Sedimental journey: Olmsted team welcomes win-win wetsuit work
April 25, 2013
Army divers feeling their way through the murky Ohio River waters of an Olmsted lock culvert April 8 were on a recon mission with great potential.
For the first time in the project's history Army divers were being used, and at a fraction of the cost for contract divers. At the same time, the divers were gaining useful experience and ensuring their qualifications remain current.
"The Army divers were able to provide us valuable information regarding the amount of material that has accumulated in the filling and emptying culverts of the lock," explained Mark Wise, the lead dive-safety administrator for the Corps of Engineers' Olmsted Division. "The divers learned a lot about us and us about them. The plan is to have them back to assist us over the low-water season and possibly with the cleaning of the culverts."
The Olmsted Locks and Dam construction project is about 17 miles upriver from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in the busiest stretch of inland waterway used by commercial navigation in the country. The construction of the 1,200-foot locks is already complete and they must be maintained in working order even while the dam component of the project in still under construction.
During their week at Olmsted the wet-suited Soldiers with military occupational specialty 12 Delta were submerging in about 35 feet of 44-degree water and penetrating the 18- by 14-foot culverts as far as 255 feet.
"It was all by feel with no visibility. It was cold, dark and muddy," said salvage diver Sgt. Brian Adams, who made the first Olmsted dive for the 511th Dive Detachment stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia. The detachment is part of the 30th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps, United States Army. Adams at 25 has six years of Army diving experience in places like Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar and Oman, as well as on locks and dams in New Mexico and Colorado and cross training with the Swedes and Germans.
For Louisiana native Pfc. Jace Dilmore his dive with Adams was his very first job after training that included six months at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Fla.
"It definitely was an eye-opener to what we're going to be doing. It makes us appreciate when we do have visibility," Dilmore said. "It was good to know you've got somebody experienced with you. It's a little bit of a nerve tester, but that's what I'm in for, to get a little bit of a thrill."
His divers used a depth-finder called a pneumofathometer and simple arithmetic to measure the thickness of the sediment, explained the noncommissioned officer in charge of the operation, Staff Sgt. Kyle Broughton. They calculated the thickest sediment was about 10 feet deep in the culvert and they brought up buckets of samples for Corps of Engineers technicians to assess. Broughton's eight-Soldier team convoyed down from Virginia with their equipment that included a mobile recompression chamber called a hyperbaric stretcher. The eight-year diving veteran from Spring, Texas, said his mission on the first Olmsted visit was to develop a scope of work for future operations to remove all sediment from the culverts.
"One way this mission is unique is the penetration into the culvert," Broughton said. "It is a strange feeling when I cannot see my divers' bubbles. But our standard operating procedures never change. We have set verbiage and actions that ensure our divers' safety."
Broughton said if the 511th Diving Detachment returns at the beginning of summer to remove the sediment the team would use a large submersible pump.
"There's a lot of mud in there," he noted.