Every Mid-South farmer knows that river traffic is key to a healthy economy. Maintaining passage for that traffic isn’t easy, though, as the Army Corps of Engineers can attest.
It’s Oct. 25 and if you’re looking for the Corps’ mat-sinking unit head to Mile 621 on the river. Just turn left on an unmarked gravel road a spit south of Mellwood, Ark., and, after jumping the levee while avoiding wandering cattle, avoid the potholes on your way to the riverbank.
There, a large crew is impressively in-synch working a huge, L-shaped mass of floating cranes, girders and mats of concrete. On the bank, a smaller group of crewmen ties off thick cables. Despite a nice breeze out of the south, the men are slick with sweat – this is not a job for the lazy or unmotivated.
And prep work is essential. A grading unit – currently in Myersville getting ready for more mat-laying in coming days -- arrived here before the boats, “clearing trees and things that are on the bank,” says greg Raimondo, Chief of Public Affairs for the Corps Vicksburg District. “They doze it off down to the waterline.” A dragline helps maintain a slope underwater so the mats can sit properly.
Raimondo has been with the Corps Vicksburg District, home port for the mat-sinking unit, for 10 years. Before that, he spent several stints in war zones overseas along with a three-year stint with the Corps St. Louis District.