An MSU battles the Ol Miss, we're not talking football either

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, AR (KAIT) -- The only MSU (Mat Sinking Unit) is working along the Mississippi River in Crittenden County.

For millions of years the Mississippi river has flowed pretty much where it wants to.

Since the late 18-Hundreds man has been fighting back the river's erosion of the shore.

First they used willow tree mats, now the Army Corp of Engineers uses concrete.

As Andy Metts explained the old Miss is hard on outside bends.Parts of the river are surveyed every year.

"We compare this year's survey to the one that was taken 3 years ago and we can see a hole developing. So that's how we know where we need to go and work next year."

To get to the Mat Sinking Unit or MSU, you first take a ride on the Muddy Water a fast moving water taxi boat. It's not until you get close you realize how big this machine is. The MSU moves itself by a series of winches and cabling attached to bull dozers and an anchor barge.

Using these huge winches and guided by references from surveyors on the shore the plant was placed and ready to go to work.

You start with 16 blocks of concrete all wired together.

Metts, "25 feet long, 4 feet wide, 100 square feet and we call it a square."

35 squares lined up across the deck, laid by a crane, manhandled into position and then attached together.

One of the hardest parts of the job is using a thing called the 45. To tie the mats together. It's forks are shoved down on the cable and wires that run through the concrete blocks and wrap a coated stainless steel wire around it all. It is pneumatic powered but must be moved to the next hole by hand.

Once the sections are tied together and anchored to shore things begin to happen.

The mat deck has fingers that extend out for construction. Once anchored they aren't needed.

Metts, "They pull the fingers in and let the mat go down in the water. Then Mat boat will back out away from the mat and let the mat lay down on the bottom."

Once the mat stops the building process begins again. This mat will be laid to about 300 feet out into the river. Then the wires are cut, the mat boat is repositioned and it starts over again.

Underneath the mat platform the miles of cable spool off 36 cable reels then through this system of figure 8's that lead out onto the deck.

It takes lot of support for this operation. Over 300 workers who live aboard these floating bunkhouses.A fleet of water craft all for a machine that is only on the river during the low water season.

Metts, " It's been unfortunate that the river has been unusually high for this time of year and it's given us a few problems but we are managing."

The idea of concrete mats were borrowed from the Japanese; The MSU can lay acres of erosion control farther out into the river than the previously used willow mats.

This is the only MSU in America. It was built in 1948 and over the years it has changed some.

Joel Brown the Chief of the MSU showed me an old picture hanging on his office wall.

"Originally it was steam powered. In 1965 they did a complete overhaul of it. lengthened the back of it added a superstructure, added generators, electricity. But that is the original mat boat that we still have."

At one time there were 2 mat boats but in 1994 the other was scrapped and this MSU now operates only on the lower Mississippi River South of Cairo.

An amazing machine to battle the erosion of the Mighty Mississippi.

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