Category Archives: United States Army Corps of Engineers

Corthell’s 1889 Estimate of the Cost to Complete the Florida East Coast Canal

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In 1888, Florida canal company general manager George F. Miles engaged acclaimed Chicago waterway and railway engineer Elmer Corthell to survey the soil, rock, sand, and other material the Company dredges would likely encounter in completing the waterway and to estimate the cost of completion.

In turn, Corthell employed a former Army engineer, Artur [sic] Wrotnowski, to perform the actual on-the-ground measurements between bodies of water, their depths, and distances, with calculations of how much material the Florida canal company would have to move to comply with state requirements. Corthell reviewed Wrotnowski’s survey in detail and reported to the directors of the Florida canal company the amount of material to be moved and the cost to complete the waterway.

Corthell also considered mounting marine vessels on railway cars to transit difficult-to-dredge dry land between waterways but rejected the railway alternative as too expensive to maintain. In conclusion, Corthell endorsed the project on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, starting with minimum depths now, using the waterway to generate revenue to dredge a deeper and wider waterway later.  Withal, Corthell thought the Florida East Coast economy robust, more than enough to justify his estimated cost to complete of a little over $1 million in  1889 ($26 million in historic standard-of-living dollars today, 2014). Courtesy, Brown University, Hay Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

FIND 1928

The first Board of Commissioners of the Florida Inland Navigation District (1928). Courtesy, FIND.

Of all the coastal states contributing inland waterways that now make up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, only the State of Florida was required to buy its waterway for turnover to the federal government free of charge. For example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not required to buy the privately owned Cape Cod Canal built by August Belmont for turnover to the federal government free of charge.

Congress appropriated the funds to buy the Massachusetts waterway. The Florida legislature created the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) to float the bond issue at Florida taxpayer expense to buy the Florida East Coast Canal for turnover to the Corps of Engineers for enlargement and perpetual maintenance. FIND’s commissioners included yacht club commodores, newspaper publishers, and real estate developers. FIND issued a million dollars worth of bonds to buy the waterway for $725,000 and to acquire the right-of-way for the waterway’s enlargement. In the end, commissioners ‘burned’ the bonds not needed for the project, a result rarely seen in modern-day public works.

A Ten-Minute Trip Through the Cape Cod Canal

The purchase of the Cape Cod Canal built by August Belmont was authorized by the same Act of Congress in 1927 that authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to enlarge and perpetually maintain the Florida East Coast Canal.  Like the Cape Cod Canal, the Florida East Coast Canal was privately owned and collected tolls from marine traffic transiting the waterway.

The difference was that Federal funds were used to buy the Cape Cod Canal and every other waterway along the Atlantic coast to create parts of what some called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, with the exception of the Florida East Coast Canal.  The State of Florida created a special taxing district along the Florida coast to issue bonds and buy the waterway for $725,000.  No other state was required to turn over its inland waterways to the federal government, free of charge.