PITTSBURGH – Col. Adam Czekanski has been in command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District for a little over a year.
As he looks back on the past year, he reflects on the accomplishments of district personnel who manage the 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood damage reduction reservoirs, 80 local flood reduction projects, engineering and construction teams and hundreds of support staff.
Czekanski is a native of Buffalo, New York, and he graciously took the time to answer some questions about his first year in command for the greatest district in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Pittsburgh District: What is your favorite Pittsburgh food, and why is it so much better than Buffalo wings?
Not sure I can subscribe to a Pittsburgh food victory over the vaunted Buffalo wings, but I have discovered a few worthy adversaries during my year in the Steel City. A good sandwich from a local chain with French fries and coleslaw is appreciated at a rate not to exceed once a quarter. Excellent sandwich, but you don’t feel very good about yourself immediately after eating it! Some other favorites have been: tacos from a downtown restaurant, pierogi samplers; arepas from a Venezuelan street food place; golumpki from a Polish deli; frittata sandwich from a charming little kitchen; and a shake from a milkshake shop. I welcome any and all suggestions for other fine Pittsburgh fare that I should sample.
PD: Although you are a blue-blooded Buffalo fan, you’ve been very gracious to cheer on the Pittsburgh teams and encouraged your staff through some painful sports losses this past year. What hope can you offer to the Yinzer Nation as we brace for a Steelers season without our former hall-of-fame quarterback for the first time in nearly two decades?
CC: All I can tell you is that there are absolutely no guarantees in the NFL when you don’t have a franchise quarterback. I grew up a Bills fan during the Jim Kelly era and was spoiled with playoff runs every year and four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Despite the gut-wrenching pain of watching them lose for four straight years in the big game, life was deceptively good with a team that was highly competitive every year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after Jim Kelly’s retirement that the Bills began their 17-year playoff drought of irrelevance that consumed most of my military career. I’m pulling for Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and the Steelers in general but the AFC North is looking tough! My advice would be to build your DVR catalog of old Steelers Super Bowl and playoff highlights to take some of the sting away when times get tough this season.
PD: What has your first year been like in Pittsburgh, and how are you getting acclimated to the region?
CC: It has been a great first year with the Pittsburgh District! One of my top priorities this past year was to understand the projects and work that make up our district’s portfolio. As I did so, I gained a great appreciation for what our employees must do every day to accomplish our many missions successfully. Our 700-plus employees are geographically dispersed amongst 41 locations spread throughout our district’s 26,000 square mile footprint. Getting out to each of these locations within my first 90 days and making frequent follow-up visits has helped me appreciate the challenges our employees face and overcome daily. It is the people that drive the success of any organization, and I have been thoroughly impressed with our employees talent, ingenuity, and work ethic.
PD: You often take playful photos and selfies when visiting field or project sites. Why is it important to keep a lively sense of humor as a military commander?
CC: Command is the best job in the Army for an officer, and I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity. One of my goals when I first joined our district last year was to have fun, and I have tried to make it a point to enjoy every moment of this experience. I want people to know that I’m just a regular guy, and they can relax when I am out visiting. No reason not to keep things light!
PD: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is unlike most military organizations because of its mission and personnel. What is it like serving as an Army commander in charge of a primarily civilian workforce?
CC: I have a great deal of respect for the high caliber of employees in our Pittsburgh District. We have exceptionally talented people, and I have been thoroughly impressed with our teammates’ professionalism, commitment, and ingenuity daily. I learned long ago during my first assignment with USACE that I am never the smartest person in the room, and that’s OK because I don’t need to be! It’s good to work with such talented people who aren’t afraid to work through tough problems and find a way to accomplish the task/mission. That reassurance enables me to place a great deal of trust in our leaders and employees every day.
PD: Your wife and children still live in Buffalo while your district office is in Pittsburgh. How have you managed to keep your family life healthy and prosperous while fulfilling the constant demands of a commander?
CC: It hasn’t been easy, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job this first year. I start most days by sending texts to everyone wishing them a good day, good luck on an exam, encouragement for a game/meet, etc., and then we talk every evening on the phone. I try to telework one day each week if my schedule permits, so that I have three days with them if possible. We originally had a goal that my family would come down to Pittsburgh to spend one weekend per month down here, but that quickly went by the wayside with sports and other commitments. However, they have enjoyed their time in Pittsburgh the weekends they have come down … although forcing them on the 3-mile Heritage Run on a hot Saturday morning last month may have further set back my efforts!
PD: The Pittsburgh District will receive much-needed IIJA funding (nearly $1 billion for the Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery Locks & Dams) as part of the Upper Ohio River Navigation Project. Could you explain what this funding means in terms of rebuilding our infrastructure and sustaining navigation for the region and what to expect regarding the next steps toward construction?
CC: We are thrilled with the funding received for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project. Securing funding for any project sets the conditions for efficient execution. This is even more critical for large-scale “mega” projects such as the Upper Ohio Navigation Project, where reliable funding enables efficient project delivery years sooner than with piecemeal funding, as experienced on the Lower Monongahela Project. Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery are the oldest and smallest locks on the Ohio River. Removing the smaller auxiliary chamber at each of these facilities and replacing them with a chamber identical to the existing larger main chamber will improve reliability and increase lockage capacity on the upper Ohio River system. These improvements complement commerce’s already cost-effective and environmentally friendly nature on our inland waterways. We are scheduled to complete the lock design at Montgomery in Fall 2023, with contract award expected to occur in Spring 2024. The design developed for the Montgomery lock will be used as the basis for the designs of the new locks at Emsworth and Dashields.
PD: Looking toward the future, what are some of your other objectives and initiatives specific to the Pittsburgh region?
CC: Our efforts ramping up the Upper Ohio Navigation Project are occurring as we simultaneously wind down our work with the Lower Monongahela Navigation Project. This project includes the completion of the gated dam at Braddock that occurred in 2004, construction of a new main chamber at Charleroi scheduled for Summer 2024, and the subsequent removal of the lock and dam at Elizabeth once work at Charleroi is complete. Completing this work will improve the efficiency of maritime commerce through the lower 60 miles of the Monongahela River. We also actively monitor and analyze the potential risks to all of the navigation facilities within our portfolio and address those risks as they arise. This includes minor and major maintenance, rehabilitations, and actively looking at creative options to address aging infrastructure needs on the Allegheny River. The significant decrease in commercial traffic on the Allegheny creates funding challenges to sustain our critical infrastructure in support of the remaining industry and a very active recreational boater community. We are working with a broad range of stakeholders to identify opportunities to successfully address these challenges.
PD: Thank you for your time, sir! We wish you well in your year in command, and more!