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USACE Vicksburg District Mat Sinking Unit forges ahead with revetment mission

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Passenger vans wait on a barge before a quarter boat departs with the Mat Sinking Unit (MSU). The vans will transport crew members to and from job sites along the Mississippi River. (Photo by Bucky Wall, USACE)

VICKSBURG, Miss. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Vicksburg District Mat Sinking Unit (MSU) forged ahead with revetment operations on the Mississippi River, Tuesday, following a safety pause due to COVID-19.

The floating plant’s annual season took a four week pause to help ensure the safety of the crew during the most recent COVID-19 spike.

“My sincerest gratitude goes out to the entire crew of our Mat Sinking Unit for their ability to be flexible and adjust,” said Col. Robert Hilliard, USACE Vicksburg District commander. “I stand amazed at their perseverance to continue fortifying the banks of the river, despite dealing with the effects of COVID.”

Under new safety guidelines, many measures have been taken to protect lives of those who work on the MSU.  Prior to the pandemic, the normal schedule consisted of 12 concurrent days on the vessel. Under the new COVID safety guidance, crewmembers serve for 25 days at a time. Another measure consists of limiting the number of passengers on vans to and from work sites along the river.

Enhanced cleaning and capacity protocol are in place in common areas on the Mat Sinking Unit (MSU) to as part of COVID-19 safety measures. Here, Plexiglass dividers built by the onboard carpentry shop serve as barriers between dining occupants. (Photo by Bucky Wall, USACE)

Operations Chief Julie Vignes emphasized that the revetment mission is crucial to ensure reliable, navigable waterways.

“Laying mat is vital to keeping the river on a consistent path,” Vignes said. “If we don’t complete our mission, erosion can change the shape of the river over time and make it more difficult for commercial vessels to transport their cargo. An enormous amount of trade relies on the Mississippi River.”

Revetment Section Chief Ed Adcock noted that the recent revetment pause was necessary to mitigate risk and help ensure crew safety. He also commended the crew for their commitment to pushing forward with the mission.

“Revetment is an essential mission for the nation,” Adcock said. “Working through COVID adds an element of higher dedication.”

On board the vessel, crew members wear face masks in common areas and adhere to limited capacity rules. Public doorways are equipped with no-touch handles, and Plexiglass panes divide galley tables between occupants. High traffic surfaces are frequently wiped down with hospital grade sanitizer. COVID-19 tests are administered twice a week to decrease potential exposure in the workplace.

Also new to the Mat Sinking Unit is a two-story, nine-bed quarter area which provides a secure place for individuals who might need to quarantine.

In all, the enhanced measures allow the nearly 300 crewmembers to adapt to a changing threat efficiently. Mat Sinking Unit Chief Barry Sullivan praised the crew for their dedication throughout the season amid changing circumstances.

“We’re incredibly blessed to do what we do,” Sullivan said. “We’ll likely lay 1,800 miles’ worth of mat by the end of this season.”

The revetment season began with the Vicksburg District’s Blessing of the Fleet ceremony which was held July 12, 2021.

The Mat Sinking Unit places hundreds of thousands of articulated concrete mats, also known as revetment, along the Mississippi River to protect flood control works, prevent riverbank erosion and provide navigable waterways for commercial transportation. The unit’s work spans the jurisdictions of the Memphis, Vicksburg and New Orleans districts and more than 1,500 river miles.

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