 years with dredging and dredged material management being one of the top priorities and challenges throughout the system. The Chicago District maintains 43 harbors and has dredged more than 100 million cubic yards to ensure navigation.
“Beneficial use of dredged material is a complex topic that presents many challenges and opportunities,” said Alex Hoxsie, planner with the Chicago District. “This panel was a great opportunity for our Great Lakes dredging experts to provide some regional context, frame the complexities, and discuss possible future improvements in our beneficial use programs with senior leadership.”
The dredging discussion segued into the Chicago District’s “virtual tour” by Mike Nguyen, Project Manager for the Indiana Harbor and Canal confined disposal facility (CDF) in East Chicago, Indiana. Dredging resumed in the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal in 2012 for the first time since 1972 with dredged materials now stored in the CDF.
Fischer said the Chicago District chose the CDF for the tour because of the unique aspect where USACE operates and maintains the CDF on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Resource Conservation and Recovery Act site.
Nguyen spoke about how dredged material is placed in barges and transported to the CDF, where it is off-loaded hydraulically (pumped through pipes) using water recirculated from the CDF.
The Chicago District has removed and stored more than 1.6 million cubic yards of contaminated dredged sediment since 2012, greatly reducing contaminants that had previously been washing into Lake Michigan while improving the efficiency of deep draft commercial navigation.
The objectives of the conference were to share priorities and future direction of USACE, advance the division’s implementation plan, and develop and sustain regional relationships. All these objectives were incorporated into the conference agenda.
Day One Presentations
- Guest speaker Maj. Gen. Alex Fink, chief of the U.S. Army Enterprise Marketing Office, gave an opening presentation on “Winning with People”
- Dave Wethington, Division Future Directions Branch, gave updated insights from his branch
- Presentation on the future direction of division programs by Steve Durrett, programs director
Day Two Breakout Sessions
- Adapting the workforce and workplan of the future
- Stakeholder engagement
- Opportunities in the Water Resources and Development Act of 2020
- Data for decision making
- Back briefs on breakout sessions, lessons learned and new ideas
- Discussion of the Army’s integrated Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program within the division
The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division is responsible for delivering engineering and water resource solutions for the Great Lakes and Ohio River region, which covers 335,000 square miles and encompassing portions of seventeen states.
The Chicago District is responsible for water resources development in the Chicago metropolitan area, upper Illinois River watershed, Lake Michigan watershed in Wisconsin, and the upper Wabash River watershed in Indiana – an area of about 31,500 square miles. The district delivers vital engineering services through flood and coastal storm risk management, navigation, aquatic ecosystem restoration, regulatory, emergency management, recreation, and interagency support services.