Lt. Cmdr. Nigel Morrissey watched from the land side of Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach as a 100-foot crane swung around a bulldozer aboard a barge filled with sand scooped from a quarry on Catalina Island.
The bulldozer was poised to drive onto the barge to begin pushing sand into the ocean in Anaheim Bay. The sand will provide a foundation for an 800-foot causeway that will connect the naval station with the inner breakwater at the center of the harbor and also connect to a reconfigured ammunition pier.
The work being done Friday, Jan. 31, was the start of Phase One of a $150 million plan to relocate the base’s ammunition pier and create a new boating channel that will keep public boaters at a safer distance from Navy operations at the pier. The first phase is scheduled for completion in October 2022; the second phase, which is scheduled to be awarded in March, should be completed by June 2024.
All work is being done by local contractors.
“This is the biggest project I’ve ever been involved with,” said Morrissey, who as a public works officer is overseeing more than 100 contractors and Navy personnel involved with the project. “Building an ammunition pier is very rare and costly.”
The 5,000-acre base is responsible for weapons storage, loading and maintenance for the majority of the United States Pacific Fleet. Navy officials say the reconfiguration will provide greater installation security and improve safety for private boaters and nearby communities. Most of the base infrastructure is between 50 and 70 years old.
The pier was built in 1944 and rebuilt in 1953. Officials at the base, which provides ammunition to about 40 ships a year, say naval operations are limited by the condition of the existing pier.
For now, only one mid-size destroyer can be serviced at a time. With the reconfiguration and new pier, two mid-size destroyers could be serviced at the same time, and larger ships that now can’t fit into Anaheim Bay will be able to enter for loading and unloading of munitions.
Officials say the number of ships serviced annually could increase to 60, but that number is also dependent on global defense needs.
As the Department of Defense shifts its focus to Asia and the Pacific, more ships will be needed to support missions. The Seal Beach base is the only major weapons station post within 1,000 miles of fleet concentration in San Diego, the next closest being Naval Ammunition Depot Indian Island in Washington.
The new design also takes the public boat navigation channel farther from Navy operations and would move ammunition loading away from Pacific Coast Highway, increasing safety for nearby communities, Morrisey said. The channel should be completed by mid-2021.
Concluding four years of heavy scrutiny, the project was given the go-ahead in July after an environmental assessment report by local, state and federal agencies found reconfiguration would not negatively affect surrounding communities or wildlife.
The report was conducted by the Navy in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, State Historic Preservation Office, California Coastal Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regional Water Quality Control Board, and South Coast Air Quality Management District.
As part of the project, Navy and research scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are monitoring local wildlife that have made some of the lagoons on base their home. Eastern Pacific green sea turtles, for instance, live and forage on eelgrass within the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, the only such refuge on a military installation in the nation.
Currently, the turtles travel from the ocean to the northeast end of Anaheim Bay, then head southeast and follow the channel, finally turning east and passing under the Pacific Coast Highway bridge — a total distance of about 1.3 miles. The new boating channel follows the lower jetty and turns east under the PCH bridge, a distance of just less than one mile. Scientists are tracking the animals to see if the change will affect their lifestyle.
Since the project broke ground Dec. 18, environmental contractors have been out at the site periodically watching for sea mammals and turtles.
“If one is seen they stop all operation until they are in the clear,” said Gregg Smith, spokesman for the base. “So far, we haven’t seen any.”
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