JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- A U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Norfolk District Water Resources Division team will complete a site-management project supporting Fort Eustis Third Port of Embarkation dredging here this week.
The navigation support members devegetated phragmites on approximately 10 acres of the Fort Eustis levee to prepare for the ensuing pre-dredge stage.
“We’re upgrading this (dredged-material) placement site and clearing it so the survey team can come in and conduct topographic surveys,” said Dennis Barnes, a Norfolk District master crane operator and site lead. “The surveys can assess quantity and volumes available here, as well as any upgrades that may need to be done.”
But surveying – and eventual dredging of Skiffes Creek, a tributary of the James River – is at a standstill until the navigation cadre establishes the area. And multifarious tools are assisting in swiftly completing the work – from six-wheeled all-terrain vehicles that crush, to machetes that slash the aggressive vegetation.
The perpetrator, phragmites, is a perennial grass found in wetlands throughout temperate environments. Growing inches per day, the reed-like species is considered highly invasive, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the levee zone, it rises to 14 feet and directly impedes the work of Norfolk District surveyors.
Along with aiding dredging to maintain the Army’s transportation mission here, vegetation elimination supports safety of both people and animals.
According to Barnes, the Directorate of Public Works at Fort Eustis has previously used herbicide to destroy the grass since it poses a fire hazard. Additionally, the flora disturbs dewatering leading to wildlife migration to the levee.
Earlier, a robust beaver population was found at the site. The Department of Agriculture’s subsequent live trap and release of the beavers hampered the dredge-material site from being used for its intended purpose.
“It’s a very involved process to get to the part where we’re actually removing the material out of the water,” said Scott Titus, USACE Norfolk District, a naval architect in Norfolk District’s Water Resources Division.
While many in the Chesapeake area may recognize dredging as critical to local navigation, supporting efforts that precede material removal, like devegetation of placement sites, may not be as well known.
“Before working for the Corps of Engineers, I knew that they did something with dredging; but that’s all I knew about the Corps,” said Titus, a retired Army mariner. “I worked at Fort Eustis for 14 years, I sailed ships in and out of there all the time. And I just figured that they called someone and said, ‘Hey, dredge guy. Come here and take care of this.’
“Now I know, there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes to make it happen; this is part of it.”