News: USACE Galveston District employee spotlight on Simon DeSoto
Story by Sandra Arnold
MATAGORDA, Texas (March 21, 2013) – At the age of 18, Colorado River Lockmaster Simon DeSoto fell in love. Though she was two years his senior, he knew this relationship would last a lifetime and remained committed to providing her with the attention she deserved to fulfill her unique demands, maintain her integrity and ensure her wellbeing. Though the laundry list of "to dos" was great, he knew she (the Colorado River Locks - completed in 1954), was more than worthy of his labor of love.
Growing up along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, it seemed only natural that Simon DeSoto would join his father and brother in the commercial navigation industry, operating towboats to push barges along the GIWW, but instead he decided to stay on land and accept a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District as a lock operator to assist vessels crossing the intersection of the Colorado River.
The Colorado River crossing of the GIWW was originally constructed without navigation structures. Due to rapid shoaling of the waterway at the crossing, it became evident that a protective structure would be required to reduce excessive dredging costs.
Plans and specifications were prepared and a contract was issued to the Brown & Root Company for the construction of two floodgates, which were completed in September 1944, at a total cost for new work of $2,251,400.
The floodgates proved effective in the reduction of silt deposition in the waterway, but delays to navigation were experienced due to a frequent and excessive head differential caused by floodwaters in the Colorado River. In May 1951, a contract was awarded to the Texas Construction Company for conversion of the floodgates to navigational locks, construction of mooring walls, turfing and slope protection. The contract was completed in April 1954 at a total cost for the new work of $3,473,000.
“I fell in love with the locks because it provides me with a sense of accomplishment in knowing that I have a hand in helping the nation’s waterborne commerce transport goods in timely, safe and efficient manner,” said DeSoto. “An added bonus is the interesting people I get to meet along their travels.”
DeSoto once opened the locks for a young college student who was canoeing from Canada to South America.
“We corresponded by email on his journey south and even after he completed his adventure,” said DeSoto. “It was very interesting to hear his tales and to know that we provided access to him for his journey.”
Another chance encounter came when actor Brad Pitt filmed an Academy Award nominated movie “The Tree of Life,” at the mouth of the Colorado River Project. DeSoto was selected to take part in the movie and spent three days interacting with the movie star. But according to DeSoto, that was not the highlight of his career.
“My most memorable moment was when I was told by Raymond Butler, (former executive director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association), that I was selected as one of the “100 most influential people” who are or have been members of GICA at their 100 year anniversary celebration in Victoria,” DeSoto said.
DeSoto remains an integral part of the district’s mission to keep waterways open for navigation and is currently working on a policy that proposes adjusting operations at the Brazos River Floodgates and Colorado River Locks to reduce wear and tear on navigation lock equipment and gates and prolong the life of the system and make available more operating dollars to address ongoing maintenance needs.
“Simon has been instrumental in helping the district evaluate our operations to ensure our lock and floodgate structures function in a manner that is both sustainable, adaptable to fiscal challenges and responsive to users’ needs,” said Col. Christopher W. Sallese, USACE Galveston District commander. “This system-wide approach will enable the district to provide the best level of service within the available budget and continue to ensure the safe and expeditious navigation of commercial and recreational vessels along the Texas coast.”
With 37 years of dedicated service to the locks, DeSoto has spent his lifetime caring for a key component of the GIWW commercial waterway. When he’s not at the locks, he’s dedicated to the other loves in his life – his wife Diana, two children and three grandchildren. A radio broadcaster for over 20 years, he also enjoys hosting music concerts and of course, spending time on the GIWW fishing.
For more information about the Colorado River Locks visit http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/OperationsDivision/ColoradoRiverLocksSummary.aspx. Find us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEgalveston.