Traveling by boat to your “office” on the water may seem strange or unusual for some, but for the 11 dockbuilders and divers from Local 1556 working on the Living Breakwaters job for Weeks Marine off the shores of Tottenville in Staten Island, New York, it’s just another day in paradise.
Each day, the highly skilled group heads to the water to work on the critical $107 million infrastructure project that will help prevent massive storm damage following superstorms like we saw 10 years ago with Hurricane Sandy. If successful, this project will not only save property, but it will also save lives.
The project, designed by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, has ambitious goals to say the least. It’s two-pronged approach that will protect the shore of Staten Island in the event of another severe weather strike and will jump start the breeding of marine life, which has been in great decline over the years. The first part consists of our members laying rock mattresses down on the water to prevent erosion while allowing natural vegetation to establish. Divers help place the mattresses underwater, while the dockbuilders run the deck engines to move the barges in order to help create a protective storm barrier for the beach and inland neighborhoods. Then, large rocks shipped from Georgia are strategically placed on top through a series of multiple cranes in order to help create a barrier protecting the beach and inland neighborhoods from storm destruction.
The second part of the project involves scattering molds of aquatic structures around the constructed beds to promote the breeding of marine life. While the project completion date is still about a year away, there have been indications that oysters and mussels, which previously declined in number, are populating. “To do jobs like this you need a skill and a high amount of training. I’ve been in the union for about 12 years now and I went through the apprenticeship program, it gave me the skills I needed to succeed, and I would recommend it to anyone that wants to do this type of work as a career” said Sean Brown, a foreman on the project and proud member of Local 1556.
It’s demanding work in part due to working outside and underwater in all of the elements, but the dockbuilders and divers on the project enjoy the challenge and some even describe their special group as a tight knit family. “In our line of work, we are like a family, and everyone looks out for everyone,” said Chris Sorensen, a Council Rep with jurisdiction over the site. “One of the things you learn on the first day is everyone sticks together. If you’re taking a break, someone goes with you. If you’re checking something in another area of a ship, someone goes with you. We prevent accidents by making sure no one is ever alone. Even when we boarded the ship, I made sure to find out everyone who was working so I could keep track of everyone. It’s how we are.”
For some, the smaller scale job may not be as exciting as a large pile driving or drilling project, but the project requires uniquely trained members to get it done efficiently and their skills are getting praise. Dan Mahoney, a manager with the projects general contractor, Weeks Marine, has touted the union’s work.
“These talented dockbuilders and divers have been hard at work to complete the projects They’ve been working together to get the material in place in the most efficient manner possible, while still achieving the high-quality bar set by our team.”
If the project is successful, it is believed to reverse the process of the shore shrinking and will aid in the natural shore growth over the next ten years, adding another measure to the storm protection for Staten Island and successful infrastructure job completed by union carpenters.