The Delaware River: A Natural Link between the Army Corps of Engineers and the Independence Seaport
May 6, 2013
The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are not the only two entities brought together by the Delaware River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Philadelphia District and the Independence Seaport Museum are as well. Both share a common interest in the river and have in recent months joined in a number of efforts to promote it.
The Delaware is a major American river that cuts through four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Maintaining the Delaware River and keeping it open and safe for both commercial and personal use is no small feat. As such, it is no surprise there are close to a dozen governmental and non-governmental organizations and agencies that are involved in some way with the river. Each of these organizations is quite different from one another, yet they are all focused on one common goal: keeping the Delaware River safe, accessible, and functional.
The Army Corps is tasked with keeping the river's channel safe and open for shipping. To do this, it must periodically dredge the channel to keep it to a certain depth. In order to do this, it constantly surveys the river's bottom for the buildup of shoals.
"We maintain a continual presence on the river," explained Stephen Farrell, chief of field surveys for the District, "monitoring changes in the contours of the river bottom and forwarding this information to various government agencies."
The Independence Seaport Museum, located on the banks of the Delaware at Penns Landing in Philadelphia, is dedicated to preserving the history of the river and the port and their enormous contribution to the economy and lifestyle of the region. The museum maintains one of the largest maritime collections in North America, combining more than 25,000 artifacts with dozens of hands-on exhibits and large-scale ship models.
John Brady, the museum's chief executive officer, said that in addition to serving as a repository for important documents and artifacts, he would like to see the museum play the role of "connector," connecting the various agencies dedicated in one way or another to the river. "The Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Coast Guard play a major role in keeping this river safe and navigable," said Brady.
There are currently three distinct exhibits on display at the museum in which the Army Corps was involved in creating. They are: Fighting the Elements, Alive and Well, and Disaster on the Delaware. All Army Corps items used in the exhibits are either on loan from or belong to the Philadelphia District.
"Fighting the Elements", explains how dredging works and why it needs to be done. "Through our museum, the public now has an opportunity to learn more about the Army Corps and about dredging. It is as if the public is able to connect with the Corps via the museum. If we can help inform the public of what the Corps does on the river, that's great," said Megan Grimm-Atwood of the Seaport Museum.
A few feet from "Fighting the elements" is a display of traditional ship knots created by an Army Corps employee. Titled "Alive and Well" the artfully crafted knots are the work of David Kline, a veteran dredge tender on the McFarland, the Army Corps dredge that is home-ported in Philadelphia.
Kline donated the knots to the museum to help preserve an important part of maritime tradition and history.
"It takes up to 100 hours to complete some of these pieces," he said, "but it is worth it. My work is inspired by 40 years of living on the sea." Kline served in the Navy before joining the Army Corps of Engineers.
The newest and most extensive of the three exhibits is titled "Disasters on the Delaware" and explores the tragedies that have befallen the Delaware River over the last two centuries. The Seaport Museum came up the idea for the exhibit and worked with its "partner" agencies to develop the exhibit into what it is today.
"The Corps plays a role in the river and we felt they should be part of the exhibit," says Grimm-Atwood. Much like the local Pilot's Association, the Army Corps provides "eyes on the river" for the Coast Guard. Upkeep, surveying, and maintenance to the river as well as search and rescue are areas that the Army Corps is deeply involved in and as such, the Corps was asked to participate in the development of this gallery.
Prominently featured is the Corps' field survey chief, Stephen Farrell.
"In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, the Army Corps is called upon to identify and locate objects that are possible hazards to ship navigation," Farrell said. The corps reports its findings to the Coast Guard and the Pilots Association.
The Army Corps is proud to partner with private sector agencies and organizations like the Seaport Museum. The Corps welcomes such opportunities, especially when they help educate the public about the Corps many civil works projects. "These exhibits are a testament to the value the Philadelphia District places on community outreach," says Ed Voigt, chief of Public Affairs for the Corps' Philadelphia District. With the ultimate goal of keeping the public well informed, the Independence Seaport Museum and the Philadelphia District are looking forward to working together for many years to come.