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CE project ensures mission, environmental success

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Surveying leading up to the San Antonio Creek restoration project discovered an archeological site in the area. This gave a unique opportunity for the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron archeological and heavy equipment teams to work together. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Surveying leading up to the San Antonio Creek restoration project discovered an archeological site in the area. This gave a unique opportunity for the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron archeological and heavy equipment teams to work together. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- After almost a decade of planning and research, the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron's effort to restore and reinforce San Antonio Creek is underway.

The $3.7 million in-house engineering and environmental project not only stops erosion from taking out parts of San Antonio Road West, but it also creates a better habitat for local plants and animals, including some endangered species.

It all started around 1998, during a particularly heavy rainy season. Parts of San Antonio Road near the creek became threatened by erosion. Some quick fixes were put in place, but a more long-term plan was needed to ensure a strong road. While researching the project, it was also found that the creek was entrenching, or digging in downward. This made it more and more difficult for native species, both plants and animals, to live there, said Dina Ryan, 30th CES environmental planner. Another effort during the surveying phase was recovering an archeological site that descended to about 15 feet below the surface.

With these issues in mind, a plan was created that uses many elements to solve each problem.

First, to slow erosion, which affects both the mission-critical road and the living area of many species, the 30th CES is stabilizing parts of the stream by widening it, adding grade controls and constructing longitudinal peaked stone toe protection. The latter shores up outside curves of the stream with rocks weighing up to 8 tons and 3- to 5-foot lifts of soil, with strong vegetation, such as willow trees, to hold it all together.

"The willow grows very quickly, and once they start to grow they'll lock the soil in place," Mrs. Ryan said.

Second, to save the archeological data, the 30th CES cultural resources team coordinated their efforts with the construction team.

"By doing that we were able to work with the horizontal folks and actually accomplish part of the project construction while we were doing our archeological excavations," said Chris Ryan, 30th CES lead cultural resources program manager. "If we would have paid for their services on contract, it would have been very expensive. It's a success story of heavy equipment operators working together with archeologists."

In fact, the entire project is a story of the 30th CES coming together to complete a large-scale mission. Saving the Air Force approximately $2 million by keeping the project in-house, most of the squadron pitched in: heavy equipment operators doing the earthwork, the environmental flight doing archeological data recovery, biological monitoring, storm water compliance and more, the engineering flight providing design, project management and surveying, and even the fire department helping to clear away brush and trees.

"The only other time we would get to do something like this would be in the desert, where we don't have the contracting that we have here," said 1st Lt. Donnie Horn, the 30th CES deputy engineering flight commander. "This is definitely a first for our squadron, this scale of a project."

Besides team work and ingenuity, this project also highlights Vandenberg's diligence in complying with environmental standards, federal, state and local, said Mrs. Ryan. Before the actual construction started at the end of September, for example, the environmental assessment was made available for public review in libraries and local newspapers. Also, throughout the project, biological natural resources monitors have been on site ensure continued compliance with all of these regulations, as well as project permits.

"There's an opportunity here to have those environmental laws benefit the Air Force's property," said Mrs. Ryan. "There's an opportunity to reroute the creek, address human health and safety along the roads, as well as improve the natural setting in that creek system so that endangered species can propagate and be happy and healthy."

A project of this scale takes coordination between myriad agencies at all levels of government. Therefore, seeing it come to life has been satisfying to those involved.

"This project is kind of a miracle - a financial miracle, engineering miracle, environmental miracle," said Mrs. Ryan. "This is a very, very complicated project on so many different levels and to see it actually happening ... is pretty exciting."