Within two weeks of Philadelphia congressman Joseph Hampton Moore (Rep.) filing a bill in March 1907 authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to survey a route for an Intracoastal waterway from Maine south to Beaufort, N.C., North Carolina congressman John Humphrey Small (Dem.) filed a similar bill authorizing a survey from Beaufort, N.C., to Key West, Fla.
Consistent with Congress’s early historical view of the Constitution as a limiting document, constraining the powers of Congress to surveys only for internal improvements within the States, it would take two more decades for Congress to acquire the privately owned canals along the Atlantic coast, including the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal, and the Florida East Coast Canal, as well as the Cape Cod Canal to the north of Norfolk, Va. In the case Florida, Florida was the only state required to purchase its own canal (the old Florida East Coast Canal) and turn it over to the federal government, free and clear, for future improvements, along with all necessary right-of-way and maintenance spoil areas for deposit of future dredged material from the conversion of the old Florida East Coast Canal tollway into the toll-free Intracoastal Waterway.
A continuous Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Trenton, N. J. to Miami, Fla., would not be fully completed by the Army Corps of Engineers until 1935, with the exception of a few incomplete miles in New Jersey.
Completed in 2002, the new Palm Valley Bridge, near Ponte Vedra Beach, is the only bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida not owned or controlled by the State. This fixed span bridge is owned by the Federal Government and maintained and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its vertical clearance is 65 feet.
All other bridges in Florida are state-controlled but generally built by matching funds provided by both the State of Florida and the Federal Government. Except for Palm Valley, the State of Florida provides for the funding of all bridge tenders. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security establishes the schedules for all bridge openings through the agency of the Coast Guard.
Other rules regarding use of the waterway by vessels such as vessel speeds and anchoring (or mooring) in open water may be imposed by the state or local government or both to the extent the Federal Government decides to take no action.
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.
Horatio G. Wright was the first Florida chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1852-1854). Wright superintended the first cut in what would become the Florida section of the Intracoastal Waterway, joining the Matanzas and Halifax rivers at Titusville, Fla. After years of wrangling over Congress’s constitutional powers, Congress authorized a mere pittance of $1,200 to dredge a short cut two feet deep and ten feet wide to join the waterways for military defensive purposes.
At the country’s founding, Thomas Jefferson had fought for a military with limited powers to survey the internal improvements of the Nation but not to spend a dime’s worth of taxpayer dollars for construction of roads, waterways, and bridges. Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists pursued an expansive view of the military to fund inland waterways at taxpayer expense. The small waterway at Titusville represented a grudging nod to a burgeoning nation with the need to transport commerce and defend the Nation. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.