From the Corps of Engineers Flickr collection:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District contractor Weeks Marine uses their dredge, B. E. Lindholm, to keep the Cape Henry portion of the Baltimore Harbor Channel at 51 feet deep so ships can safely travel up the Chesapeake Bay to the Port of Baltimore. Because the Cape Henry portion of the channel is at the entrance way to the Chesapeake Bay, Norfolk District takes on this project in support of its sister district, Baltimore. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Bloodgood)
Caption: Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge, B.E. Lindholm
Dredge material is pumped on board Weeks Marine’s hopper dredge, B.E. Lindholm, from the depths of the Cape Henry Channel at the entrance way to the Chesapeake Bay. The dredge is working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District, which is tasked with keeping the channel at 51 feet so ships can safely travel to the Port of Baltimore. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo by Patrick Bloodgood)
As the captions state, the dredge in these photos is a contracted vessel. However the Corps of Engineers maintains a small fleet of its own dredges too (I think they are down to four currently). Those vessels, supplemented by contracted resources such as the B.E. Lindholm, perform a mission dating back to 1824 – maintain navigation for the nation’s harbors and riverways.
Because of this task and other similar civil engineering missions, funding for the Corps of Engineers projects is not your traditional “beans and bullets” army stuff. Unlike… say… tank procurement, the projects taken on by the Corps in these missions often have a direct impact on taxpayers. “Infrastructure” is the word you hear most often in these budget battles. And that also often puts the Corps in the unenviable position of executing someone’s pet project aimed at pleasing a particular constituent audience. The civil engineering missions also place the Corps in the role of enforcer for a myriad of Federal regulations – ranging from the Clean Water Act to the National Historic Preservation Act. Given this wide ranging mission, current plans for FY 2013 call for $4.731 billion just in discretionary spending, specific to the civil engineering tasks.
Given the budget cuts to the Army, should the Corps of Engineers retain this role? Should the role instead be handed over to other government agencies, perhaps Department of Transportation or Commerce? Or…. gasp… make the Environmental Protection Agency responsible for maintaining wetlands? Maybe tell the Navy to dredge its own channels?
Would the Army do well to relinquish this long traditional role? Or is this a role the Army should retain?