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Lt. Col. William Pacatte, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico (MCAF), and Dale Synnes, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, examine the plans for the installation of buoys marking restricted waters offshore of MCAF on Oct. 5.

Photo by Adele Uphaus-Conner

MCAF tightens security on the Potomac with buoys marking restricted areas

20 Oct 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

In 2010, Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) Quantico contracted for the installation of 36 buoys 500 meters out from the facility in the Potomac River, designating those waters as restricted. The intrusion of a fishing boat in January of that year into waters adjacent to MCAF—which houses HMX-1, the helicopter squadron responsible for helicopter transport support to the U.S. president, vice president, Cabinet members, and other VIPs—opened more eyes to the facility’s vulnerability to threat from the river.

“We knew that access to the river is a security risk to the air station,  but this incident highlighted the issue,” said Jacob Smith, mission assurance director for MCAF.

The buoys formed a perimeter warning unauthorized boats to keep away. However, only four of those 36 buoys are still in place. A study of ice floes in the Potomac conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that the deep waters where the buoys were installed never froze. When other parts of the river froze, the current sucked the buoys out of place and out into the Chesapeake Bay.

This month, the buoys will finally be remarked and restrung through a $165,000 contract with PCCI, Inc. The installation is estimated to take four days. Thirty one buoys will be positioned 50 meters closer to the shore than previously to avoid problems with them being lost in the current, Smith said. PCCI will also come out semi-annually to maintain the buoys and replace any that are missing. (The first contract was one-time only, Smith said.)

The buoys will be positioned 300 feet apart in an arc protecting MCAF. Stainless steel cables attach them to 400 lb. The older buoys were attached to their anchors by chains, which became severely rusted and water-damaged. The cables should prove more durable.

“We see this as kind of a reinforcement of our security measures,” Smith said of the buoy repair project. “It lets people know that this is enforceable.”

The only vessels allowed inside the boundaries are security patrol boats and commercial fishing boats (mostly crab fishermen), with the proper license from MCAF, Smith said

“If they haven’t gotten a license in the correct way, they’ll now be illegally fishing in restricted waterways and security personnel will respond,” Smith said.


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