US Army Corps of Engineers
Norfolk District

USACE Norfolk navigation team mows down barriers to Fort Eustis dredging

USACE Norfolk District Public Affairs
Published Jan. 21, 2019
Man in safety vest and hard had talks on walkie-talkie

Glen Boyken, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District engineer and mechanic, talks to the other six district members as they devegetate a dredged material placement site at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Jan. 10, 2019. An overgrowth of phragmites, a genus if perennial grasses found in wetlands, caused complications for topographical surveys of the location, threatened regional wildlife and posed a fire hazard.

Two men in safety vests and helmets use a leaf blower to clean off an all-terrain vehicle on a levee covered with phragmites.

Kevin Gormley, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District deck hand and Rick Bruden, USACE Norfolk District master captain, clean off the all-terrain vehicle used to assist the other district members as they devegetate a dredged material placement site at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Jan. 10, 2019. An overgrowth of phragmites, a genus if perennial grasses found in wetlands, caused complications for topographical surveys of the location, threatened regional wildlife and posed a fire hazard.

The reflection of a man with a hard have and reflective vest in seen in the mirror of an all-terrain vehicles as he drives it.

The reflection of Scott Titus, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District port engineer, is seen in the mirror of the all-terrain vehicle used to assist the other district members as they devegetate a dredged material placement site at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Jan. 10, 2019. An overgrowth of phragmites, a genus if perennial grasses found in wetlands, caused complications for topographical surveys of the location, threatened regional wildlife and posed a fire hazard.

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.”