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By Donna Cipolloni

Tester staff writer

The view of the Patuxent River from the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge gets a little more scenic each time another section of the lengthy fire-damaged pier at Naval Recreation Center Solomons is removed.

The labor-intensive project, which started about a month ago, is progressing at a steady pace and Mother Nature is cooperating.

“We’ve been lucky with the weather; there’s been no down time,” explained Mike Liston, superintendent for Asturian Group Inc. (AGI), the Chesapeake, Virginia-based general contractor in charge of the project. “Rain doesn’t affect us much, but we do need to keep an eye on the wind.”

Commuters crossing the bridge will notice two large flat barges floating next to the demo site — one holds a tall crane, the workhorse of the project; and the other holds the damaged pier material that the crane helps dismantle and stack.

“That material then goes back to Chesapeake for recycling by AGI,” Liston said. “One full barge has gone out already.”

What is not visible from the bridge are the numbers 1 to 57 that mark individual sections of the pier.

Liston explained that each section, which varies in width depending on how deteriorated it is, will be lifted up and removed by a spreader beam that was manufactured specifically for the project.

“Basically, the crane sets the spreader beam down and we slip cables underneath the decking and pull it up until it’s snug,” he said. “Workers in a boat come underneath the pier and cut everything loose. The spreader then lifts it up and we can pull out the entire section at once.”

After a section is removed, the remaining piles are loosened with a vibratory hammer which slowly works them upward to a certain point.

“We’ll then disconnect the hammer and attach a cable to each pile, pulling it out completely with the crane,” Liston said. “Each pile is sunk about 35 to 45 feet. They get longer as the water gets deeper beneath the pier. Luckily, [their removal] has been easier than expected. We’re getting about 98 percent of them out intact. Whatever is left over will later be cut down to the mudline by underwater divers.”

The demolition site is frequently visited by an engineering technician from Naval Engineering Facilities Command and Liston also gives project updates at regularly scheduled quality control meetings.

“There’s great cooperation and teamwork between AGI and Pax River’s NAVFAC,” he said.

Funding the demolition

Since the pier was burned beyond repair in April 2009, Pax River’s Public Works Department has been attempting to obtain the necessary funding through the Demolition Program, a competitive program whereby all public works departments within NAVFAC compete for limited demolition funds.

The funding request package contained a plethora of paperwork, including the required Department of Defense forms and necessary approvals related to the Environmental Division, State Historic Preservation Officer, GSA/HUD, Coastal Zone Consultation, and the McKinney Act, explained Sandy Stankovich, requirements branch head.

Once the project was approved by the region, a scope of work estimate was completed and sent out to contractors for bidding. When a price was agreed on, the funds to support the project were requested and the project was awarded, Stankovich said.

“The contract that was awarded actually contains two pier demolition projects: the Solomons pier and the old fuel wharf located at Pax River,” she added. “Total cost of the demolition for both piers was [just over $2.5 million.]”

Before demolition began, sonar was performed to ensure no unexploded ordnance was in the area and it was also necessary to wait until an osprey nest on the pier was finally vacated by its feathered tenants.

Expected to be completed by November, the project has had no impact to Morale, Welfare and Recreation operations at Solomons.

“Our guests and even a large majority of the N9 Team was unaware the demo had even begun,” said Carrie Jay-Rose, NRC Solomons installation program director. “The team conducting the demo has been mindful of the activities, mission and programs that happen on the MWR side of the complex.”