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Aquatic Resource Reclaims 300-Acre Sand, Gravel Mine

Wed February 25, 2004 - National Edition
Craig Mongeau



Aquatic Resource Restoration Company (ARRC), of Seven Valleys, PA, is changing the landscape in Maryland — literally. Founded in 2001, the company performs restoration design and construction for many different types of water resource projects. And it’s very good at it. In just two years the company has grown from four to 17 employees.

Lee Irwin and Bill Weihbrecht started ARRC and quickly added Josh Lincoln, Amanda Bronick, Chris Tenant and Rebecca Wargo.

“That is our basic foundation staff and they range anywhere from biologist, hydrologist, office manager; everyone plays an active role in everything we do,” said Irwin. “But they’re not just an office manager or a computer person. They’re also in the field, they understand everything that we do from start to finish. We expose them to all functions of the business so that when anyone calls the office with a question about a certain project, all of us can intelligently answer that question.”

Aquatic offers design/build services for environmental restoration work, with a focus on stream restoration and wetland restoration in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The company soon plans to work on projects in North Carolina, New York, Virginia and Delaware.

And the work keeps coming. “Right now, we have a workload that’s booked through 2008, which is a combination of construction and design services. We even started our own native plant nursery to provide ourselves with plant materials for our projects. The plant nursery is located in Glen Rock [PA] not far from our office in Seven Valleys,” said Irwin.

For the past year and a half, ARRC has been working on a large project in Laurel, MD. Construction Equipment Guide recently interviewed Irwin to find out the breadth of this major job.

Q. What is the project?

A. Laurel Sand and Gravel is the owner of this 300-acre [121.4 ha] project.

We’ve been working on a sand and gravel mine reclamation project of old gravel pits and we’re restoring them back to wetlands and a working flood plain. There are nine people here full-time, and we often work up to 16 hours a day. Much of the project involves reclaiming the sediment ponds and making it useful development space.

Other portions of the site are then restored to environmental areas to complement the development.

Q. Is there anything about this job that makes it stand out from others you’ve done?

A. An interesting thing about this job is that while we’re working in some areas that have never been disturbed — natural soil profile, top soil, vegetation — there are some areas that have been highly disturbed and have been for 30 years.

Some of the sediment basins have sediment accumulations up to 20 feet [6.1 m] thick. Sediment is a clay-like substance that when it’s wet has really no structure at all, so it’s very difficult to handle, and it takes a long time to dry.

We get into some other areas that are waste piles of large gravel, sands and large rocks that came off the separation machines and conveyors. We’ve had to use this for fill in some places, and it takes a little bit different type of machinery and approach to deal with those materials.

Q. This project is separated into three phases. What does Phase I involve?

A. We’re clearing the areas and we are going to reclaim the sediment basins, and some of the old borrow pits where Laurel excavated the sand and gravel.

For the first phase, we constructed a 28-acre [11.3 ha] wetland mitigation in the southern portion of the property, next to the Little Patuxent River. We started that in November 2002 and finished it in February 2003. It was one of the largest private advance mitigation projects in the state.

This phase included moving 150,000 cubic yards [114.7 cu m] of material, reshaping the land, planting 5,500 trees and shrubs, building several habitat structures and some bank stabilization with willow cuttings and other geotextile- type materials.

The gravel pit was open water and we filled it at depths from up to 15 feet [4.6 m] deep, with the final grade being 1 foot [.3 m] below the water surface.

To do this, we built what we call spur roads out into the open water. We would fill the end dumps and go out on these roads, filling the pit at 110 feet [33.5 m] in horizontal distance, with each fill being 25 feet [7.6 m] wide and 4.5 feet [1.4 m] above the water surface.

We spaced out the roads every 20 feet [6.1 m], so that we could reach across with an excavator in between each spur road. We tracked out with the excavator, excavated the road, placed the fill to the left side, cut it to grade and then went onto the next road and did the same thing and worked our way out.

We did the first 300 feet [91.4 m] that way and then we got the wide-track dozer, and we tried the same spur road, the same fill, the same spacing but went out with the 700 wide-track and graded it out. We pushed everything ahead of us building a little berm along the edge to keep the water out.

Q. What is Phase II?

A. This project started in May 2003 and is continuing. For this phase, we’re clearing 116 acres [46.9 ha] of mixed brushland and secondary growth so that we can reclaim approximately 22 acres [8.9 ha] of sediment basins by draining, dredging and refilling them with compactable material at a minimum 94-percent compaction.

Weather has really impacted this phase and we’ve had to adapt on a daily basis with our approach.

We have what I call “my rainy day projects” on areas where soils aren’t as weather sensitive as others. At those locations, we’ll stockpile certain materials that we can use when other soil moisture contents are higher than what’s required for appropriate compaction.

Q. How has weather significantly affected this project?

A. During Phase I the project was flooded six times. We counteracted that by grading an area, stripping out the topsoil and organic materials and salvaging the trees and shrubs that we wanted to replant.

We would grade all of it, set the material aside and make our cut. Before the end of the day we would put all the topsoil organic matter and transplant those salvaged plant materials back in place so that it was a completed project for that given day, knowing that you could never get back into that portion of the project once it was disturbed. This approach required a lot of up-front planning.

Also, when flooding occurred, often it would take three or four days for the water to go back down. When this happened, we’d do a wetland expansion portion that was a 10-feet [3 m] cut on the edge of Phase II. So we would just jump up there and do our expansion area cut when we couldn’t work here.

Q. What does Phase III involve?

A. Phase III of the project consists of reconstructing 3,000 feet [914.4 m] of stream channel with an unnamed tributary to Dorsey Run. Our part of that project was to design that portion, coordinate with the resource agencies on final approval and then to construct that project in the field. Start of project is tentatively scheduled for February.

Q. What equipment have you used during this project?

A. We have a John Deere log skidder with a grapple, which has proven much more efficient than a cable grapple. We’re dealing with a lot of pole stage timber and brush, most of which we grind.

We use the Deere skidder to move that material through the processing area and our saw logs. By using the grapple, we don’t have to get out of the cab to connect to the logs … you just grab them with the grapple and off you go.

We have a John Deere 270CLC track excavator, provided by Plasterer Equipment in Lebanon [PA], that is set up with a longer reach, a hydraulic clamp, auxiliary hydraulics, and larger hydraulic pump. It’s also plumbed for other attachments, such as power tilts and a hydraulic ram. That’s worked very well for us.

We have a John Deere 300D Series haul truck that we’re using in both our clearing and earthwork phases of the project. Currently, we’re using it to haul brush about a half mile to the grinding operation. We also used this haul truck along with a Deere 350C haul truck to move up to 2,000 yards. [1,828.8 m] a day.

We also have a John Deere 260 skid steer that we’ve set up with additional hydraulics to run a hydraulic post pounder for building high tensile fence.

We have a set of forks, standard bucket, and then a 6-feet [1.9 m] wide hydraulic ambusher, which is a mower deck that fits on the front. We put tracks on the skid loader to go over unsuitable soil conditions. This makes the machine very versatile; it smoothes the ride out when you get it on wetter soils or marginal soils that other pieces of equipment can’t access.

We also have specialized equipment — a low ground pressure dozer, with a six-way blade, which has really come in handy for work in some of these sensitive areas. All the track excavators we have a little bit longer booms so we have that extra reach. The operators are very sensitively trained about our approach. Some of the soils we can only run over it once or twice before the structure disappears.

Q. How has the Deere equipment performed for you on this project?

A. Extremely well. We’ve used Deere machines for everything from the clearing to the sediment controls, to the dredging of the sediment ponds, working with the wash pond sediments, which is a very difficult thing to do. We’ve used the machines with the hydraulic thumbs to place the habitat structures, the logs that we put in place and some of the stones that we’ve put in place.

Plasterer has been here for us from start to finish in all three phases of this job. They were there from the estimation of the job, working with our biologists and chemists to recommend our equipment listings and what we needed. They’ve provided us with excellent service, making sure that each phase of the job has the machines that we need to meet the heavy demand of restoration that we’re moving on this large property.

We’ve dealt with Plasterer from the beginning. We interviewed them on what services and equipment they could provide us with. We went through the whole planning process of developing the lineup of equipment to match the type of work that we have. [The adaptations with the hydraulics and the specialized attachments, the field engineering it took to get all those things to work together.]

For instance, if you put a power tilt attachment on an excavator that also has a hydraulic thumb attached, there are some changes that have to be made in the performance of the hydraulic thumb so the teeth match up because of the new geometry on the power tool. We worked through all these issues with them, and we’re very happy with their service.

Even more, they continually follow up to make sure we’re happy. [They are there for] any needs that we have as far as adjustments or maintenance or a little trouble-shooting in the field.