When a company has been in operation for more than 124 years, as Great Lakes Dredge & Dock (GLDD) has, it should come as no surprise that it has had a major hand in shaping the landscape and infrastructure of today’s world. Not only has the Oak Brook, Illinois-based business helped realize the modern-day layout of nearby Chicago through projects such as the straightening of the Chicago River; it has also been a part of deepening projects at most major US ports across the country.
“The survival of the company from 1890 to present is a testament to two things: our employees and a little bit of luck,” says Katie LaVoy, the company’s vice president, general counsel of dredging operations, and a fourth-generation dredger.
Today the corporation is the largest provider of dredging services in the United States, employing more than 150 engineers and deploying the largest, most diverse fleet in the country with more than 200 vessels. As a commercial and heavy-construction contractor, it brought in more than $687 million in 2012 and continues to work on creating, cleaning, and upgrading a variety of ports, harbors, beaches, and rivers. And, though the majority of the firm’s projects are stateside, a quarter of them occur abroad, making GLDD the only US dredging company with a significant international operation. Here’s a complete look at the company and its critical work, including the recent deepening of PortMiami.
GLDD and Chicago:
A 124-year history in the windy city
William A. Lydon & Fred C. Drews found proto-GLDD company Lydon & Drews in Chicago, going to work on an offshore tunnel that eventually extends water intake at Chicago Avenue to a water crib further away from shore to ease concerns about contaminated drinking water
Lydon & Drews erects shoreline structures for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition, including the driving of piling foundations for what later becomes Navy Pier
As it expands to satellite locations in other major cities on the shores of the Great Lakes, the company changes its name to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company
After the LaSalle Street Tunnel is exposed in 1900 because of the reversal of the Chicago River, GLDD replaces it with a deeper, wider tunnel, lowering it into a trench in the riverbed
GLDD completes construction of foundations and approaches to the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River as well as the Outer Drive Bridge on Lake Shore Drive
The firm is contracted to build a substructure for Adler Planetarium, and it also completes a 25 million-cubic-yard shoreline reclamation for that site and for the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, Northerly Island, and the Field Museum
Beginning in September and finishing 15 months later in December 1929, GLDD undertakes a $9 million project to straighten the Chicago River between Polk and 18th Streets; the huge project allows railroad yards to line up with the street grid, greatly streamlining the area for trucks and train cars alike
The company restores and prepares U-505, a German U-Boat, for the Museum of Science and Industry
On April 13, while driving pilings for work on the Kinzie Street Bridge, GLDD unwittingly breaches a utility tunnel beneath the Chicago River, causing an estimated 250 million gallons of water to flood downtown Chicago and costing the city upwards of $1.95 billion; GLDD claims the city failed to accurately depict the location of the utility tunnels, and a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States determines that the company had greatly limited liability
Case Study: PortMiami
In order to expand their capabilities to handle New Panamax ships—larger, deeper container vessels traveling through the Panama Canal—certain East Coast ports and canals are undergoing dredging work. Currently, only a few East Coast ports are able to handle the new ships, which are 1,400 feet long, 180 feet in beam, and 60 feet in depth.
The US Army Corps of Engineers put out a request for proposal for the deepening of the Port of Miami (commonly known as PortMiami) which GLDD eventually won. It’s the single largest dredging contract ever awarded by the corps, and the work must be completed while the port remains open and includes measures to protect the surrounding coral reef colonies and sea grass beds. In fact, any displaced sea grass must be replaced post-dredge. To further enhance the difficulty level of this project, the material being dredged up in Miami happens to be some of the hardest and requires specialized equipment to move.
Fortunately, deepening ports is one of GLDD’s core competencies. The firm was involved with such an operation at the Port of New York and New Jersey, the nation’s third largest and the East Coast’s busiest port. The PortMiami dredging project is expected to finish by the end of 2014.
The PortMiami Dredges
A hydraulic dredge, the Texas has what is essentially a drill with a hydraulic pipe connected. The hydraulic portion acts like a combined vacuum and drill, sucking up the harder rocks that the vessel’s cutter-head drill kicks up.
The Terrapin Island
This is a hopper dredge, which has mechanical arms that come down on the sides and use hydraulic pressure to vacuum material up from the seabed. The vessel is used for operations that aren’t as hard as those that the Texas handles.
The clamshell dredge No. 55 is a bucket dredge. Its bucket is used to strip soft materials that are on top of the harder bedrock.
This vessel helps with drilling and blasting, which are exactly like they sound. Once material is blasted, another piece of equipment picks up the debris.
The Harbor-Deepening Process
GLDD’s how-to guide to dredging PortMiami and others
1. Mobilize dredging equipment to the site, including dredges, pipelines, people, and a flotilla of support vessels such as tugboats, workboats, and survey boats.
2. Next, survey the area before dredging to detect environmental concerns—including underwater material—and any possible issues that might occur during the work.
3. If necessary, conduct drilling and blasting. This step is avoided as much as possible because it is more costly, even though it can be accomplished safely. However, for the PortMiami project, it had to be done.
4. Finally, do the actual dredging.
5. Once dredging is complete, do a post-dredge survey and a final environmental assessment.
Katie LaVoy on …
The importance of coastal maintenance
Coastal restoration and protection should be important for everyone. Through the operation of tides, shorelines are gradually eroded away. If there were no man-made structures, over time, tides and storms would take the coastline away before eventually replacing the coastline. But, due to commercial purposes and the fact that we’ve built a lot of structures along the coast, people want their beaches and their structures protected. Rather than wait for nature to bring shorelines back, there’s a large industry that has developed to restore and replace the coastline. Sometimes restoration is for the tourist industry and for commercial purposes, but it’s also for protection.
You’ve heard stories of Hurricane Sandy. When a storm surge is coming, anything in its path will slow it down; it’s necessary to protect the coastline. There are thousands of variables affecting the storm surge, but if you don’t have a protected coastline, then you can be sure that nothing is slowing down the storm.
One of the things that we do is restore beaches and build berms to protect the coastline. Post-Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, communities have really become involved. That’s the genesis of these projects. There’s only so many times you can have a 100-year storm before you stop calling it that.
But, these projects are very expensive from cradle to grave. Before a dredge even gets there, you have to have engineering plans and environmental studies, so money is absolutely the number one challenge. There’s also more of a holistic debate about whether or not coastal protection is even something that should be done. It’s the commercial interest versus the environmental interest.
Before a project even gets to us, there’s a lot of negotiation and fundraising that has to be done. Just as nature will erode a coastline, when we put it back, it’s going to be eroded again. From a business perspective, the work is important, but at the same time, it’s a reoccurring expense. Obviously, it’s something that can be a hard financial dollar for a community to swallow.
One of the biggest challenges is you don’t know where the next hurricane is going to hit. Unfortunately, a lot of what we do is in response to these big disasters. What communities need to think about is prevention and protection before something like this happens and not after. Although expensive, I can guarantee you that the communities that are hit by these kinds of superstorms think that coastline protection is worth it.