NAVAL BASE ROTA, Spain –
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 has taken the baton in the race to complete Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota's Cliff Erosion Repair project. The multi-year project aims at strengthening the integrity of nearly a kilometer of the NAVSTA Rota's coastline. The project started in January of 2018, with NMCB 133 being the first battalion to take on the task, and three years later, they are back in Rota and charging forward.
The Bees' ultimate goal is to build a stone berm, a raised stretch of land that protects the cliff's base, to stabilize naturally. The highest point of the structure is an estimated 5.8 meters, to handle high tide, withstanding waves of 8 to 12 feet.
"We have a mixed crew, so we have about three guys who were out here working on our last deployment, and the rest of our crew is new to this project," said Equipment Operator 1st Class Richard Brown. “It’s good because it brings experience as well as new insights to the project.”
Base officials began noticing the cliff erosion in the 1960s, and in the last decade, the rate of deterioration and impacts to base facilities have rapidly increased, NMCB 133's Command Master Chief, Helen Daniel, spoke about being deployed to Rota with NMCB 133 as an Equipment Operator Constructionman in 1995.
“We wanted to try and slow the erosion using tetrapods, which are large concrete similar to the design of toy jacks, that are often used along shorelines to decrease erosion," said Daniel.
“We couldn’t move the tetrapods with the crane due to the location.”
Brown explains how the stone berm is built, "We take one sheet of Geotech fabric and lay it across the sand. Then we take pebble gravel and lay that on top. We follow up with another Geotech layer, then our quarry rock, to complete it.”
From 2018 until now, the cliff's edge had moved within 110 yards of a fuel tank used to supply U.S., Spanish, and other partnering nations' ships throughout the Mediterranean. In addition to compromising the fuel tank, the erosion has contributed to the loss of base housing. As the cliff further erodes inland, it has caused more destruction of base housing, roadways, playgrounds, and sewer lines.
"You can see the debris from when the houses went [over the cliff]. You can see the road that's fallen," said Brown.
The shoreline's erosion has started to spread to property off base, causing damage to Rota's local province.
“While it is slightly out of the norm for us, as the cliff extends past the property line of the base, this project is a great opportunity for our troops to build on their skills in a real-world situation while giving back to the local community," said Daniel. "It's also great to see the level of trust and partnership we have built with our host nation that they would let us lead a mission of this much importance."
Rota, Spain's coastline is a natural habitat for many forms of wildlife to include an endangered chameleon species, during repair the construction crew must maintain, and protect, the open and livable environment for the wildlife.
The region is also rich in history. The cliff looks over the Bay of Cadiz, named after Cadiz, just across the water. Cadiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe. Due to its longevity, there are many ruins and potential for discoveries of times long past. A local archaeological monitor has been on-site to ensure personnel take care of any potential remains or ruins that might become uncovered.
"You can see some of the ruins coming out of the water, one of the new things we have found are whale bones," Brown explained.
The cliff’s erosion has caused a total of more than $10 million dollars in damage, with a distance of 93.3 meters lost due to erosion. The project is scheduled to be complete by of August 2021.
NMCB 133 is a subordinate command of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Force (NECF), executing construction and engineering projects in support of airfield damage repair, building and maintaining critical infrastructure; and providing power, water, and other essential commodities in the U.S. 6th Fleet, Area of Operation. The NECF is strengthened by the support of the American public and values opportunities to increase public awareness and understanding of the Navy through participation in community outreach events nationwide.