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Posted 7/15/2014

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By Romanda Walker
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District

Mentor, river man, devoted family man… innovator. These are all words that are used to describe the late Thomas George, master of the St. Louis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Dredge Potter.

During his time with Corps, George worked diligently to bring to life an innovation that will improve versatility and provide ecological benefits from routine maintenance dredging on the Mississippi River. The Corps’ District team recognized his efforts when the M/V Thomas N. George, a specialized barge that completes his vision, was christened in a ceremony July 15 on the Mississippi River at the Corps’ St. Louis Service Base.

Each year dredging is performed on the Mississippi River in order to maintain the Congressionally-mandated depth of nine feet for river traffic. Historically, dredged material placement locations and options have been limited by both equipment constraints and cost. 

Starting as a drawing on a napkin, early designs for the specialized spill barge was conceived by George, who had a vision of using a flexible floating dredge pipeline with the Corps’ dustpan dredges. His colleagues at the St. Louis District Service Base credit him with moving his concept to reality through a mix of tenacity, creativity and decades of experience on the river.

“This was his vision, he is totally linked to it in every way,” Jared Schmidt project engineer with the St. Louis District said. “This is more than a great tool for the Corps. To us, this is Thomas George.”

When feasible, dredged material is recycled for beneficial uses within the river. Reuse is the preferred approach by the Corps of Engineers, and the St. Louis District is always seeking out innovative and creative ways to accomplish this task.

“Our partners and stakeholders have challenged us to find more ways to reuse dredged material in an environmentally friendly way,” said Brian Johnson, biologist and chief of the Environmental Compliance Branch with the St. Louis District.

Flexible pipe dredging is more efficient and faster than using a traditional rigid pipe which limits the opportunity to reuse the dredged material, due to the rigid metal disposal pipe that is used.  

“Normally dredged material is side-cast along the main channel border in a linear fashion, resulting in a long, narrow disposal bar that is limited in size, elevation, and location,” Lance Engle dredge manager with the St. Louis District explained.

The pipe’s flexibility allows the dredged material to be placed independently of the dredge as it moves to avoid fleeting areas and allow for more versatility around well-used areas of the river. This also allows material to build up to create sandbars and island habitats in various shapes, sizes and elevations in the Middle Mississippi River while maintaining the navigation channel.

“The flexible floating dredge pipe provides the St. Louis District opportunities to create a diversity of aquatic habitats such as sand islands and shallow water habitats in areas where it may not be possible without the use of dredged material,” Johnson said.  

Designed and constructed entirely by the St. Louis District’s Service Base team, the completion of the Spill Barge Thomas George, is a tribute to their departed friend and leader.

“It’s sad to think that he is not here to see it deployed, but seeing his vision complete and knowing he had a hand in it, that’s what’s so special about this,” Schmidt said. “It’s a promised fulfilled to him from everyone at the Service Base.”

George’s service with the Corps of Engineers spanned more than two decades. He previously served in the Memphis District, working aboard the Dredge Burgess, Dredge Hurley and Motor Vessel Mississippi. Before coming to the Corps, he worked in the river towing industry beginning in 1974 for Brent Towing Company. He famously served as navigator on three Mississippi River Challenge Races from New Orleans to St. Louis. His teams – led by Mike Reagan (son of the late President Ronald Reagan), actor Don Johnson, and inventor Howard Arneson – always won, each time setting a new speed record. Arneson credited his win directly to George’s expert navigation of the river.

Thomas is survived by his wife Dana Lyles George and daughters Emma Katherine George of St. Louis, and Kayla Louise George Legons of Jackson, Tenn.

“Thomas George was an innovative and respected part of the Mississippi River community,” said Col. Anthony Mitchell, commander of the St. Louis District. “The new vessel named in his honor realizes his vision and reflects the influence and impact he had on the Corps and the nation.”

The vessel bearing the name of Thomas N. George will carry on the legacy of its namesake as it benefits the Mississippi River and those who depend on it.

Channel Maintenance Dredge Dredge Potter navigation Thomas George