ST THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Puerto Rico completed the rebuild of the Buck Island aids to navigation tower light just off Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sunday.
The eight-day evolution resulted in a newly rebuilt tower light that is now fully operational and assisting maritime traffic seeking to enter Charlotte Amalie or West Gregory Channel.
“I’m very proud of the ANT PR crew for their hard work and determination and also appreciate the collaboration received from our air and surface units, and the Standard Aviation professionals whose contributions ensured the success of this project,” said Chief Petty Officer Robert Quinn, Aids to Navigation Team Puerto Rico officer in charge. “Our team surely rocked it showing they were fully ready for this mission, and we’re happy to get this aid rebuilt and re-lit for the safety of all mariners.
Quinn further expressed that just days after having completed the unit’s Ready for Operations Inspection, a team of seven ANT PR crew members got underway aboard the unit’s 55-foot Aids to Navigation Boat from San Juan, Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands fully loaded with all the materials and equipment to complete the rebuild.
After completing the nine-hour trip and safely mooring at Marine Safety Detachment St. Thomas in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, the Coast Guard team offloaded and transported all the equipment and materials by truck to the Standard Aviation facility at the Cyril E. King Airport. Following the offload, Standard Aviation personnel assisted with logistics and provided a secure staging area from where the Coast Guard team would build two crates that would be required to conduct a helicopter airlift operation to deliver the parts comprising the 3,500-pound tower to Buck Island.
The morning of April 18, the Aids to Navigation Team Puerto Rico crew made their way to Buck Island to commence the prep work required for the airlift operation, which included righting and preparing the 20,000-pound concrete foundation that held the old tower. The old tower had been toppled on its side during Hurricane Irma in 2017, when the Category 4 Hurricane made landfall in St. Thomas.
Equipped with chains, ratcheting gear and metal cutting equipment, the Coast Guard team right sided the base, cut the old metal frame, and prepared for the installation of the new tower.
The morning of April 21, the ANT PR crew teamed up with Air Station Borinquen and Boat Forces Detachment St. Thomas crews to establish a safety zone and deliver the tower via sling load to the top of Buck Island, where it was assembled, installed, and made operational.
Quinn expressed that one of the most critical aspects of the project was planning and having mitigated the risks prior to initiating the operation.
“Once you are up on the hill working on the tower you have to be completely prepared, because the slightest mistake would have set the project back weeks, especially when you consider having to wait for a proper weather window and re-coordinating assets and people on scene,” said Quinn.
Quinn further explained how they had identified a tower that was no longer in service at former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba, Puerto Rico that was the right fit for this project.
As the helicopter aircrew conducted the airlift operation, Quinn recalled seeing the Coast Guard MH-60T Jayhawk land the crates just 50 feet from where the rebuilt tower was to be installed. He described it as an amazing experience where the pilots, aircrew and ANT crewmembers displayed their skills and showed why they were all part of the world’s best Coast Guard.
“This project combined with the work of ANT Puerto Rico from last summer to rebuild two other light structures in the U.S. Virgin Islands erased over $1 million from our shore-infrastructure backlog,” said, Cmdr. Nick Seniuk, Seventh Coast Guard District Waterways Management Branch chief. “This effort was all initiative and problem-solving by the ANT Puerto Rico crew to deliver value to our Nation and stakeholders in one of the most sensitive marine and remote environments we have in the area of responsibility.”
One of the younger ANT PR members who described his experience said:
“As a Coast Guardsman from Puerto Rico, I am very honored to have been part of this project that helped restore this important maritime infrastructure to service our fellow mariners in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Joaquin Roldán Resto, Aids to Navigation Team Puerto Rico member. “I am proud of my team; we’ve been planning for this project for two years and now, after all the hard work, the job is successfully completed.”
Soon, ANT PR will return to the U.S. Virgin Islands to disassemble and remove the remains of the old tower at Buck Island and of the old towers at Stephen Cay and Current Rock that were also rebuilt, lit, and made operational in August 2022.