Thalle Construction Company celebrated reaching 500,000 labor hours without a lost time accident in constructing a larger navigation lock on the Tennessee River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District recognized the remarkable milestone last week and thanked construction workers for their role in delivering a project of national significance.
Lt. Col. Robert W. Green, Nashville District commander, spoke during a special lunch Oct. 17 provided by the contractor for the workforce, and addressed the contractor and resident office team about safety and what it means moving forward without delays.
“To have a milestone like this on this project where we are meeting and exceeding production goals, but also keeping each other safe, is an exceptional milestone,” Green said. “I really appreciate that this can’t happen without a team effort.”
Green stressed that safety is also an individual responsibility requiring workers to look out for each other, and that ultimately makes it possible to keep the $380 million downstream lock monoliths contract on track. More importantly, leaders, safety officials and the folks on the ground make safety part of a culture and make it possible for people to go home safely each day, he added.
The Nashville District and its contractor, Thalle Construction Company, are building a larger 1,200-foot by 110-foot navigation lock chamber about 22 miles upstream of where the Tennessee River flows into the lower Ohio River. It’s a massive project with a lot of moving pieces and involves a lot of heavy equipment and conveyer systems placing concrete overhead.
Peter Tully, Tully Group president, recognized the complexity of the project and praised the construction leaders, the coaches and the captains, that care about the team.
“Just keep doing what you are doing. I appreciate it,” Tully said.
Steve Kohler, Thalle Construction president and chief executive officer, said that half a million hours are considerable and very meaningful because injuries can have huge impacts on the construction team and the project.
“The fact that we are tracking so positively here is truly impressive. I appreciate the safety group here. I appreciate the way they take care of the business and take care of people,” Kohler said. “My hope is that when everyone comes to work that each person intends to do their best that day.”
As workers ate their lunches, Kohler also drew attention to a sign inside the bay that noted how the team is bound together for the singular purpose of safely constructing, on time and on budget, a high-quality navigation project in support of the USACE civil works mission. He said it takes hard, dirty, sweaty work, and he appreciates the focus on safety in these conditions to meet these objectives.
Bill Ryan, Tully Group vice president of Risk Management, said leaders make it a point to engage the workforce from a perspective of education and encouragement, so everyone understands the importance of safety, to avoid injuries, and recognize that fatalities have negative impacts on people foremost.
“This is a very worthwhile project, one that you should be proud to be part of,” Ryan said. “My message to you is thank you and congratulations.”
Brian Sharpe, Thalle Project executive, said he is on site regularly and sees what is going on, and realizes that this is a very positive achievement.
“The one thing I want to talk about safety is that everybody here can help the safety program by looking out for the people working with you,” Sharpe said. “So be your brother’s keeper. Look out for one another so we can all go home safely.”
Jeremiah Manning, Nashville District’s resident engineer for the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, said the work is currently estimated for completion in May 2027, which will continue to require close coordination between the Corps of Engineers and contractor to ensure operations continue safely.
The project involves constructing 51 monoliths, which will require an estimated 375,000 cubic yards of concrete to complete the lock chamber. This is enough concrete to fill up more than 114 Olympic swimming pools. Thalle Construction Company has placed about 10 percent of the concrete as of September 2023.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Kentucky Lock on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kentuckylock.)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Galveston District, plays a key role in America's economy by keeping waterways open for navigation and commerce.
The Galveston District is directly responsible for monitoring more than 1,000 miles of channel along the Texas Gulf Coast.
This navigation mission sometimes requires getting help from some friends in the USACE Wilmington District (SAW).
A 10-person crew of USACE civilians brought the Multipurpose Vessel (MPV) Brandy Station to Galveston this week.
The MPV Brandy Station will work on missions previously completed by the MPV Snell. The Snell worked in the Galveston District from 2017 to 2023.The Brandy Station made it from Wilmington, N.C. to Galveston in seven days. Talon Smith is the captain of the ship, and the crew works 16 days on, then takes 12 days off.
The new MPV has similar mission capabilities as the Snell, to include marine construction, navigation hazard removal, and clamshell and hydraulic dredging for small critical shoals in federal channels and adjacent non-federal channels. The crew performs clamshell dredging by attaching a bucket to the onboard crane. Hydraulic dredging uses pumps and pipes to move dredge material.
“We have some dredging work we’re going to be doing,” said Joen Petersen, SAW Floating Plant Chief, aboard the Brandy Station, July 24, 2023.
The MPV is also outfitted with pumps for small dredge jobs where material can be pumped 1,500 to 2,000 feet.
Additionally, the Brandy Station can support maintenance and storm relief for U.S. facilities and territories and maritime transport.
“The vessel itself has a worldwide capability; about a 10,000-mile range,” Petersen said.“We carry just under 90,000 gallons of fuel. We have the capability to make our own water if we need to,” Petersen said. “The deck itself will carry 350 tons. The crane on board right now is a 135-ton crane and it has about a 200-foot reach. It replaced the old crane on here which had a 35-ton capability with an 80-foot maximum reach.
”To put it in perspective, the Snell would fit on the deck of the Brandy Station, Petersen said.Upcoming projects for the Brandy Station and its’ crew include mooring maintenance and construction at the Brazos and Colorado River Locks.
“We’ll go down there and put the new buoys in,” Petersen said. “We’ll drive the subsurface anchors down to put all those in.”The Brandy Station can also repair lock walls damaged by barge traffic, build docks and drive sheet piles. Sheet piles are steel sheets with interlocking edges which can be used to recreate retaining walls.
The Brandy Station can also install navigation buoys, Petersen said.Using the crane to lift and drop a large steel beam like a hammer, the crew pounds anchors 40 feet down into the ocean or river floor, with two-and-a-half-inch chain attached to the anchor. Then the crew pulls on the chain to make sure the anchor stays put. After the pull test, mooring buoys are attached which are then used by tugs and barges.
The Brandy Station can pound spuds (steel cylinder anchors) which enables the vessel to do construction work, Petersen said.
The ship also has a front landing ramp, so the crane can be offloaded with relative ease for work from land, Petersen said.
The Brandy Station can also help with disaster relief, Petersen said. The vessel was used to transport telephone poles to Puerto Rico in 2017 for Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
Onboard desalination equipment can produce 2,000 gallons or 16,000 bottles of water a day.
The deck can be configured for use as a container ship, which can carry up to 30 shipping containers.
With more than 12,000 buoys already playing a critical role in our nation’s inland navigation system, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is researching a way to use patented technology to make those buoys even more valuable.
Relying on these water markers for marine navigation, hundreds of millions of goods are transported annually along our inland waterways. According to an annual report published by USACE, more than 280 million tons were transported in 2020, mostly grain and petroleum products.
Leveraging digital buoy technology developed and patented by Tung “Alex” Ly, a computer scientist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Geospatial Research Laboratory (GRL), USACE is now exploring the idea of turning buoys that are positioned and designed to mark shipping channels into critical components of an extensive inland waterways network.
Dr. Austin Davis, a technical director with GRL, said Ly’s research provided an example of an effective mesh network that could improve and expand the ability to share important navigation information along a waterway – a technology gap not covered by existing networks or cellular systems.
“Right now, the Lock Operation Management Application (LOMA) system has a network around locks and dam sites to pass information to mariners as they approach the structure, but once they get further down the waterway – away from that site – there is no network access,” Davis said. “The thought is this network could push important navigation information to the mariners along the entire waterway, not just around the locks and dam locations.
“Cell phone towers are just focused on cities and interstates, not so much on the waterways. There are gaps in the ability to get information. This would provide a way to get maritime information – which is important to navigation safety – to the people who need it.”
Developed in conjunction with the Inland Electronic Navigational Charts Program (IENC) and USACE Louisville District, the technology was first targeted at providing the U.S. Coast Guard with real-time locations of its buoys. The idea has now grown beyond that.
“I think the real value to USACE is there would be a network that could disseminate navigation information by augmenting the Coast Guard buoy itself,” Davis said. “At the same time, this would provide trackability to where buoys are and how they move in the waterway. They don’t sit still.”
According to Ly, USACE is responsible for planning and constructing improvements to inland water navigation and dredging and maintaining thousands of miles of inland waterways.
“Water navigation safety markers (buoys) are designated national critical data,” Ly said. “This system of maritime aids to navigation provides the lane markers, street signs, stop lights for the nautical rules of the water, much like the driving rules of the road.”
Initial water-based prototypes and small experimentations were done on the Occoquan River in Virginia. The final prototypes and larger experiments were created and tested on a 10-mile stretch of the Ohio River around the Louisville District.
While the COVID pandemic slowed the expansion of this initiative, Davis said interest and effort in the next steps for the program have increased.
“The ultimate goal is trying to be a stepping stone to start converting navigation on the rivers to a virtual buoys system, but that is several, several decades away … a far future,” Davis said. “The next step would be a large field trial. We have to prove the reliability of the technology. This is about how you make the aids to navigation a little bit smarter and give them more capabilities.”
Davis said a large field trial would try to answer questions about how to augment a Coast Guard buoy best, whether the system can be stretched over one river or multiple rivers, as well as questions about power, reliability, durability and costs.
“In the laboratory effort, we have provided a proof of concept, but there are a lot of things not considered in that effort,” Davis said. But if a larger field test proves successful, “if it makes sense, hopefully, we could scale it into a national digital buoy system.”