Seabees Rebuild History on NASNI

By MC2 Tim D. Godbee, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West 

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SW1 Honer Villanueva, NMCB 3, cuts rebar beams with an oxygen acetylene torch next to a Caterpillar 390b during a seaplane ramp construction project, San Diego, Calif., Feb. 3. Photo by MC2 Mark El-Rayes

Seabees assigned to Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2 and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 began rebuilding a World War II-era seaplane ramp at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI), Coronado, Calif., Feb. 6.

After surveying how much of the ramp needed complete replacement, the team of Seabees, based out of Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., are in the process of dismantling the 70-year-old ramp. Despite the ramp’s age, the Seabees have been impressed with the quality of the original structure.

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EO1 Peter Bonebakker, NMCB 3, moves debris and rebar beams with a Caterpillar 290b excavator during a seaplane ramp construction project, San Diego, Calif., Feb. 3. Seaplanes had heavy use around Coronado, Calif., during World War II. UCT 2 is rebuilding the ramp for future operations. Photo by MC2 Mark El-Rayes

“Whoever built this thing certainly knew what they were doing,” said Chief Builder Jason Cortez, the project’s officer-in-charge. “A lot of us are in awe of how long it’s lasted and how great it’s designed. The ramp itself is over 300 feet long and we only have to replace 80 [feet] of it. That says a lot for a structure this old.”

The project consists largely of replacing decades-old concrete and steel reinforcement bars, but the construction crew is running into one major problem – corrosion.

“The original plan was to remove damaged and deteriorated concrete and rebar, and then we would replace that with new rebar and concrete,” said Cortez. “The issue we ran into is that there is more deterioration than we anticipated. We had to completely remove nearly everything and rethink our entire plan to give the Navy the best product possible.”

The project is giving many of the Seabees an opportunity to get their hands dirty in a way they don’t often get.

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SW1 James Kirk, UCT 2 Construction Dive Detachment Bravo (CDDB), uses a torch to cut rebar and remove concrete from a World War II-era  seaplane ramp, San Diego, Calif., Feb. 1. UCT 2 CDDB is repairing the seaplane ramp, now being used as a boat ramp by various expeditionary units in Coronado. The detachment is on the first stop of its deployment, conducting inspection, maintenance, and repair of various underwater and waterfront facilities in support of the Pacific Fleet. Photo by BUC Jason Cortez

“As a UCT, we typically don’t get a chance to do large-scale construction projects like this,” said Builder 2nd Class Chris Farmer, project supervisor. “We’re Seabees, but we’re Seabee divers so we don’t get to do a lot of traditional Seabee work. This job is very construction heavy, which gives us a chance to showcase what we can do as divers and Seabees.”

Farmer added that Seabee divers are expected to be able to perform battle damage repair projects on piers and harbors. He said that this project provides real-life training that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

“More often than not, we’re doing mooring and waterfront structure inspections, so it’s nice to be able to do something closer to the roots of our rate,” said Farmer.

According to Bruce Linder of the Coronado Historical Association, seaplanes were invented on NASNI in January 1911.

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EO1 Peter Bonebakker, NMCB 3, moves debris and rebar beams with a Caterpillar 290b excavator during a seaplane ramp construction project, San Diego, Calif., Feb. 3. Photo by MC2 Mark El-Rayes

“On any given day, between the 1920s and the 1940s, hundreds of these craft dotted the skies and waters around Coronado,” Linder wrote in his passage ‘Coronado’s Seaplane Legacy.’

“All four of the Navy’s first hangars on North Island were built with ramps where planes could easily move to and from the bay,” Linder wrote.

Seaplanes could be seen flying over the skies of NASNI until the mid-1960s when the last were decommissioned. Though seaplanes may not be a part of NASNI’s current air fleet, the rebuilding of one of those seaplane ramps brings part of that history back to operational status.

“Right now this base doesn’t have a boat ramp,” said Cortez. “Once we’re finished, this ramp will serve as that. This ramp has to be able to support the big Mark V boats. With the truck, trailer and boat, the entire set up can weigh as much as 110,000 pounds.”

Although the ramp’s final function may be different from the original intent, the Seabees working to rebuild the seaplane ramp on NASNI are aware that they’re rebuilding history.

“This is a great project for us to work on,” added Cortez. “I couldn’t be more proud of how our guys are adapting to all the challenges…Everyone here is working their hardest to give the Navy the best product possible at the end of this project.”

 

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