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Divers from the U.S. Army Dive Company repair swimming platform in Tyler.

By Erica H. Brasseux

Once an attractive respite for sunbathers and swimmers at Tyler State Park, a 44-by-10-foot aggregate concrete swimming platform eventually eroded into a safety hazard for park visitors.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s, the platform, located in about 13 feet of water about 60 feet offshore in the park swimming area, fell into disrepair over the decades, causing minor injuries to swimmers who scraped against it as they approached or climbed on it.

Officials from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department contacted the U.S. Army Dive Company, asking them to survey the damage and later, to demolish the top deck of the platform. Destruction of the original platform began May 1, and a new wooden platform was completed in time for swimmers to enjoy during the Memorial Day weekend.

“It was important to us to preserve the integrity of the original underneath structure, so the top was covered with a wooden casing, which serves as the new swimming platform for now,” explains M.L. Hill, construction manager for the Tyler Region. “Eventually, budget permitting, we’d like to restore the platform to its original condition.”

Debris from the demolition was collected in metal trashcans, taken by boat to deep water, and deposited in the lake to be used as fish habitat.

Not only did the Tyler State Park project put a once-hazardous facility back in play, it also served as a valuable training opportunity for members of the U.S. Army’s 86th Engineer Dive Team. Based in Ft. Eustis, Virginia, where 80 percent of the Army’s 120 divers are located, the five-man team used this mission to help prepare for future underwater missions.

“It gives the new guys hands-on experience with the hydraulic tools and equipment we use for underwater construction and demolition,” says 1st Lieutenant Timothy Mitroka, who was in charge of the three-day expedition. “Even though the majority of this project does not take place under water, it provides a chance for us to sharpen our skills, and it gives us a break from our normal training routine. This is also much clearer water than we’re used to diving in. That, too, has been a treat.”

This is the first time the Army has joined forces with Texas Parks and Wildlife in a service project such as this one, making it a unique venture. It seems it may not be the last, however.

Upon completion of the Tyler State Park project, the dive team traveled to Lake Ray Roberts to inspect and collect data on the potential reconstruction of a breakwater system. According to Hill, the original design failed and anchor cables snapped. The group also surveyed damage to a swimming platform at Lake Buchanan. Future plans for demolition of that platform and construction of its replacement are still in development.

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