Written by Walter T. Ham IV
The 102-nautical-mile New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway is marked by 326 steel pile day beacons and lights. Thousands of commercial and recreational mariners travel on the New Jersey ICW every year, which runs from entrance of the Cape May Canal to about 40 nautical miles south of New York City.
Coast Guardsmen from Aids to Navigation Team Cape May, N.J. and Coast Guard divers from around the country removed 22 aids to navigation, thousands of pounds of damaged steel, from the New Jersey ICW during a nine-day operation.ANT Cape May crewmembers then replaced the damaged ATON with seasonal foam buoys.
Many of the steel pile channel markers were 20 to 40 years old. Ice, Nor’easters and hurricanes, especially Superstorm Sandy, had taken their toll on the channel markers. Many of the structures failed and some of them were brokenbelow the waterline, posing an unseen threat to mariners.
The busy waterway fluctuates widely in depth and width, from 4-30 feet deep and 20 feet- a quarter mile wide. Severe shoaling made the waterway too shallow for Coast Guard construction tenders to work on the ATON structures.
ANT Cape May first used its trailerable ATON boat to create a safety zone around the diving operations and then used a 49-foot stern loading utility boat to recover the wreckage. The 49-foot boat was brought into service in the late 1990s, with the last one commissioned in 2001. They are equipped with an astern mounted A-frame crane that can lift 4,500 pounds.
Once on station, divers dove into the water, cut the steel piles near the mudline andusedairbags to float the damaged piles to the surface where the ANT would hoist themonto the buoy deck.
During the nine-day evolution, the Coast Guard team spent more than 200 hours underway, removed 22 structures and saved an estimated $269,000 in contractor costs.
Covering a vast area of operations, the 17-member ANT Cape May uses three boats to maintain 570 beacons and buoys across four states.
“The wreckage removal project further affirms our commitment to safety to the boating public well above what we already do in maintaining all Aids to Navigation,” said Elijah B. Reynolds, the officer-in-charge of ANT Cape May. Reynolds is a 20-year Coast Guard veteran from Chatham, Massachusetts, who has served in ATON units for 15 years.
U.S. Coast Guard divers tackle a wide variety of important missions, from ATON wreckage removal to port security operations. Divers from Regional Dive Locker-East, Regional Dive Locker-West and Regional Dive Locker-Pacific took part in the operation.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Loren M. Powers from Regional Dive Locker-East served as the dive team leader and diving supervisor during the operation. He said the highlight of the job was the cohesion of the divers and the crew from Aids to Navigation Team Cape May.
“All of these divers camein from locations across the country to work together with anANT crew they had never met,” said Powers, a Seattle native who has served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 22 years. “Afterthe first two days of getting instep with each other,we were truly one crew at the end of the first week.”