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Posted 2/5/2017

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By Andrew Kornacki
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“Diver at the surface, down slow,” calls out Dive Supervisor Shanon Chader as Diver Weston Cross slips below the frigid and murky waters of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Romeoville, Illinois.

In a cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District and the Technical Services Dive Team, consisting of members from the Corps of Engineers Buffalo, New England, Philadelphia, and Headquarters, dives were conducted to inspect the Chicago Fish Barrier and provide an overall condition assessment to Chicago District’s operation and maintenance teams.  More specifically, the team was inspecting the condition of Barriers IIA and IIB and the parasitic structures located upstream and downstream of the barriers.

“Using visual, touch, and ultrasonic means to inspect the barriers, we were able to determine that overall the barriers are beginning to show wear, and provide a detailed assessment to the Chicago team for maintenance and replacement planning,” said Cross. “In addition to assessing the condition of the barrier, a large steel farm cart was located adjacent to the electrodes, likely having washed down the canal during high flows. The team was able to recover the cart to ensure that it did not cause further damage while moving in the current of the canal.”

The diving operations were complicated by heavy rains, causing high flows within the canal. Diving also had to be stopped at times each day to allow passage of barge traffic.  Despite the obstacles and challenges that the busy canal presented, the team concluded operations ahead of schedule and without incident.

“The team also had time to do an inspection at the Chicago Harbor Lock using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) in the water.  We mobilized the ROV at the Chicago Harbor Lock to perform an inspection of the southwest gate to investigate the cause of irregularities during gate operations,” said Cross.  “The ROV gives us the ability to rapidly mobilize and perform inspections, or inspect areas that may not be accessible to a diver.  It is a very reliable piece of equipment.”

The Corps of Engineers considers any project requiring divers a high-risk project. Divers go through rigorous training to ensure they learn proper safety protocol. The Technical Services Dive Team has four industry-recognized Professional Engineers on staff, with coastal, hydraulic, and structural engineering specialties, in addition to biologic, and geologic capabilities.  Four members of the team are certified as Federal Highway Administration Inspection Team Leads under the National Bridge Inspection Standards and all team members are certified below water inspectors.  This allows the team to perform detailed underwater engineering assessments of Federal assets including bridges, dams, and waterfront structures. 

“Empowering multidisciplinary teams to accomplish work for the Nation is an essential part of executing the Corps of Engineers’ mission and to achieve the organization’s vision,” said Colonel Benjamin Bigelow, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Deputy Division Commander. “The dive team is an example of a successful regional and multidisciplinary team.” 

Each member has a job with a Corps of Engineers district and is a member of the Technical Services Dive Team as an additional duty.  They deploy both nationally and internationally, with dive operations carried out as far as Busan, South Korea, Camp Darby, Italy, and Okinawa, Japan. 

In recent years the team has performed work to support the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Corps of Engineers Bridge Program, as well as providing support to 15 districts spanning six divisions. 

“A team boasting these professional credentials, experience, and the willingness to travel provides tremendous opportunity for project delivery globally.” said Bigelow, “I am proud to see the team taking part in critical improvements in Chicago, you never know where they might be sent next!”

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