NORFOLK – For decades, the derrick boat Elizabeth has faithfully patrolled the federal navigable waterways of Hampton Roads, performing a wide variety of maritime missions, chief among them the removal of surface and underwater obstructions that would impede navigation.
In recent years, the Elizabeth’s creaky, smoking engines and worn vessel parts, all ravaged by old age and years of corrosive seawater damage, has called into question her durability and reliability; moreover, her crew’s ability to work safely.
But thanks to a “green initiative” begun four years ago by the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a grand vision to inject new, superior, eco-friendly life into the venerable Elizabeth, she and her crew will soon resume serving the community here at greater capacity for another 25 years.
Equipped with a 70-ton Mantis crane and hydraulic boom that extends more than 110 feet, the Elizabeth is a multipurpose construction vessel with a four-member Norfolk District crew. Over the years, the Elizabeth and her crew has earned the reputation as a “go-to” commodity among the community here, often called upon to perform significant maritime operations.
In 2003, in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, the Elizabeth and crew worked 12-hour days for nearly three weeks to clear more than 650 trees and debris strewn over the entire 30-mile stretch of the Dismal Swamp Canal, part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called on the Elizabeth and crew in 2006 to dismantle a 70-foot-tall, World War II-era steel observation tower, used for aerial bombing runs on Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge in Poquoson, Va. The aging tower, an iconic fixture at the formerly used defense site, had become a major safety concern and was removed to prevent sightseers and thrill seekers from heading out to climb it.
In 2008, the crew of the Elizabeth supported NOAA oceanographers in deploying the sixth in a series of “smart buoys” in the Elizabeth River near downtown Norfolk, Va., to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Captain John Smith’s exploration of the Elizabeth River in September 1608. As part of the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System, the smart buoy collects weather, oceanographic and water-quality observations and transmits this data – along with historical and cultural information about the Bay – wirelessly in near-real time. This marked the third time the Elizabeth and crew had supported NOAA’s smart buoy deployments.
“We’ve had a great partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers in deploying these buoys … we couldn’t do this without the Corps’ contribution,” said Doug Wilson, program manager of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office’s Integrated Coastal Observations Program. “They’ve got the vessel, they’ve got a professional crew, and everything just goes really smoothly whenever we use them.”
On October 9, the Elizabeth’s “green” transformation began with the installation of two new fuel-efficient and EPA-compliant Iveco marine propulsion diesel engines. Add to that new twin diesel generators, housed in sound-barrier boxes that significantly reduce noise pollution and exhaust emissions.
The sophisticated, eco-friendly Iveco engines for the Elizabeth’s Propulsion Diesel Engine Replacement project were purchased under a separate contract at a total cost of $100,000. MJL Enterprises, LLC, a Service-Disabled Veteran small business, based in Norfolk, Va., was contracted to install the engines and generators at a cost of $115,000.
“The engine procurement process began two years ago and the engines were purchased last year and placed in storage until the installation contract was awarded,” said Steve Baum, Norfolk District’s project contracting officer representative.
Baum has been a daily fixture at the project site operation, located along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway at the district’s Great Bridge Reservation in Chesapeake, Va. He oversees all aspects of the project, which consists of properly installing the twin engines and companion generators, connecting all associated piping and wiring, and stripping the old engines and crating them for shipment back to the Defense Reutilization Management Office for scrap.
“The old engines being replaced were originally scrapped engines from DRMO,” Baum said. “No one really knew how old they were because we couldn’t find any maintenance records. The old engines served the Elizabeth faithfully for 20 years, but the cost to refurbish them was only 10 percent less than buying new ones, plus we wouldn’t have met EPA’s current tier requirements for environmental compliance and load capacity.”
The new Iveco engines exceed the Tier 2 marine diesel EPA mandate, which significantly reduces the amount of oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter, both which contribute to serious public health problems as well as pollution to the environment, Baum said.
Baum also noted that the vessel’s Mantis hydraulic crane, purchased new in 2005, had replaced the Elizabeth’s existing crane, which was also obtained from DRMO as scrap.
Like a doting papa, Baum eagerly praised Elizabeth’s “green” improvements.
“When you pushed the throttle down on the old engines, it was like someone standing there pouring buckets of fuel into the cylinders and right out the exhaust. These new engines will sense how much torque is required and only release enough fuel to meet that torque requirement,” Baum said.
Another important feature of the new engines is the vessel’s improved closed-loop, keel-cooling system.
“Normally, ships take seawater from outside and pump it through the vessel’s engine cooling system and exhaust,” Baum said. “In a car, you have a radiator. One part of the radiator has antifreeze; the other part has air passing over it. On this ship that second part, instead of air, is seawater alongside of the radiator and antifreeze on the other side. Because the cooling systems on these new engines feature a closed-loop system, there is no seawater coming into the engines or the generators, which makes them totally efficient and immune to corrosive seawater damage. This not only prevents premature engine failure, it also eliminates seawater from piping below the underwater hull of the vessel and pollutant discharge of harmful metals from the continued flushing of seawater through pipes.”
Other notable engine upgrades: push a button and the engines change their own oil; self-lubricating engine start-up; fly-by wire controls to replace old cables: no moving parts; sophisticated sensors that instantly report engine condition and corrective data; and smaller (physical size) engines that allow greater crew access and maneuverability around the confined engine compartment.
The Elizabeth will also feature a new vessel operator console, which is being fabricated off-site. Once this phase of the project is complete, the Elizabeth will be dry-docked so new propellers can be fitted for added efficiency and performance. She then will undergo power trials before resuming her maritime duties.
Jesse Lynn Tullis is the project manager for Advanced Integrated Tech and was sub-contracted to perform the installation. This federal project marks the first time his company has worked for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I’ve spent years working as an engineer on a tugboat, so I’m doing everything here that I’ve learned from that type of vessel operation,” Tullis said. “It is challenging work, but I really enjoy the challenge … I’ve performed rigging before, but never to this extent. The crew of the Elizabeth has actually given me pointers on rigging that made things go a lot smoother.”
The project is on schedule, within budget and set for completion Dec. 11. Future plans call for renovating the vessel’s galley, upgrading the overall electrical system from direct current to alternating current, and replacing worn, rusted grating and the rotted-out wooden cabin enclosure.