When thinking about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' work, what may most readily come to mind is massive flood control projects, environmental restoration and shoreline protection. In some areas, inland waterway navigation and harbor dredging for deep-draft ships is prevalent.

However, along with the Corps' roles in port and waterway navigation comes the need for a fleet of ships -- vessels that can conduct surveys, move equipment and, on occasion, dredge material to deepen a channel. The fleet numbers in the thousands, but where do Corps districts get help in finding this specialized equipment?

The answer lies in a small suite of offices, located in Philadelphia District, known as the MDC…the Marine Design Center.

The MDC dates back to 1929. It is the Corps' center of expertise for development and application of innovative technologies for naval architecture and marine engineering. The center provides expertise in every realm of boating resources, from the design of vessels to procuring the ships and their equipment.

"We help divisions and districts throughout the Corps with the design, procurement and maintenance of the fleet," said Michael Kelley, senior project manager with the MDC.

The MDC played a significant role in helping Jacksonville District with the design and acquisition of its newest survey vessel, Florida II, a 62-foot aluminum catamaran that was delivered in 2013.

"Jacksonville District came to us, we looked at needs and developed options," said Kelley. "As we determine what options were available, we started developing a more specific budget for the project, helped secure the needed funding, and procured the contract necessary to build the boat."

"The MDC was great to work with," said Phil Bates, Jacksonville District plant manager. "They helped with the design specifications and with contract administration. We were very pleased."

The expertise within MDC isn't just limited to designing new boats. Staff has also implemented modifications to existing equipment, which has made dredging operations safer for marine life.

"Jacksonville District and the Engineering Research & Development Center designed a 'turtle deflector' in the early 1990s to help keep sea turtles from being hurt by dredging operations," said Bates. "The MDC developed a prototype from the design and devised a methodology to implement the deflector. It has had a major impact in reducing injuries to turtles in dredging operations from Texas to Delaware."

The MDC has experience with all of the vessels used by the Corps, including dredges, towboats, floating cranes and survey vessels. They have done work for a number of other federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Panama Canal Commission.

"The rules and regulations governing boat construction are much different when compared to rules for building construction," said Kelley. "There are so many things to consider in terms of making the vessel navigable as well as providing an environment where people can get their work done."

Kelley has been with the MDC for 13 years. He lists the modernization of an 80-year-old boat among his finest accomplishments.

"We worked on the dredge boat Potter," said Kelley. "We had to cut off the top three decks of the boat. It was quite a challenge, trying to meld 1930s workmanship with the 21st century, but we turned out a great product."

2014 promises to be a busy year for Kelley and his co-workers. They recently hosted survey boat operators in Fernandina Beach to demonstrate the full range of capabilities of Florida II.

"We have survey vessels in the works this year for Baltimore, New Orleans, Norfolk, and Philadelphia Districts," said Kelley. "We are also working on a large barge for Mobile District."

Since taking delivery of Florida II last year, Jacksonville District has turned to the MDC again.

"We bought another boat through them," said Bates. "They were very helpful in the contracting process; it was really fast, only two months. We are also working with them to design a 120-foot barge that will be used by our South Florida Operations Office to help with maintenance of the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the locks on the Okeechobee Waterway."

"Ultimately, we want the operators of our boats to be happy," said Kelley. "Anything the MDC can do to help accomplish their mission we will consider."

Page last updated Thu April 3rd, 2014 at 00:00