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Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works


Among the project benefits, Norris highlighted “contributions to the sustainability of unique cultures in Alaska. There is literally no other place on Earth like this: the mix of native and non-native cultures; the subsistence users, both native and non-native; a city that sustains itself from the back of the commercial fishing industry and supports it whole-heartedly. That’s a unique culture, and it’s something that should be celebrated and supported. I think that’s the importance of this project.”

“Alaska is a very unique place with unique challenges,” Townsend echoed. “But in this case, I think the passion, vocal support and involvement by the city of Craig made a huge difference in gathering support and approval for this study. I’m going to stress that active involvement for other studies because I think it’s huge.”

Several hundred miles to the north of Craig, Ronnie Barcak and Ze Jong are respectively working as project manager and resident engineer for another harbor project at Valdez, Alaska.


Mike Mohr, a coastal engineer in the Buffalo District, stands near 16-ton
dolosse. Smaller 8-ton dolosse are being used to repair a section of the
Cleveland, Ohio, harbor breakwater, damaged during Hurricane Sandy. USACE photo

Describing the Valdez project as “a brand-new harbor,” Barcak traced the project origins to a 2011 feasibility study that highlighted the need for expanded commercial and recreational boating facilities at Valdez. The new harbor is creating three breakwaters in a 700- by 1,500-foot area currently walkable at low tide, with subsequent dredging of the newly enclosed harbor to a depth of 14 to 19 feet. The construction contract was awarded to Western Marine in late 2014.

“In 2015, they produced the rock,” Barcak said. “And this year, they start actual construction, which includes dredging into the entrance channel and into the boat harbor, and starting to place the rock to build the breakwaters.”

Barcak estimated the construction effort will run two years and the new harbor will provide the city of Valdez with space for approximately 160 new slips.

Noting his USACE career included 16 years in the Galveston District before he moved to Alaska “for a change of pace,” he said that one of the biggest surprises in Valdez is “the amount of snow that can cover up a lot of stuff.”

Other USACE civil works projects help communities recover following natural disasters.

Jong started with USACE in 1992 in the Los Angeles District. He later served in the Japan and Korea districts before coming to the Alaska District in 2006. He pointed to “the local soils” as a unique part of the Valdez project, explaining, “We have to work very closely with our geotechnical engineers because the soil is weak. So the breakwater has to be built in phases,” he continued. “The contractor places a thickness of rock and then has to wait about 21 days to let the soil consolidate before they can put the next layer of rock on. That’s just due to the strength of the soil in that area.”

The contractor also has to install drains 50 feet into the soil to allow the water to seep out and the soil to strengthen.

“There’s a deep drop-off in the area we’re building on,” Jong added. “It’s about 150 to 200 feet. And if this isn’t done to the soil, you will get a slope failure and just fall into the ocean. And that’s a steep fall.”

Barcak identified economic and environmental project benefits at local, regional, and national levels.

“That’s where the Corps of Engineers puts projects in place – where they are most beneficial to the most people,” he said.

Other USACE civil works projects help communities recover following natural disasters. And Hurricane Sandy provided the impetus for several of these efforts.

Mike Mohr, a coastal engineer in the Buffalo District since 1977, explained, “After Hurricane Sandy came through up the coast, it turned around and we got the back end of it in the Great Lakes. We had some very unusually strong winds out of the north, which caused some very rare waves in Cleveland, Ohio.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...