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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Eastern Region Dredging Conference Meets in Fort Lauderdale

This slide shows the major ports covered by the WEDA Eastern chapter region.

This slide shows the major ports covered by the WEDA Eastern chapter region.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Eastern Region Dredging Conference was held on October 26, 2016, following on the heels of the WEDA Eastern Chapter Annual Meeting the day before. Both events were held the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The location was an ideal spot to view the work that the Corps of Engineers and its contractors are performing on the East Coast of Florida. In two days, two impressive sides of the dredging and maritime industries were pro-filed. While the WEDA meeting introduced a series of speakers from the private sector, on the second day, the Corps gave insights into its rigorous work and the intensive cooperation and communication with the private U.S. dredging industry. 

The welcome and opening remarks came from Dylan Davis, navigation program manager for the Corps South Atlantic Division, who acted as moderator for the morning session. Davis introduced this meeting as “the Corps-centric day,” in which Operations and Maintenance Dredging Schedules for the South Atlantic and North Atlantic Districts would be described, as well as some innovative technologies.

First up was Alan Bugg, formerly of the Corps, and presently professor at Auburn University, who with one of his graduate students, Claire Gilbert described their project on “Dredge Safety Research.”  Gilbert went on to describe the study entitled, “Applying Real-time Location Systems to Improve Personnel Safety in Dredging Construction.” The proposed experiments are Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS), specifically, a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). For Bugg and Gilbert, the RFID would be an active tag that gives real-time locations. Similar systems have been used in road construction, but this system would have to be adapted to the specifics of the maritime industry. Individual sensing technologies in dredging construction is at present nonexistent. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the real-time location system’s RFID in providing individual personnel safety monitoring on a dredge. Gilbert and Bugg were hopeful that some of the contractors or the Corps would be willing to participate with a group of 10 to 30 people ‘tagged’ and monitored on a variety of dredges. Several attendees had further questions about the study and seemed to be interested in cooperating.

For the rest of the day, the audience of some 90 contractors and Corps members were briefed on the Corps Dredging Schedules and the status of dredging at the South Atlantic Division (SAD), North Atlantic Division (NAD), Southwestern Division (SWD), and Mississippi Valley Division (MVD). 

ONGOING PROJECTS

This is a hands-on information exchange in which a progress report of ongoing works and the 2017 Dredging Program were outlined by the Corps. Starting with George Rush, dredging project manager at the Mobile District, present and future plans for each district were elaborated on by the District Navigation Managers. In each case the location of the job, the dredge type required, the placement options, the quantity to be dredged, the water depths for the works, and the business type were described. Also importantly, the Corps spokespeople listed the date the specific job to be advertised, the dates of the bid opening and award, the issue of the ‘Notice to proceed’ and the dates that dredging will commence and is expected to be completed.

The reporting continued with Mike Hooks also of the Mobile District (South Atlantic Di-vision) outlining the inland dredging in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. He also included navigation projects being conducted in Mobile Harbor, Gulfport and for the Mississippi Barrier Island Restoration. The district is responsible for five waterways, 2,200 miles of inland water, seven deep draft harbors, 21 shallow draft channels and 22 locks. 

Among the North Atlantic Division representatives were Timothy J. Rooney from the Operations Division of the Philadelphia District, Tiffany Burroughs from the Baltimore District, Stephen J. Powell from the Norfolk District, as well as Corps people from the New England District and the New York District. As someone pointed out, the meeting was taking place during the fourth anniversary of Sandy’s direct hit on the coastline from New Jersey going north in New York, and the repair work from Sandy is still not completed.

Moving back to the South Atlantic District were reports from the Jacksonville District, the Savannah District and the Charleston District, where the Corps is now faced with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Places like Savannah, Brunswick and Tybee Island were hard hit, and the damages are still being assessed. The same is true in the Wilmington District in North Carolina where Roger Bullock gave a full description of the ravages of the hurricane including flooding and beach erosion. Among the channels and harbors suffering navigation impacts from Hurricane Matthew in Florida are Fernandina Harbor, Jacksonville Harbor and many portions of the Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami. This includes St. Augustine Inlet, Ponce Inlet, Canaveral Harbor, Ft. Pierce Harbor, St. Lucie Inlet, OWW – Cross Roads, Palm Beach Harbor and Bakers Haulover Inlet.

Shoreline impacts also have to be reckoned with and fourteen Project Information Reports have been received to date: on the Gulf Coast (from Hurricane Hermine in August 2016), Pinellas County, Sand Key East Coast (Hurricane Matthew), Nassau County, Duval County, St John’s County, Brevard County’s North Reach and South Reach, Fort Pierce, and in Dade County including Sunny Isles and the Main Segment. More Project Information Reports re-quests are anticipated.

CONSTRUCTION AND NEW WORKS

Having covered a huge amount of ongoing projects, next up was an update on “construction and new works.” Capital projects such as the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) are high priority. The dredging here would deepen the entrance channel from -44 feet MLLW to -49 feet MLLW and extend the channel over seven miles seaward by removing approximately 11 million cubic yards of material. The work is approximately 25 percent complete and currently scheduled for completion in July 2018.

Jacksonville Harbor deepening, Port Ever-glades and San Juan Harbor, Puerto Rico are all at insufficient channel depth for the new container vessels and cruise ships. And a feasibility study for Charleston Harbor has been submit-ted and is awaiting authorization and funding. Other projects in the North Atlantic Division being investigated for further construction in the future include Norfolk, Virginia and Hampton Roads. In Baltimore Harbor, Maryland, the Delaware River Main Channel will be starting up its 50-foot deepening works in 2017. New England also has its share of new work in Boston Harbor where the plans are to deepen to 51 feet, with worked scheduled to start in 2018. 

The afternoon session, moderated by George Nieves of the North Atlantic Division, took another leap into the future, with Vern Gwin’s report on the National Dredging Quality Management (DQM) Program. Gwin is program director at the National DQM Center and is responsible for the DQM Pipeline, developed by HYPACK. The DQM Program is now being tested at the Mobile District and so far reports are good. The Dredging Quality Management (DQM) Program is a partnership between the Corps and the dredging industry to develop automated monitoring of dredge operations. Onboard sensors provide near real-time data, which allow dredge operators to respond to emerging situations. Districts can use the web-based DQM software to view, analyze, report on and export dredging data. This data can be used to improve business practice, ensure environmental compliance and increase the understanding of dredging science and technology (for more information see http://dqm.usace. army.mil).

The last session and conclusion of the day-long meeting was the Partnering Session, led by Jeff McKee, chief of the Corps Navigation Branch Headquarters, and Barry Holliday, executive director for the Dredging Contractors of America. It was a lively and constructive discussion with the audience about the future and present dredging operations in the U.S.. According to Holliday, “Communication is key to keeping the dialogue open and keeping everyone informed. Thinking forward on innovations is essential.” McKee suggested that we “encourage folks to go back to the districts, go into study and feasibility phases and to involve industry to find out if your proposal is doable from a contractor’s viewpoint.” 

Wide ranging questions from the audience were raised and answered concerning funding, which McKee said is “constrained. Congress gave us money but not nearly enough.” In his opinion, “We should look for other sources, but they must meet environmental standards.” Holliday said. “Some States are contributing funds, like Florida and North Carolina.” 

McKee’s final message was that “with thou-sands of miles of waterways and hundreds of locks, the Corps can’t do its job without industry participation, so it is incumbent upon us all to keep the dialogue open and avoid adversarial relationships.” Clearly transparency and industry involvement remain the underlying reason for these important annual meetings that bring industry and the Corps together. 

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