Army's largest tug boat returns to Fort Eustis after dredging
By ALI ROCKETT | (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press (TNS) | Published: January 6, 2015
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune Content Agency) — There was a different kind of homecoming at Fort Eustis, Va., on Monday.
For the first time in two years, the crew of the USAV MG Winfield Scott moored its ocean-going tug boat at its home port on base.
"Hey look! The large tug is back," shouted a soldier aboard another boat at the port.
The Army vessel has ping-ponged between Yorktown and Virginia Beach because it couldn't access Eustis' Third Port, home of the Army's Navy.
A monthlong, $4.1 million dredging operation opened a 4-mile channel along Skiffes Creek, connecting the port to the deep water of the James River. The creek was deepened from 13 feet to 20 feet — just deep enough for the 128-foot, 500-ton tug, which requires 19 feet of draft.
"It's good to be home," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bill Sherman, who piloted the boat into the port. But the channel is "still pretty difficult" to navigate, Sherman said.
As the Scott made its way to a concrete pier, its huge propellers and powerful engines kicked up the mud and silt still coating the ground below the water. Sherman said the tug will deepen the channel as it makes more passes.
"We've got to take it slow," he said. "If you hit a shallow spot, you get sucked to one side and out of the channel."
Col. Randal Nelson, commander of the 7th Transportation Brigade Expeditionary, said although the dredging is costing millions, it is saving the Army time and money in travel and maintenance.
Soldiers would spend more than an hour driving to the Coast Guard training pier in Yorktown or to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek to train or work on the boat. It draws in water from below its keel to cool its engines and when the boat pulled into shallow water, mud often clogged the engines.
"Not to mention, it will increase our effectiveness," Nelson said. "The 7th Transportation Brigade has a global mission."
Lt. Col. Kimberly Nash, battalion commander of the 10th Transportation Battalion Terminal for the 7th Brigade, said 75 percent of the Army's mariners train at Eustis. The tug is capable of towing any vessel in the Army inventory and can even pull an aircraft carrier — though Nash doesn't recommend it.
The port was last dredged in 2004, and the project that just finished had been put on the back burner for almost a decade, Nelson said. Next year, the remaining part of the port will be deepened.
©2015 the (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.