Monday, January 26, 2015

Beginning of Savannah harbor project to be marked near soon-to-be-removed ironclad

Panamerican diver James Duff prepares to go down to the CSS Georgia off Old Fort Jackson in Savannah (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A staggering 24 million cubic yards of material will be dredged during the much-anticipated $706 million deepening of the harbor in Savannah, Ga.

But the first things to be taken from the Savannah River’s sandy bottom will be surviving pieces of the Civil War ironclad CSS Georgia.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ office in Savannah on Monday announced that the harbor project construction will officially begin Thursday morning with a media event not far from where the vessel is submerged.

Corps spokesman Russell Wicke said the removal of the CSS Georgia, necessary for the deepening, will occur in several phases and cost about $15 million.

“This is very exciting for us, for not only the historical significance on the CSS Georgia, but we are now moving forward with getting this harbor deepened -- which will have huge national benefits.”

Lacking much power, the locally built CSS Georgia was destined to become a stationary floating battery and part of the city’s defensive system during the Civil War.

It was scuttled on Dec. 21, 1864, by its Confederate crew in order to keep it out of the hands of Federal forces that took Savannah. 

Section of ironclad was removed in 2013 (USACE)

The ironclad, resting on a slope about 40 feet deep below the surface, must be removed so that an additional 5 feet of river bottom can be dredged. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, even larger ships will be able to travel to U.S. cities. That requires consistently deeper channels.

Debris includes four of the CSS Georgia’s original 10 cannons, parts of the propeller and propulsion system, a boiler and two casemates, which housed the artillery pieces. The wooden hull is believed to have largely disintegrated over the years.

The Savannah Army Corps of Engineers office, which has “soft launched” a website about the CSS Georgia recovery, said contract divers have been out at the site and are first mapping, tagging and putting a recovery grid in place. A network of ropes connects wreck site artifacts and assists divers to navigate through the mucky river floor.

They will be recovering small artifacts, such as fasteners or small personal items. “Anything you might be able to pull up by hand,” said Wicke.

The second phase, sometime this summer, will be the recovery of the large pieces. Divers, under direction of the U.S. Navy, will take special care because of the possibility of live ammunition and powder.

The third phase is mechanized recovery, “basically clearing up what is left over once the large pieces are pulled out.” The final phase is an archaeological clearance, to ensure everything has been properly removed.

Conservation will be done at Texas A&M University and will take about two years to complete. But that’s only for pieces that likely will be displayed some point at a museum. That will include the casemates, artillery pieces and other “signature” items.

Photo is believed to be of CSS Georgia (USACE)

Much of the CSS Georgia was constructed of railroad item. The majority of that will be resubmerged in another location for safekeeping, Wicke told the Picket.

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz told Savannah TV station WTOC: “We were shared some pictures yesterday of the first segment that was brought up as kind of a test, and they've identified the various particles that are still in existence on the floor of the river, and so they are well prepared to start recovering immediately.”

The initial contract for recovery of the CSS Georgia went to Dial Cordy and Associates of Jacksonville, Fla., the Corps said. Panamerican Consultants of Memphis, Tenn., will conduct field work.

Officials soon will award other contracts in the project, which is being funded by the federal government and Georgia.

Besides deepening the channel of the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, the Corps will extend the shipping lane an additional seven miles into the Atlantic Ocean off Tybee Island.

On the river-based portion, the Corps will be installing a dissolved oxygen injection system to protect marine life. That’s important because the deepening will allow more salt water to go upstream, throwing off the current equilibrium. Two plants will be installed: One on Hutchinson Island, the farther upstream near a Georgia Power facility.

Billy Birdwell, senior public affairs specialist with the Corps, said the large ships now entering the port will be less restricted once the deepening is completed: They won’t be so dependent on high tides to clear the channel bottom.

“We’re expanding the window for them,” he said. “They are getting more bang for their buck.”

One of the previously recovered guns (Courtesy of Old Fort Jackson)

No comments:

Post a Comment