Ancil Taylor Heads Sand Boom Dredging Effort to Protect Gulf Coast from Deepwater Horizon Oil
The Gulf of Mexico Sand Boom Project, June 16: The GLDD cutter suction dredge California deposits material in the berm alignment on one of the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast. In the first eight days on the project, the California pumped more than 500,000 cubic yards of sand.
The shore operation on the Chandeleur reach on June 16, four days into the project. This is GLDD equipment, working on sand discharged from the dredge California. Courtesy of the State of Louisiana.
The emergency permit allowed the berms in reaches E3 and E4 east of the Mississippi River. The GLDD dredge California was at work in this area the weekend of May 12.
The emergency permit allows building berms in segments W8, W9, W10 and W11. Permits are on file for the other reaches defined in this map from the permit documents.
Taken from the Garrett Graves/CPRA presentation on June 1 describing the berm plan, this graphic illustrated the juxtaposition of the berms with the barrier islands. Graves stressed that this is a project to build berms and not to restore the islands.
Ancil Taylor is leading the team from Bean Dredging Company, which was retained as dredging consultant by the State of Louisiana.
The project is being financed by BP, owner of the lease on the damaged well. Taylor is vice president of Bean Dredging. As a Louisiana native who holds an integral position in the dredging industry, his selection for this
position was a natural.
“I’ve been doing this for over three decades, and have knowledge of the vessels, some of which we (Bean Dredging Company) built, and I am a local guy,” he said.
Taylor was involved in the design and construction of two of the dredges contracted for the project – the cutter dredge E.W. Ellefson belonging to Weeks, which was formerly Bean’s Meridian; and the GLDD hopper dredge Terrapin Island, formerly Bean’s Eagle I.
In early May, two weeks after the April 20 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig 45 miles off the coast, causing the well to spew an estimated 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, the State of Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) applied for a permit to dredge “sand booms” (berms) along the coastline to stop the oil from coming into the bays and wetlands along the coast.
Taylor said, “When this challenge first presented itself, we were asked to develop a plan that might work. The original plan primarily involved large offshore cutter dredges mining material from the front side of the legacy island footprints beyond the depth of closure, pumping the material back to the submerged island footprint and building the sand berm on top of the submerged island. This sand berm would catch the oil before it migrated over the old footprint into the back marshes.
“Some federal agencies opposed that plan and caused us to search for offshore sand borrow areas at remote locations, some as far as 55 miles away from the intended placement locations. That required the addition of significant hauling resources, including hopper dredges and large dump scows. We identified companies that owned or controlled those resources and contacted them to request availability and pricing for that equipment.
There was a conference where some companies attended in person and others called in on a multiple-line conference call. Once the availability and pricing was received, we began to refine the response plan and procure the assets.
“We now are deploying those assets to accomplish an unprecedented level of activity in this emergency response to this unprecedented environmental disaster.”
In the permit request, the CPRA proposed to build a sand berm 300 feet at the base and 25 feet at the crown, approximately six feet above the mean high water line. East of the Mississippi River, the berm would be built on the seaward side of the Chandeleur Island westward to Baptiste Collette Bayou. West of the Mississippi River, it would be built from Timbalier Island eastward to Sandy Point. All fill placement for sand barrier construction would occur in the Gulf of Mexico of southeastern coastal Louisiana. Gaps are to be maintained in the berm for tidal exchange.
Borrow sites were Ship Shoal, South Pelto, the Mississippi River Offshore Disposal Site, Pass a Loutre, St Bernard Shoal, and Hewes Point, Gulf of Mexico. Total length of the berm structure would be approximately 128 miles, requiring approximately 102 million cubic yards of dredged material to build an estimated 9800 acres of sand barrier in waters of the US.
On May 20, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal held a press conference after a boat trip with Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and other local officials in the Pass a Loutre area where he had observed substantial oil impact on the wetlands. He called on the Corps to process the permit quickly. He said that the state had lost 2300 square miles of coastal lands since the 1930’s, and has been working to reverse this trend.
“Today – we saw clearly that this oil has the potential to stop and reverse the progress we have made in the last two years,” he said. “Our state was on track to have the lowest rate of land loss in 80 years as a result of our efforts and investments in our coast. Our shrimpers were rebounding, our oyster fishermen were recovering and our coastal communities were rebuilding.
“We are asking the Corps to approve our dredging plan today without any further delay. We have already asked the Coast Guard to approve advancing the resources we will need to implement this plan, including barges and other dredging ships, so we can get to work quickly.”
By May 20, according to NOAA, the total amount of Louisiana shoreline with oil impact was 34.52 miles. The Department of Environmental Quality confirmed shoreline impacts on the Chandeleur Islands, Whiskey Island, Raccoon Island, South Pass, East Fourchon/Elmers Island, Grand Isle, Trinity Island, Brush Island, and the Pass a Loutre area. The governor stated that once the permit was approved, the state would begin dredging in about 10 days. On May 21, Jindal said that he would order a state-contracted dredging company to begin the berm dredging without a permit, and was willing to go to jail if necessary.
“This will put pressure on the Corps to get out of the way and approve our permit,” he said. Though the dredging did begin before the permit was approved, the real issue was that BP would not pay for the dredging unless it was permitted.
In anticipation of receiving the permit, the state had begun to prioritize and determine the capacity of each sand borrow site needed to construct the sand boom, while conducting magnetometer surveys to identify existing pipelines, and side-scan sonar to develop images of the seafloor.
“The bottom is a spaghetti maze of pipelines below the sea floor, that has to be identified, marked and avoided,” said Ancil Taylor. Sampling and assessments were performed to identify contaminated sediments and to ensure that the materials are safe and the receiving areas are clean. The companies who did surveys for the project were: Coastal Planning & Engineering, Inc. (CPE); John Chance Land Surveys, Inc.; BFM; GCR; Bean Dredging; Great Lakes Dredge & Dock; Manson Construction Company; Weeks Marine and Stuyvesant Dredging Company. The New Orleans District Regulatory Branch assessed the permit application with an eye to the overall environmental impact of the berm structure, taking into consideration the effect on tidal flows, and other engineering and environmental considerations, and on May 24 issued an emergency permit for 40 miles of berms.
In the emergency permit documents, the Corps stated, “After an environmental and cultural resources evaluation and consultation and coordination with state and federal agencies, a portion of the applicant’s proposal was found to be provide positive environmental impacts, be in the overall public interest, and was permitted.”
The reaches approved in the permit were E3 and E4 on the east, and W8, W9, W10 and W11 on the west.
“These areas have been identified by USACE staff assessment as critical locations where greater immediate benefit is likely to be achieved with minimal adverse disruption of coastal circulation patterns. This provides a strategic approach wherein information on success can be obtained from site monitoring, and allows for more careful evaluation of the remaining, more difficult areas, in formulating a construction plan for the reaches not authorized in this permit, should the state maintain interest in addressing those specific areas,” the document explained.
On June 4, the CPRA contracted the Shaw Group to manage the dredging project. In a press release on that day, Shaw stated: “Shaw will assist the state with permit compliance and monitoring activities in addition to providing personnel, materials and equipment to build these sand berms. Construction of the berms in accordance with the emergency permit issued to the state will require mobilization, front-end planning, material testing and analysis, dredging and alignment surveys, as well as coordination with state and federal agencies.”
Shaw’s chairman and CEO J.M. Bernhard Jr., said that the company was “mobilizing available resources both locally and internationally to help protect our coastline. With our corporate headquarters in Baton Rouge and
more than 5,000 Louisiana-based employees, our roots are firmly planted in this state. Shaw has a deep personal interest in the protection of our state’s coastal resources.”
Working with Shaw, Bean Dredging and Ancil Taylor began operations and application of equipment on the project.
On June 7, Jindal received a letter from Bob Dudley, the BP Exploration & Production, Inc. executive who had just been put in charge of the cleanup. It stated that Rear Admiral James A. Watson of the U.S. Coast Guard had informed BP of the emergency permit, that he concurred that the barrier project should proceed immediately, and that the cost to complete the project would be $360 million. Dudly said that BP agreed to fund the full $360 million, which would
be paid in six $60 million blocks – the first to be paid immediately and the other five in increments as each 20 percent of the project was completed “as certified by the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, Garret Graves, or his designee.
“Our funding commitment will permit the state to commence work on the Approved Barrier Island Project immediately and complete it as expeditiously as possible,” the letter continued, ending by requesting that Gov. Jindal sign the letter to indicate acceptance of the offer, which Jindal did.
On Thursday, June 10, the monitoring report required as part of the state’s dredging/sand booming work was approved by the Corps of Engineers, and the dredge California was on schedule to begin dredging that weekend on the Northern Chandeleurs (Section E4). The required preconstruction field surveys, including island surveys and wildlife observation were underway for segments E4 and W9 around Pelican Island. The submerged pipeline was under construction from the Hewes Point borrow area to the sand placement area in the Chandeleurs. Shaw would not comment on how the contracts are let, but the GLDD cutter dredge California began dredging the weekend of June 12, and the hopper dredges Stuyvesant, Terrapin Island, Liberty Island and Padre Island began dredging material from the Mississippi River and from Corps offshore placement sites, and stockpiling it in strategic locations. When sufficient material was stockpiled, additional cutter dredges would be brought in to begin pumping to the berms.
A week after the dredging began, Taylor said that one million cubic yards had been dredged so far.
“We’re now just getting up to speed – remember this is a 50 mile haul in some cases. This is the absolutely most effective place to be applied, [involving] the least amount of money,” he said. “The borrow sites are in the river and offshore,” said Taylor. “We’re taking out of the Mississippi River, Corps of Engineers disposal sites and offshore shoals that were already identified for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) restoration,” he said.
He is working with dredging contractors and a host of other services, including suveryors and coastal engineers. The first companies brought on board were GLDD with the 30-inch cutter dredge California, and hoppers Terrapin Island (5000 cubic yards), Liberty Island (6540 cubic yards) and Padre Island (3600 cubic yards); and Stuyvesant Dredging Company with the hopper dredge Stuyvesant (11,000 cubic yards).
“A significant effort is underway to mobilize to the area,” said Taylor. The Weeks cutter dredges R.S. Weeks, E.W. Ellison and Capt. Frank, and the GLDD cutters Texas and Alaska – all with 30-inch pumps – are on the way.
“And we have pricing from Manson, Cashman, Norfolk and Mike Hooks,” he said.
(During this time, the Texas was finishing up a maintenance project in the Johns River near Jacksonville, and by July 5 had left the area, according to an eyewitness report from retired dredgeman Steve Bowes, who walks daily along the Johns River.)
As of June 28, “the plan to build protective berms along the Louisiana coast includes the participation of seven cutterheads and eight hopper dredges, along with a dozen scows with boats. The cutter dredges have 20 to 25 vessels each working with them, and all are either on site or in the process of mobilizing to the site, along with pipeline,” said Taylor. “There are more berms besides [the initial] 40 miles,” he said. “Applications [for more berms] are on file by the state.” CPRA estimated that about 100 miles of barrier islands will help protect about 4,000 miles of shoreline.
“This is a significant team effort, with unprecedented cooperation between the federal agencies, industry, COE and Shaw,” said Taylor. “There is an unbelievable team atmosphere of ‘get her done’ attitude.”
Redeployment of dredges to this project has ramifications on the dredging industry and on navigation projects, but all are pulling together to provide equipment to meet this challenge, he said. The amount of permitting and the amount of cooperation involved, and what can be done in a matter of weeks amazed Taylor.
“I have not seen this level of progress in this amount of time,” he said. “My eyes have been opened as to what can be done.” He referred to the management team of Shaw, Bean and GCR, who is handling the permitting, and said that the project is making a new standard as to what can be accomplished in a short amount of time.
“The timing of bringing in equipment, bringing pipeline and boats, re-handling material to the beach and built into a berm – it is a long train of events that have to be coordinated,” said Taylor.
Another revelation is that the Mississippi River is “an astounding source of high quality sediment that can be used for coastal restoration. This is a great project to demonstrate that,” he said. Asked how this effort compares to how the dredging industry and Corps of Engineers responded to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, which filled the Columbia River navigation channel with volcanic ash, Taylor said that “the amount of equipment [in this project] will exceed that needed at Mount St. Helens, which was the last time this kind of effort was required.
The team has pulled together “in a fashion I have not seen,” said Taylor. The effort has continued 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
As the eyes of the world are on the oil spill, even more intensely are the eyes of the international dredging industry on the sand boom project. In early May, dredging company Van Oord and Deltares, a Dutch research institute with a specialty in deltas, presented a plan to the State of Louisiana in which they proposed to bring in jumbo hopper dredges of 17,000 to 30,000 cubic meter capacity (22,000 to 39,000 cubic yards) and mega-hopper dredges (greater than 30,000 cubic meters), along with 10,000 cubic meter (13,000 cubic yard) sand carriers to move an estimated 50 million cubic meters (65 million cubic yards) to build a contiguous offshore berm two meters high, offshore of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“It should be possible in a few months time to build an artificial sand dune in that area ... and protect the very sensitive coast,” said Bert Groothuizen of Van Oord.
Though this solution was considered by the State of Louisiana, their final plan, presented by Garret Graves, executive assistant to the Governor for Coastal Activities and chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, focused on a different berm project closer to shore along the historic barrier islands.
The U.S. dredging companies had met with the state to inform of their readiness to undertake the project, and the plan went forward through the permitting and contracting process using U.S. vessels, as required by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act.)
In early June, William H. Hanson, vice president of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock company told IDR: “The industry has quite a few dredges in the Gulf area as the dredging companies conclude their winter cycle. Great Lakes just finished a large project that has left 100,000 feet of pipeline available. The contractors are looking at their schedules and planning to make the equipment available as soon as the funding is in place. A segment that is planned for three miles of protective dike, requiring one dredge, could expand to 45 miles and require as many as 15 dredges immediately. Equipment on the project will include hoppers, cutters, clamshells, scows and unloaders. Some sections
are simple, requiring direct pumpout, while others will require a long haul or pipeline.
“This project has been in the planning for 10 years or more. We understand the dredging work. What remains in the planning is an engineering exercise” - where the sand will come from and the environmental implications of building barrier islands, said Hanson.
Asked about the possibility of using foreign dredges on the project, Ancil Taylor said, “We looked to see what could be brought to bear with local equipment, what we have available, and determined that the equipment we have will meet the demand. We have more equipment than we have real estate to fit them onto,” he said.
By July 6 there were six dredges and numerous other vessels working on the sand berm project on both the east and west sides of the Mississippi River. The dredge California had dredged more than 645,000 cubic yards of material on the northern Chandeleurs to date. On the western side of the river, there had been 110 hopper dredge trips transporting more than 525,000 thousand cubic yards of material.
Governor Jindal said, “We have reports of oil being actively trapped there on the sand berm over the weekend and today. Again – this proves that this structure works to trap oil. It is very important that this oil is now quickly cleaned up off of the land out there so the sediment stays clean.”
On July 13, a delegation of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) representatives and coastal scientists, including Chairman Garret Graves, visited the sand berm project in the northern Chandeleur Islands area. The delegation found that the sand berm continues to progress in volume and length; that more than 60,000 cubic yards of sand had been placed on the E-4 berm the day before.
In addition, nine hopper dredge loads totaling approximately 30,000 cubic yards of sand were deposited into the sand re-handling area for the middle portion of the E-4 berm. As of July 13, the cleanup crews had removed more than 500 pounds of oil and oiled debris from the E-4 berm. On the west side of the river, three hopper dredges were depositing material into the sand re-handling area for Pelican and Scofield Islands, and a cutterhead dredge was removing material in Pass a Loutre to help restore flow to an area that had experienced heavy oiling. As of July 15, the cutterhead dredges EW Ellefsen, Alaska and RS Weeks had arrived, and the Texas was en route, (all 30-inch dredges) making five cutterhead dredges on the job.
Hopper dredges BE Lindholm (4000 cy), Bayport (5000 cy), and RN Weeks (4000 cy) had arrived, and the Glenn Edwards (12,000 cy) was en route, for an eventual total of eight hopper dredges on the project. There were eight scows with towboats on site and two en route; and a Weeks spider barge on site and a GLDD spider barge on the way.
As IDR prepared to go to press on July 15, the valves on the latest cap that BP manufactured for the well were closed one by one, and at approximately 3 p.m. Louisiana time the flow stopped for he first time in 85 days. Engineers then began to watch for a pressure buildup that would indicate that their oil was not escaping through fractures elsewhere in the well. If the cap must be opened, the technology is in place to capture all the oil that escapes at that point, until BP is able to kill the well through a relief well being drilled nearby – sometime in August.
And now the task of damage control continues on more than five million barrels, or 210 million gallons, of oil released into the Gulf. This story will continue … on our Web site – www.dredgemag.com – and in the next issue.