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Barge breathes new life into former Quincy shipyard site

October 12, 2013 | Gail Waterhouse | Website

For the last few days, workers have been painting, welding, and otherwise putting finishing touches on a massive barge that will be used to dredge harbors. At 1,500 tons, 185 feet long, and 65 feet wide, it is an imposing vessel. But almost as impressive is its location — the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. The same site that has been closed to shipbuilding for nearly three decades.

That didn’t prove much of an obstacle to Jay Cashman Inc., which has trademarked the phrase, “Think impossible.” Since Cashman already owns an adjacent barge it keeps on the property, and had made repairs to other vessels there, the company decided Quincy was the place for its Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting Co. subsidiary to build the barge.

“We have it all here,” said Cashman Dredging president Dale Pyatt, whose name is on the barge. “We discovered we don’t need to go to some place like Louisiana to make something like this.”

Owner Jay Cashman, who was born and raised in Quincy, said he wanted to build on the shipyard site to prove American manufacturing was not dead. Most of the 130-acre parcel is owned by Quirk Auto, but Cashman bought 26 acres of the property in 2003.

“This is as much about a Quincy thing as it is anything,” Cashman said of the barge project. “Somebody breathed a little bit of life into the shipyard.”

Sunday, a crew is expected to man the barge and set course for an Army Corps of Engineers facility in Norwalk, Conn.

Workers there will use it to clear the harbor channel of mud, weeds, and other debris to allow large ships to pass.

From Norwalk, it will head to New Haven and then north to Portland, Maine, before returning to Massachusetts in March, Pyatt said.

The barge — believed to be the largest of its kind in the nation — is equipped with a crane and two mammoth clamshell-shaped attachments that can scoop up hard or soft debris from the ocean floor. Unlike a conventional backhoe bucket, a clamshell scoop digs from two directions, trapping mud and waste in between. The larger of the two can hold 70 cubic yards of material at a time — the amount some tractor trailer trucks carry in a single load.

The barge has living quarters for up to nine people and a high-tech office with sophisticated navigation equipment that can sense exactly where the dredge is digging.

During the last year, about 30 Cashman employees have been working on the project. Pieces of the craft — such as generators and engines — were bought in, but for the most part, it was assembled on site.

The shipyard started operating on the Quincy site in the early 20th century, and more than 7,000 workers were on duty for each of three daily shifts at its height. During World War II, it launched more than 90 ships. But business slowed in ensuing decades and in the mid-1980s, owner General Dynamics halted shipbuilding operations.

While one project will not revive shipbuilding in Quincy, Mayor Thomas Koch said the activity has been a welcome boost for the city’s economy.

“It’s impressive to see our shipyard have activity producing jobs, on a product that will be used for years to come,” he said.

Cashman is not planning to set up a permanent production operation at the shipyard.

“We’re in an expansion mode,” Pyatt said. “We’re considering buying another dry dock to build out our fleet.”