Tag Archives: Millwood Lake

Burn Ban dampens camping this season

More than half the counties in Arkansas are currently under a burn ban because of dry weather conditions, with the number increasing weekly.

As of Nov. 28 the counties in red are in a burn ban.

Although county judges approved the ban, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers recreation sites follow and enforce the ban.

“Burn bans are determined and put in place by the local county judge based off the information he receives from local subject matter experts,” said Scotty Ashlock, natural resource specialist at Lake Dardanelle, Little Rock District USACE. “Our role is to follow and enforces the ban. We don’t add or take away from any of the guidance put out by the forestry commission.”

One of the challenges during the burn ban is that open flames are prohibited. Since fires are a cornerstone of camping and something many families enjoy, rangers thought the ban would disappoint guests.

“Most visitors like to build campfires and sit around with their families, roast hot dogs, s’mores, and tell stories,” Gary Ivy, chief park ranger at Greers Ferry, Little Rock District USACE explained. “Some people may not want to camp if they can’t have a campfire.”

Like Greers Ferry, Ashlock explained how the ban impacts Dardanelle visitors.

“With cool nights, most folks want to build a campfire in the evenings and sit outside,” Ashlock said. “Unfortunately, during the ban they aren’t allowed.”

Interestingly enough, the ban hasn’t lowered the number of people visiting recreations sites. “We haven’t seen a decline at our campgrounds,” Ivy added. “We’ve actually seen an increase in campers this year.”

The same has happened at Dardanelle.

“Burn bans haven’t slowed down visitation,” Ashlock added. “We receive a few complaints about not being able to have a small fire, but most people are very understanding and compliant.”

While it may seem the ban only inconveniences guests, the park rangers have challenges too.

“The main challenge for park rangers is the time and effort it takes to stop and educate park visitors about the burn ban,” Ashlock said. “One of the main issues for visitors is cooking without campfires.”

Luckily guests can cook other ways.

”Gas grills are allowed,” Ashlock said. “We allow cooking with charcoal as long as it is fully contained in an elevated grill, fully extinguished and properly disposed of after use.”

In addition to educating guests park rangers have an even bigger issue on their hands.

“The ban keeps us from doing prescribed burns to enhance timber stands, wildlife habitat, and reduce fuel loading within our parks and timber stands,” Ivy said.

Personnel from Little Rock District conducted a prescribed burn. Currently prescribed burns aren’t allowed in more than half of Arkansas, which keeps park rangers from enhancing timbers stands. (courtesy photo)

Still, the good outweighs the bad.

“There are many positive aspects of a burn ban,” Ashlock said. “Burn bans protect against property damage and most importantly, injury or loss of life.”

In fact since conditions are so dry, one small spark could cause a forest fire.

“With the ban it keeps honest people from building fires that could result in a forest fire,” Ivy said.

Of course under the current conditions, throwing a cigarette on the ground could lead to a fire being started but Ivy explained how people can still smoke.

“Burn bans do not prohibit visitors from smoking but it’s already a violation to dispose of cigarettes on the ground,” Ivy said. “It’s already littering.”

So far burn ban violations haven’t been a problem.

“We haven’t had any issues in our campgrounds with small fires,” Ivy noted. “If an issue arose we would visit ask campers to put the fire out.”

Park rangers take multiple measures to inform guests of the ban it’s still a joint effort between USACE and city officials for enforcement.

“Once a county is placed in a burn ban, we post burn ban signs at the entrance of each park within that county,” Ashlock said. “If a visitor is in violation they can be cited by a park ranger for violation of posted restrictions. Also county and city police regularly patrol all of our parks and officers will issue citations to visitors who violate the burn ban.”

In the event guests are completely unaware of the ban park rangers will usually just give a warning.

“Typically we will warn the campers about having a fire and ask them to put it out,” Ivy said. “If we have to go back to visit with them a second time we will then issue a citation.”

Luckily if a wildfire started the emergency personnel are minutes away.

“If a fire were to escape we would contact the local fire department,” Ashlock said. “All of our parks are within close response time to either a city fire department or rural fire department.

For right now the ban won’t be lifted until conditions improve.

“Until our area receives a substantial amount of rainfall we will remain in a burn ban,” Ivy said.

Park rangers will continue to monitor websites and working with local officials.

We continue to monitor the status of burn bans by viewing the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s website and by staying in contact with local emergency management or sheriff’s office, Ashlock concluded.

For a daily county update on where burn bans are in effect go to

http://www.arkfireinfo.org/

Corps Diving is Team Effort

Story by Bryanna R. Poulin

ASHDOWN, Ark,.- Is diving dangerous?

Just like any sport there are risks involved but for the daring men on Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dive Team embarking on a Corps dive means depending on one another and being safe to avoid any danger they could encounter.

 

(Left to right) Diver Justin Crowe, lock and dam operator with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts safety checks during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

“Every time we dive we experience the same risks that others experience in performing construction work or maintenance work except that the risks increase exponentially because of the underwater environment that we are working in,” Paul Brown civil engineering technician and diver with Little Rock District said.

The biggest risk for divers is being underwater.

A diver from the Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to go underwater during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

“People drown all the time recreating in the water,” Brown said. “We obviously have that risk every time we get in the water.”

Similar to most offshore air diving work and a large percentage of inshore diving work the district team uses Surface Air Supplied diving gear, which is compressed air delivered to a diving helmet via a hose to the surface. By using SAS it allows the team to fulfill their job under the water and their teammates on the surface monitors them so they stay alive and comfortable.

(Left to right) Diver Justin Crowe, lock and dam operator with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts safety checks for Paul Brown, civil engineering technician and diver with Little Rock District USACE during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

“Whenever you breathe compressed air you run the risk of pulmonary barotrauma like air embolism or pneumothorax and decompression sickness,” Brown said. “If a lung pops like a balloon or an air bubble gets lodged somewhere in the body you’re not having a good day so we don’t want that to happen to our divers.”

Fellow diver Justin Crowe, a lock and dam operator since 2006 explained how important it is that divers can identify one another just by breath sounds underwater.

“A lot of us could be blindfolded and know who is underwater just by the way a person is breathing,” Crowe said. “A person’s breath sound can convey nervousness, fatigue or if a break is needed.”

Another risk of being underwater is the mechanical phases of the mission.

Diver Justin Crowe, lock and dam operator with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts safety checks fellow divers during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15.

“The team provides underwater inspection and maintenance of the entire districts infrastructure to include 12 flood control reservoirs, 13 navigation lock and dams, seven hydroelectric power plants and 308 miles of navigation channel,” explained Brown. “When diving around our structures there is also a high risk of head pressure differentials that could ultimately suck a diver into a gate or intake and take his life.”

Adding to this divers must also trust on their keen sense of touch and mechanical knowledge when below the surface.

“When we’re diving everything underwater is completely black and dark,” Crowe described. “There are no lights and we have to feel around with our hands. When we are underwater performing maintenance we have to know and fix everything by touch.”

A diver from the Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to go underwater during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

Fortunately during the most recent operation at Millwood Dam the team only faced the typical challenges.

“Our goal at Millwood Dam was to inspect bulkhead recesses prior to placement of bulkheads,” Brown said. “The bulkheads needed to be placed so the conduits running through the dam could be dewatered for inspection of the sluice gates. The whole operation involved considerable coordination with engineering, safety, contractors and maintenance personnel, as well of closure of the highway. The water needed to be pumped out of the conduits from downstream and hatch covers needed to be removed for access. Crews encountered some difficulties but all in all it went very well considering the limited time allowed because of the highway closure.”

Paul Brown, civil engineering technician and diver with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to go underwater during a dive maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

Interestingly enough diving isn’t even their primary job since they all work in different professions for the district.

“This isn’t our regular job but considered a collateral duty,” Brown explained. “We all have different careers throughout the district and volunteer to be on the team.”

The diversity among the group gives them their edge. Brown believes having different jobs enables the team to get a different perspective of the operation. For example, Crowe is a mechanic at a lock and dam so he works on equipment daily and knows how it works. When he is at work he can see what is wrong with the equipment so once he is underwater and it’s dark he can see in his head what is wrong. Being a mechanic strengthens his diving abilities and diving strengthens his mechanic duties.

Despite all the risks and challenges the divers love being part of the team.

(Left to Right) Paul Brown, civil engineering technician and diver with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gets assistance from fellow diver Justin Crowe, lock and dam operator also with Little Rock District USACE during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

“You really get to know the people on your team and the best part is the relationships I have with my fellow divers,” Brown said. “Every time I dive, I put my life in the hands of these guys. We are truly a team; a family. None of us can do what we do without the others on that team doing their part. The work that we do is pretty cool too. When we complete a project the feeling of accomplishment that you feel is very gratifying.”

Brown who has been on the team the longest decided to join in 1998 because of the physical and mental challenges involved saying how it can be very demanding at times. Yet even now he still considers it an honor to be a diver and team member.

A diver from the Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepares to go underwater during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15. (photo by Bryanna R. Poulin Public Affairs Specialist Little Rock District USACE)

“The biggest change has been the faces,” Brown said. “When I first got into the program as a diver in training I was the youngest guy on the team. All of those guys are retired and I’m now the old fellow.”

Crowe on the other hand may be a little younger than Brown but he has loved the water and anything to do with it since high school. Crowe remembered being fresh out of high school and joining the Army where he worked on the Army Deep Sea Dive Vessel gaining the experience he uses now for the district. Once his enlistment was complete he went back home to Dardanelle and tried a factory job only to realize it wasn’t the life for him.

“I got out of the Army and tried factory work but I knew I didn’t like it so I got a job working in the commercial diving industry in New Orleans,” Crowe recalled.

But the long hours and being away from home for months at a time led him to the district.

Crowe went on further to say “I was working for a commercial company diving offshore on oil rigs and after the Hurricane Katrina and Rita doing platform recovery and salvage. I would normally be gone months at a time, so one rotation when I came home, I called the Corps and asked about job opportunities and I was hired in 2006 working and diving since then.”

Divers with Little Rock District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepare for a dive mission during a maintenance operation at Millwood Dam July 15.

Still even with the years of experience already on the team, there isn’t enough new divers volunteering for divers who will retire later.

“With our aging structures the need for underwater inspection and maintenance just gets greater,” Brown said. “We also have an aging workforce and we need younger people to do this job and to carry on after we leave. It’s very hard to find individuals willing to do what we do. We need folks to take our place.”

However if someone wants to be on the team, Brown first suggests “Check your motives and don’t get into it for the money or because of ego. We generally work with no visibility and in some very nasty and dirty places. If someone is claustrophobic or scared of the dark being a Corps diver isn’t going to be the best fit.”

Ultimately the one characteristic all divers share is their commitment to the districts mission.

“It really speaks volumes about the character of our divers and their willingness to make sacrifices to work overtime and be away from family,” concluded Brown. “I think we all really love what we do as divers with the Corps.”