NORFOLK – Hazardous shoaling in the Thimble Shoals federal navigation channel launched action between local and federal agencies as they raced to reopen a closed navigation lane.
The Virginia Pilots Association alerted the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, of the hazard on March 13, and within hours, a survey team was mobilized.
The results of the survey, presented to the pilots and U.S. Coast Guard, indicated an 8-foot shoal in the middle of the channel. The impact was severe enough for the U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the port to restrict the channel to one-way traffic in the immediate vicinity of the shoaling for vessels drawing over 40 feet, which minimized the impact to deep draft commercial and U.S. Navy ships.
The district canvassed the maritime community for a dredge to clear the channel. The hopper dredge B. E. Lindholm from Weeks Marine Inc., which was operating off the coast for the Virginia Beach and Sandbridge hurricane protection beach renourishment projects, was dispatched to remove the hazard.
The Coast Guard opened the channel for normal traffic at 6:30 p.m. March 17 after the Corps survey confirmed the hazard had been removed. About $160,000 of Norfolk District operations and maintenance funds were used to remove the hazard.
“The Virginia Maritime Association commends the efforts of the Virginia Pilots Association, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, Weeks Marine and everyone else that responded and came together to restore the channel to 50-feet so expeditiously. Unrestricted navigation is vital to the ports of Virginia,” said Art Moye, executive vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association.
The crew of the Lindholm removed about 2,500 cubic yards of sand to restore the channel to its previous depth of 50 feet.
The district survey team was on site all weekend and performed the final survey, processed the data and mapped the channel.
“The coordination effort was intense and required continuous communication between the Norfolk District, Weeks Marine, the pilots and the Coast Guard," said Mike Anderson, a civil engineer with the Norfolk District.
The cause of the shoaling is being investigated.