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Mobile District Leadership Travels Entire Tenn-Tom; Builds Partnerships

June 27, 2023   Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

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Partnerships. They are one of the most integral and important aspects of most any mission or business within the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. USACE success heavily depends on developing and maintaining diverse and sound partnerships, and the Mobile District leadership team recently spent a week proactively engaging with many of them, from Muscle Shoals, Ala. to Columbus, Miss.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District Commander, Col. Jeremy Chapman, along with operations leadership staff, industry partners, the Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) Waterway Development Authority (TTWWA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Nashville District, and the entirety of the USACE, Tenn-Tom Waterway lock and dam staff collectively.


The purpose of the trip was to understand the Tenn-Tom Waterway system and the partners that are critical to the waterway operations and economic prosperity of the region it serves.


The Mobile and Nashville Districts, along with federal partner Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), run the system day after day to connect the Gulf to the greater Ohio River Valley and beyond. This foundational relationship has significant capability and serves the navigation industry and regional businesses that serve local populations across the eastern United States.


"It was great hosting Col. Chapman and the team with the Mobile District at Wilson Lock," said Col. Joseph Sahl, USACE Nashville District Commander. “I enjoyed joining the Mobile team for a tour of the dam with our partners at the Tennessee Valley Authority."


The first day of the week-long trip began in Muscle Shoals, Alabama at the Wilson Lock and Dam. Chapman and the Mobile District team met Sahl and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority (TTWWA) administrator, Mitch Mays, at Wilson to tour the facilities and offer insight into the incredible size and operation of the project.


The Wilson Lock & Dam was the most ambitious American public works project of its time. The massive structure, 137 feet in height and more than 4,500 feet long (a world record), required the excavation of nearly 1.5 million cubic yards of earth and rock and consumed 1.3 million cubic yards of concrete.


At 94 feet, its lock lift established another world record and remains the highest on the system. After 75 years, Wilson is still among the highest-capacity hydroelectric plants in the nation.


It is the only neoclassical-style dam in the TVA system, integrating themes of ancient Roman and Greek architecture into the modern structure. It has 21 generating units with a net dependable capacity of 663 megawatts.


Though it was built by the Army Corps of Engineers, Wilson Dam stands as a testament to the effectiveness of the TVA, an independent, government-owned corporation. It marked the first attempt in the United States to conserve and develop natural resources on a regional scale.


Today, Wilson is one of 32 major dams that work together to provide flood control, navigation, electrical power, and the benefits of recreation and water supply to the people of the Tennessee Valley.


The Nashville District constructed the northern divide cut and Bay Springs Lock (now Jamie L. Whitten Lock) on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway back in the 1980s.


"We have a rich history of working together with the Mobile District," said Sahl. "Visiting projects like Wilson Lock provides greater understanding as both Districts continue to support navigation interests in the region."


A series of 26 locks can be found along the Tennessee, Black Warrior Tombigbee Waterway, and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.


The next day, Chapman joined Justin Murphree, the Tenn-Tom USACE Mobile District Operations and Project Manager, and Civil Engineer, Roger Wilson, on a tour of the Tenn-Tom aboard the new 26-foot survey vessel named, Miss Agnes.


Miss Agnes is a custom marine survey vessel with an enclosed center console and a three-monitor survey station, powered by twin 200-hp motors. It is also multi- and single-beam capable. The trip down the waterway was her first true maiden voyage. The Miss Agnes is named for the late Mrs. Agnes Goodman Zaiontz, a former office manager for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority since its opening in 1985.


“The on-site meeting with Nashville District leaders was a wonderful tool to allow both districts to share ideas and challenges. Our systems are connected, even though we are in different USACE divisions. This sharing of ideas allows us to form continuity to our customers who travel throughout our systems,” said Justin Murphree, the Tenn-Tom USACE Mobile District Operations Project Manager. “The meetings with TVA were very informative. TVA demonstrated capabilities that many in USACE do not know exist. I think they will be a great partner to Mobile District in the future.”


Mitch Mays, Administrator for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and president of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Council also joined aboard the Agnes for the ride down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, serving as an integral voice for the Authority while providing insights about local laws and industry concerns.


The 15-hour trip started in Tishomingo, MS., and ended in Columbus, MS., with the Colonel and team stopping and meeting with each lock & dam crew along the way.


“Not many Commanders get to experience their projects in the same way that Col. Chapman experienced the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway,” Murphree said. “I think seeing the project and experiencing the service from our customer’s point of view gave Col. Chapman a better idea of our successes and challenges on the Tenn-Tom.


The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is part of the Mobile District. It joins the Tennessee River in Northeast Mississippi with the old Tombigbee River near Amory, Mississippi. The waterway is 234 miles long and runs from Yellow Creek Port near Pickwick Lake to Demopolis, Alabama. The system features 10 lakes and 10 locks and dams that allow for a shorter navigational route from the interior United States to the Gulf of Mexico.


The 10 locks on the Tenn-Tom allow a tow size of eight barges in single lockage, have an interior dimension of 600’L x 110’W, and have a total lift of 341’. They operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Mays said the Authorities relationship with the Mobile District is integral to the success of both.


"The Authority has a long history of working closely with the USACE and the Mobile District in particular,” said Mays. “We must maintain a clear and good working relationship with the Corps so that the member states realize the full use and benefit of this resource. Likewise, we want the USACE to view us as a resource to provide information to users of the TTW and the elected officials in the member states. It’s important that the Mobile District know and understands.”


Chapman said that the boat tour of the waterway was very productive and cemented the district’s relationship with its partners.


“Mitch Mays invested his valued time with us as well, where we all learned several lessons spending time with the Nashville District leadership. Many times, their challenges are the same ones we’re having, So, it's great to talk to them, and we will bring our lock and dam operators on the trip next time to talk through best practices.”


All in all, Chapman said he felt the Tenn-Tom Waterway Tour was a great way forge relationships and for him to get a unique perspective of the district he commands.


“It was good to spend that time on the boat with Justin Murphree, Mitch Mays, and Roger Wilson and talk through some of our challenges while traveling through the system”, said Chapman. "It helps to see and pinpoint where our trouble spots are along the waterway, as this will directly impact the ongoing study to deepen and widen the system. If deepening were approved, it would be a massive billion-dollar project…probably the biggest project since it was originally completed in 1984.”