Clearing the zone to save birds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron began construction to install new drainage systems to more efficiently rid the airfield of water at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 2019.

The Clear Zone Drainage Project is a collaborative effort involving multiple JBLE squadrons that aims to sustain and modernize JBLE while continuing to protect the local wildlife. 

The new drainage system is a mostly stand-alone design that will span the entire airfield with certain elements working in conjunction with the existing system.  

“While the old system does work, it can take up to several days for water to drain and some water can remain stagnant for up to a week,” said Kevin Rasmussen, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron project manager. “The new design will drain 10.5 million gallons of water in six hours whereas the existing system can take up to six days or longer for the same amount of water.”

Rasmussen explained that while JBLE may receive approximately the same amount of rain each year, a new contoured surface paired with strategically placed inlets will allow water to quickly drain into the pipes which will act as holding tank until the tide recedes, enabling the pipes to clear out.

“Think of it as a shock absorber; it sucks in the water rapidly over six hours and uses the natural tide roll out to clear the pipes since we don’t have a natural grade or steepness to utilize for water movement,” Rasmussen continued. 

While JBLE’s warfighting mission remains a project priority, coordinators took extensive consideration to safeguard the affected local wildlife. Project planners consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to ensure the project’s construction would not have a negative impact on local fish and wildlife. 

“The location of Langley [Air Force Base] airfield is adjacent to the Back River, the Chesapeake Bay and within the Atlantic Flyaway, which makes the area desirable for birds,” said Alicia Garcia, 633rd CES natural resources program manager. “By removing that habitat we make the airfield less attractive to wildlife so they will not perceive the airfield as a safe location.”

Garcia explained that the wetlands on the airfield are a hotbed for birds to nest which poses hazards for both aircraft operations and wildlife. Birds attempting to forage are in the direct path of aircraft, causing collisions between the two and resulting in wildlife fatalities, major damage to aircraft and an increased potential for aircraft crashes. 

According to James Carr, U.S. Department of Agriculture certified airport wildlife biologist and project consultant, LAFB has reported more than 600 bird strikes to aircraft costing more than $6.5 million in damages since 1985 and 134 bird strikes resulting in more than $4.2 million in damages in the last five years. 

“Overall, military bases throughout our nation serve as major holdouts for many declining, rare and endangered species because the Department of Defense owns so much land and manages it well,” Garcia said. “JBLE is no different. We do seek to be good stewards of the environment and take all the reasonable steps we can while also supporting the mission.”

The Clear Zone Drainage Project coordinators plan to execute the project in four separate quadrants so as to have the lowest possible impact to JBLE members. The project is scheduled to be completed in November 2019.