Operation Dakota Canyon gets help from above

A 50-foot line attached to an MD500 helicopter carries a load of rocks deep into the bottom of Dakota Canyon, in the community of Bay Park. Each trip takes about two minutes, back and forth. At the bottom of the canyon, crews are working to shore up three manholes which connect to the sewer system and helps to protect against erosion.

“These manholes are in the creekway, in the waterway,” said Jean Fernandes, Senior Water Utilities Supervisor, Public Utilities Department. “So with these expected rains coming we want to protect our infrastructure from any type of infiltration or any sewage getting out to the public.”

The area is too steep for tractors or machinery to access, so the city contracted with BlackHawk Helicopters to make this work possible. This method also allows for the least amount of impact on the sensitive environment.

“The habitat is very thick, there’s a lot of brush in the way, so there’s no way to get any type of equipment inside without using the helicopter,” said Fernandes. “Manpower, even if we had to pull the material in by hand, it would be a strain on the employees and the safety issues, so we decided to go with something quicker and more efficient.”

In his 20 years working for the City of San Diego, Fernandes says he’s never heard of the Public Utilities Department using a helicopter for this type of work. He describes the materials as “riprap rock,” carried in by steel nets. He estimates each rock weighs between 75 to 100 pounds.

The helicopter carried out construction material and trash from the canyon, including a rusted old shopping cart abandoned long before this work began.

The crew had planned two days for this operation. The helicopter made approximately 35 trips in the first day, and managed to complete the work in just a few hours, and ahead of schedule.