The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Jacksonville District’s South Florida Operations Office (SFOO) has the monumental task or inspecting the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) and reopening Okeechobee Waterway post Hurricane Irma, a task that is essential to recovery operations across Southern Florida.
“The staff we have working across the SFOO area have been extremely dedicated during the Hurricane Irma event,” said Gary Russ, USACE SFOO Chief. “Much of the staff stayed safely at our lock and dam facilities during the storm, allowing them to immediately execute inspections once it was safe."
The operation’s inspection team is comprised of lock and dam operators, park rangers, and technical/field maintenance teams. They work in close coordination with one another to ensure the 152 mile waterway is navigable and 143 mile dike continues to function as designed.
“The lock and dam operators at each of the five sites are the first to initiate their visual and operational inspections,” said Carl Williams, USACE SFOO Deputy Chief. “Visual inspections consist of looking for broken or damaged portions of the lock and dam structures, and pulling what debris they can from the lock chambers. Once the visual inspection are complete they will run an operational inspection that cycles the lock, ensuring it is fully operational.”
If the lock or dam structures require repairs, or if the debris is too large to pull from the chamber, the SFOO maintenance team and floating plant will be called in to respond.
“Our SFOO staff has three field maintenance staff who can fabricate, weld and complete small repairs to our lock and dam structures,” said Williams. “If the repairs are too large, we have a repair contract in place that we can immediately execute. Also at our disposal we have various pieces of heavy equipment, a tug, barges, and floating crane that can be used to pull debris or dredge to help reopen the waterway.”
Concurrently, park rangers will take to boats and navigate the entire Okeechobee Waterway to include the traversing each of the five locks, and Route 1 and 2 across Lake Okeechobee.
While lock and dam operators and park rangers are completing their inspections, SFOO maintenance and field teams complete the third portion of inspections after a large storm event, the inspection of the Herbert Hoover Dike system.
“Our teams work to complete the initial inspection of the 143 mile long system within 48-hours after the event passes,” said Russ. “The operations team, along with engineering subject matter experts, drive the along the top and bottom of the structure looking for things like erosion, seepage, sinkholes, downed trees or power lines with a focus on sites that have had historical issues.”
If areas of concerned are identified around HHD, the field maintenance team will take action using pre-staged heavy equipment and materials on hand to complete temporary repairs to ensure the dike’s stability.
“I am proud of the dedication and work of my South Florida Operations team as they have prepared for, weathered, and now respond to the storm,” said Russ. “It is our goal to open the waterway and inspect the dike as quickly and as safely as possible, delivering the mission to the public we serve.”