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Corps of Engineers Dredge Expert Retires After 33 Years

In February, Vinton Bossert, senior marine engineering speacialist, at the Corps of Engineers Marine Design Center, retired. He worked for 33 years building and rehabbing the Corps dredge feet, seen here on Essayons, which was commissioned in 1982 and repowered in 2009.

In February, Vinton Bossert, senior marine engineering speacialist, at the Corps of Engineers Marine Design Center, retired. He worked for 33 years building and rehabbing the Corps dredge feet, seen here on Essayons, which was commissioned in 1982 and repowered in 2009.

In February, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ national expert in dredge equipment, Vinton C. Bossert, retired from the Corps’ Marine Design Center (MDC), after nearly three decades building and repowering dredges for the Corps fleet.

Since 2006, Bossert was the senior marine engineering specialist, at the Corps of Engineers MDC in Philadelphia. He provided guidance to all the Corps districts on marine mechanical, electrical power/control, and navigation systems and equipment, specializing in dredging systems and equipment. Bossert knows the Corps fleet of dredges well, having worked on developing and repowering many of them. He participated in the development of new applications, materials, equipment and systems for the Corps fleet.

The dredge Potter was originally built in 1932, and Bossert repowered the dredge in 2001. He was also part of the team that rehabbed the 83-year-old dredge Potter in 2011.

Bossert began at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, achieving a B.S. in Marine Engineering in 1981, and started his career as a technical manager for MDC, from 1981 to 1989. He guided project development and project execution for marine projects.

In 1989, Bossert became chief machinery section and was responsible for all mechanical and electrical aspects of the engineering, design and construction management program at MDC, until he became assistant chief design branch in 1992. He oversaw the work of six mechanical engineers, one electrical engineer, four naval architects and three technicians, and projects ranging from $100,000 to $70M, including dredges, floating cranes, towboats and other specialty craft.

Bossert took the time to discuss with IDR his  career, the advancement of dredge technology over the decades and some of the great memories working with the Corps fleet.

One project that stands out for Bossert was work done early on in his career in Sudan. The project, started in 1984, left a lasting impression on his young mind. “I learned to be very resourceful there,” he said.

The El Rosieres Dam, on the Blue Nile in Damazin, Sudan, supplied 90 percent of Sudan’s power, mostly to the north. A bank of sediment had built up and eventually collapsed the turbines, shutting down the power plant. The government of Sudan reached out to the U.S. State Department, who called the Corps of Engineers. Bossert, along with a team of experts, went to Sudan to assess the situation.

“After a long process of deciding what to build them, we finally built a 120-foot by 40-foot grab dredge; two 80-foot by 20-foot, 65-cubicyard hopper barges; a 600 hp pushboat, 60 feet by 20 feet; and a little crewboat,” Bossert said. DredgeMasters International (DMI) in Hendersonville, Tennessee, won the contract to build it, and the dredge project was subcontracted to Gulf Coast Fabricators in Gulfport, Mississippi. All the vessels had to be built in 40-foot by 10-foot by 10-foot sections. Eight welders from DMI went with Bossert to reassemble and launch the dredge on-site and train the Sudanese. He spent four months there and has years of stories and memories.

During Bossert’s career, he was involved with building the Essayons, commissioned in 1982-83. He also later was part of the team that repowered the dredge in 2008 – 09.

NEWER AND BETTER TECHNOLOGY

Over his career, Bossert has seen many advances in dredge technology, with dredge automation being one of the most important. On dredge Essayons, in 2003, the Corps team replaced the dredging control management system. That memorable project took Bossert to Singapore, to “test-drive” dredges and automation systems from VOSTA and IHC. He was astounded by the dredges’ size, efficiency and accuracy. Automation algorithms that control the dredging processes create such efficiency that manual control cannot compete. “A good operator may be able to beat the automation for an hour or maybe a watch, but he can’t do it forever or with the lights off, and the machine never comes in with a hangover,” Bossert said.

With some technological changes, even Bossert was hesitant, as the industry is slow to change. When discussions about the water-based hydraulics systems for the dredge Murden began, Bossert was skeptical. “I was trained to be an operator and didn’t want a system that stopped working after a couple years,” Bossert said.

But they gathered all the research from the market, and honed in on BOC Water Hydraulics Inc. of Salem, Ohio. The company had worked extensively in the steel industry, and the Corps was determined to use the technology for its new shallow draft, split-hull dredge, the first time this system would be used in the marine industry.

The fluid used to transmit power in the system on Murden is normal tap water with an environmentally friendly anti-freeze additive. “When the hopper is filled with sand, it wants to naturally open and the hydraulics keep it closed,” Bossert explained. “You can release the hydraulics with some control, so it doesn’t open violently over the disposal site. The system has been working beautifully since 2011.”

In his years at the Corps, Bossert built, repowered and rehabbed several Corps dredges. He saw the beginning of the Essayons, commissioned in 1982 – 83. He helped design and manage the construction of the Hurley in 1993 and the Murden in 2011. As part of the Corps MDC teams, he also repowered the Jadwin, Potter, Essayons, Yaquina and Wheeler.

More often than not, Bossert’s work at MDC was rehabbing old vessels, rather than building new, which he said may not always be the best choice for the most efficient fleet. Because of how the Corps funds work on its dredges, it has resulted in a somewhat outdated fleet. As example, the dredge McFarland, built in 1967, needs to be replaced.

While the law requires that the Corps have a modern minimum fleet to respond to emergency situations, and Congress authorizes this minimum fleet, Bossert thinks new Corps dredges should be funded, rather than fixing and repowering the current fleet, which in most cases is decades old.

In his studies, Bossert read a publication from Ciria, “C655 Costs Standards for Dredging Equipment 2005,” by R.N. Bray, and he learned about the cost of building European dredges, and how certain technology, design features, and Naval Architectural parameters alter the life cycle cost and make dredges more efficient.

While the cost to repower a dredge is approximately 30 percent what it would cost to build new, the Corps dredges are often lacking in efficiency because they don’t have the most up-to-date technology like dynamic positioning, direct pumpout and automation. The Dutch, by contrast, Bossert said, create lighter, more efficient dredges that maneuver better and are designed for an 18-year replacement cycle.

Bossert will remain in the dredging industry, having started Bossert Dredge Consulting, LLC, out of his home in Newark, Delaware. He is consulting for BOC Water Hydraulics and The Sansail Group for the marine and dredging sectors. He can be reached at 302-740-1841 or vintonbossert@comcast.net.

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