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It spends 90 percent of its eight months on the water working as a towboat, pushing barges in support of the Corps’ river revetment operations, in which blankets of articulated concrete slabs, each 25-feet-long and 4-feet-wide and linked together in 140-foot sheets, are laid along river banks to reinforce them against the water’s inexorable urge to reroute itself.

“That’s what this boat does mostly, pushes around mats,” said Greg Raimondo, the chief spokesman for the Corps’ Vicksburg District, which encompasses Washington County. The revetment work, he said, “is done in the fall, when the river’s level is lowest.”

Raimondo, who, after serving 26 years as an U.S. Army engineer, including nine with the Corps of Engineers, retired as a lieutenant colonel. He then joined the Corps as a civilian in October 2012.

The MV Mississippi tows the barges that sink the so-called mats as well as the floating hotel that houses the hundreds of crewmen who lay the revetments, unfurling the mats along the river’s banks.

A priority attached to the revetment work “is to keep the river where it’s at,” he said. “If the river moved, it would start to eat up levees, which, of course, we can’t have.”

The mats, which roll off the revetment barge like paper towels coming off a spool, are remarkably durable. Each year, Raimondo said, “less than 1 percent of mat needs repair or replacement.”

The MV Mississippi accommodates more than 100 people in its paneled hearing room. The boat also boasts 22 staterooms. Its dining room seats 85.

Crew members work 12-hour days with 12 hours off, 14 days straight before a six-day reprieve, for an eight-month stretch.

The engine room, which is grease-free and smells of fresh enamel paint, is overseen by Second Assistant Engineer Robert Morton, whose rank belies his authority. Here, on the boat’s first level, he is in charge.

Standing behind a glass wall that overlooks the engine room, he waded deep into one of the dozens of thick binders stored in cabinets ever at the ready to answer a question about the giant diesels’ internal combustion.

He, too, has been with the Corps better than a dozen years. He holds multiple marine licenses.

As a pilot, Lewis works six hours on, six hours off, alternating with another pilot.

The Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversees 68,000 square miles, an area that is a fourth again as large as Mississippi.

The district office is charged with, among other things, maintaining a navigation channel no less than 9 feet deep along a 278-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.

Downriver traffic has the right of way because in bends it must exceed the speed of the current to make them, whereas those traveling upriver can more easily hold their position.

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