Photo by Jason White
From left, outgoing District Commander Col. Christopher G. Hall, District Commander Col. Anthony P. Mitchell and Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management Joseph P. Kellett at the change of command ceremony Friday at Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton.
ALTON — Melvin Price Locks and Dam’s booming signal horns heralded the arrival of a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District commander Friday.
Col. Anthony P. Mitchell took over as the district’s 51st commander in a change of command ceremony and open house at the National Great Rivers Museum. In a light moment of the proceedings, his predecessor, Col. Christopher G. Hall, handed Mitchell an unofficial emblem of the office — a Cardinals baseball cap.
Mitchell’s charge is to manage the 300-mile Mississippi River watershed above the Ohio River. The corps’ duties include overseeing locks and dams, flood protection, construction of military facilities, environmental regulations and ecosystem restoration.
“I’m humbled and deeply grateful for the trust that’s been bestowed on me today,” Mitchell said. “This is a great organization that’s been led by a great leader.”
Mitchell previously served as director of the Operational Energy and Contingency Basing Task Force in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Army and commander of both the corps’ Nashville District and the Iraq Area Office, Middle East District, in Baghdad.
Mitchell is taking over for Col. Christopher G. Hall, who first assumed command July 8, 2011. Hall oversaw recovery efforts from the 2011 floods, rock removal and dredging during near-record low water in 2012-2013, and response and recovery during last year’s flooding.
Hall said the locks and dam is the second-busiest on the Mississippi, providing passage for millions of tons of commodities each year.
“This is strategic terrain,” Hall said.
The corps operates two regional museums and five reservoirs that annually draw some 1.7 million visitors, Hall said. Working with local officials, the corps is involved in a restoration project on a levee system that protects $2.5 billion in property and 250,000 residents. In a partnership with the Audubon Society, the corps manages the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Mo.
“That’s value to our small towns; it’s value to our entire region,” Hall said.
In addition to state and federal elected officials’ representatives, Alton Mayor Brant Walker, Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson and Hartford Mayor James Spann attended the ceremony. Hall said he has enjoyed working with local officials and other regional stakeholders.
“When the chips are down, they are always pitching in to make things happen,” Hall said.
Brigadier Gen. Peter A. DeLuca, commander of the corps’ Mississippi Valley Division and president-designee of the Mississippi River Commission, praised Hall’s response to the 2012-2013 drought, when the river stage at St. Louis was below zero for 150 days. The corps kept barges moving by blasting rock pinnacles in December 2012 in a 15-mile stretch of river near Thebes, Ill.
DeLuca said the Mississippi and its tributaries comprise an inland transportation system larger than the entire world’s combined.
“The Mississippi is the artery of our country’s economy,” DeLuca said.