News: Dive team inspects Pickwick Lock ahead of dewatering
Story by Leon Roberts
COUNCE, Tenn. – Divers and support personnel are doing a thorough underwater inspection of Pickwick Lock this week ahead of scheduled maintenance. The team is looking for signs of wear and tear and mapping its findings as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District prepares to empty water from the lock later this year.
Ross Cunningham, a diver and lock and dam equipment maintenance supervisor from the Cumberland River Operations Center in Old Hickory, Tenn., led the team at Pickwick Lock and said the divers are checking all of the underwater components such as valves, gates, intake screens, and even the condition of the concrete joints.
“We’re kind of getting a lead on what needs to be repaired when the time comes,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes it takes 30 days or more to get parts we need ordered and depending on the cost of the parts it has to go through contracting, so it takes a longer period of time to get that done. So it really helps to get what needs to be repaired beforehand so we have a good idea what we need before we get here.”
The objective of preparing for a dewatering of the lock by sending a dive team underwater is to get a close look at the condition of the components to mitigate the time of a closure for commercial traffic on the river, Cunningham added.
At Pickwick Lock, March 6, 2013, Cunningham supervised the dive. In that role, he monitored the diver’s descent into the water, during the inspection of intake screens, and then during his return to the lock platform.
Gary Fleemen, a lock and dam mechanic from Fort Loudoun Lock in Lenoir City, Tenn., served as the dive tender during the dive. It is his job to look out for the safety of the diver and to monitor the umbilical, which contains the oxygen and communication lines.
Greg Cox, chief of Maintenance Section at CRROC in Old Hickory, Tenn. and Matt Williamson from the Tennessee River Repair Operations Center in Florence, Ala., also supported the dive.
Underwater, Jeff Neely, a certified commercial diver and a lock and dam equipment mechanic from Old Hickory Lock in Old Hickory, Tenn., performed the inspection and communicated back to the surface. A light and camera on his helmet provided live footage of the intake screens.
During the dive, Neely felt the metal structures stirring up rusted materials in the currents and felt for the condition of the screens and lug nuts holding them in place.
“I was looking for loose bars or missing bars on the intake screens, the retainer bars, the anchor bolts that go up in there to hold them back, [to] make sure they’re all in place,” Neely said.
He added that it’s not uncommon to have some bars or screens missing when the team inspects them and they are repaired to prevent large trees and other debris from getting into the culvert that can damage the seals or valves.
Neely said diving is something he enjoys but admits it is a challenging job. He stressed that the Corps vigorously promotes safety during every dive, even though conditions that are present can be challenging.
“Sometimes it can be real difficult with the elements,” Neely said. “It’s a physical job. It’s dangerous… you’ve got to keep your wits about you to stay safe.”
In addition to the maintenance and inspection of Corps facilities, the Nashville District Dive Team also supports other requirements such as body recovery missions and environmental support such as mussel survey dives.
Charlie Bryan, Nashville District dive coordinator, oversees the district’s 16-person dive team and ensures each diver receives annual training and maintains certification, and that all equipment is maintained.
Bryan said the team working at Pickwick Lock is performing an important inspection, and all the district’s divers are collectively making a positive contribution to the various tasks supported.
“The Nashville District Dive Team is one of the most respected throughout the Corps of Engineers. They have been requested to perform diving tasks from several other districts around the corps. Also, there are divers within the district that perform missions overseas,” Bryan said. “By having an in-house dive team the cost is half of using a contract diving company. Also, the time frame that the dive team can be at any project within the district is two to four hours.”
The quick response time is important because when equipment breaks it can adversely affect navigation on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, Bryan said.