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Philadelphia District’s Dredge MCFARLAND Clears Shipping Channel at Morehead City

Published May 15, 2018

Fully-loaded vessels leaving the Port of Morehead City can make their exit more safely after the Dredge MCFARLAND cleared the shipping channel during the six-week project after an emergency dredging mission on the Mississippi River hampered a contract the Wilmington District had with Manson Dredging that prevented the company from working in North Carolina. 

   One of four oceangoing hopper dredges owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part  of the Corps’ "minimum fleet" for national security and safe navigation, the MCFARLAND is the only dredge in the world with triple capability for direct pump out, bottom discharge and sidecasting or boom discharge.

   Designed by the Corps' Marine Design Center in Philadelphia, it was built in April 1967 and honors the late Arthur McFarland, a Corps of Engineers authority on dredging. As old as it is, it’s still chugging along and is ready to perform when needed.  It serves in a “Ready Reserve” status, meaning it can be called upon by USACE Headquarters to conduct urgent or emergency dredging. In recent years, the vessel has been called upon to dredge the Mississippi River, Morehead City, N.C. and Mobile, AL.

   “We received a call-out mission to clear the shipping channel at Morehead City,” said former Wilmington District member and MCFARLAND Captain Mitch Tillyard.  “Private contractors could not respond, so headquarters ‘raised the flag’ and mobilized our vessel from Philadelphia.   Normally we’re relegated to 70 days of dredging a year in the Delaware Bay of the Delaware River, but outside of that we’re called upon along the east coast or Gulf of Mexico when there’s a need and when the private contractors can’t respond.”  

   Tillyard said the MCFARLAND is a 300-foot, unlimited tonnage vessel with a shallow draft of about 16-feet up to 22 or 23 feet depending on the type of material that’s being dredged.  In the port of Morehead City’s shipping channel, he said it’s a combination of sand and lighter sand on the outer bar. 

   “The project channel here has shoaled in significantly to areas less than 30 feet,” he explained.  “This is a challenging project for us because there’s always changing weather conditions. The wind is always blowing, and it’s always blowing in the same direction. You have shoals that encroach from both sides of the channel.

   Tillyard said that because of shifting currents, buoys had to be relocated to mark the channel where the shoals are. 

   “When you have shoals like that, especially in narrow channels, the vessels that are coming out of the port fully loaded had to worry about dragging their hulls on the bottom or scraping past the shoals. Now, they don’t have to worry as much because it’s less dangerous because the shoals have been cleared.”

  Tillyard said that he credits the Wilmington District Navigation section for keeping abreast of fluctuating weather conditions. The survey vessel BEAUFORT and its crew are home based at the Port of Morehead City and were on standby if needed by the MCFARLAND. 

   “Wilmington is very proactive performing conditional surveys which is surveying while we’re dredging, usually one a week, maybe more,” Tillyard said.  “They’re very helpful in doing them on demand if we need it. That information is gathered by the survey vessel BEAUFORT, processed by Wilmington District cartographers, then we’ll use it on the MCARLAND within 24 to 48 hours.  We then targeted the shallow areas which makes us more efficient.”