Contractor Removes Fire-Damaged Trees in Emergency Contract

Mon August 28, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Brian Kern

It was a true emergency that warranted a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) emergency contract for tree removal in Volusia County, FL.

On the morning of May 10, after several weeks of dealing with wildfires throughout the region, the Florida Division of Forestry (DOF) notified the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and FDOT to report that fires were causing a safety hazard in the median between the north and south bound lanes of Interstate 95 in Volusia County.

While waiting for the thick bank of morning smog to clear, Todd Hammerle, FDOT project engineer, initiated the paperwork needed to implement an emergency contract. Based at the Deland Operations Center, Hammerle and his staff coordinated with the Forestry Division to obtain names of potential contractors suited to handle immediate concerns.

“The Division of Forestry sent us a list of companies they had used in the past for tree removal,” Hammerle said. “We drafted a scope of work and contacted potential bidders while we waited for the smoke to clear.”

The bid deadline was set for May 11 at 3 p.m. Hammerle met potential contractors on the morning of May 11 at the scorched and smoldering site to clarify project expectations and to answer any questions. The contract was based on both price and timeframe.

Alford Timber Inc., of Palatka came in at $40,000 and one day, eons away from the nearest competitor. Of four bids received, the other three ranged in price from $350,000 and three days to $950,000 and eight days, according to Hammerle.

“Our main focus was to get the interstate open as soon as possible,” he said. “Therefore, in this case, time was more important than money — we got the best of both worlds.”

Alford Timber Inc. happened to be in the vicinity of the fires working another job and was in the enviable position of being able to temporarily halt that project and shift over to the I-95 fire/tree removal task. They began the FDOT job at first light on May 12 and by 5 p.m. on the same day the highway was reopened to northbound and southbound traffic flow.

The contractor used one John Deere 643 feller-buncher, two TigerCat feller-bunchers and a John Deere 624 front end loader to remove between 400 and 500 trees from the affected area.

Steve Homan, FDOT public information officer, said several areas in Volusia and Brevard counties were affected and other roads were closed during the height of the fire season.

“The Beach Line or State Route 528 between SR 520 and I-95 was closed during the morning hours for a few days,” Homan said. “State Road 50, north of SR528 — another east/west road — was also closed intermittently.”

A section of I-95 in Brevard County north of Melbourne and south of Titusville also experienced morning road closures for several days, according to Homan: “The most affected areas of Volusia County occurred between New Smyrna Beach and Port Orange.”

Hammerle said Alford Timber’s responsibility under the contract was to remove all burned trees in the median and trees that were subject to toppling due to compromised root systems. The composted organic material underground caught fire and burned the roots from the bottom up, according to Hammerle.

“The wind could cause the snags to topple,” Hammerle said. “Even the air movement generated by trucks driving by could cause them to fall. We needed to remove the safety hazard.”

Hammerle described the feller-buncher operation employed by Alford Timber: “The perpendicular grapple would grab the tree and hold it steady,” he said. “Then the tree was sheared off about two to three feet from the ground before it was vertically walked to the side and deposited.”

Hammerle said the trees had to cool down if they were to be hauled away from the burn area. The scope of work specified that the DOF is responsible for the “identification and removal of trees deemed hazardous.”

The contract also named DOF as the entity responsible for approving disposal sites, stipulating that the cooling sites adjacent to the fire sites also may be used for disposal.

More than 2 mi. of fence also were damaged during the fires and tree removal process. FDOT awarded a $260,000 contract to Father and Son Fencing of Bronson, FL, for replacement of 39,500 linear ft. of fencing. The project is scheduled for completion in November.

David Schappel, FDOT project engineer on the fence replacement project, said the work is now under way along affected sections of I-95 and state road 528 in Volusia and Brevard Counties.

The scope of work stipulates that existing fire-damaged fence be replaced with the same type of fence, including corner posts, pull posts and bracing. By signing the 90-day-to-completion contract, John May, owner of Father and Son Fencing, accepts responsibility for restoration of any work-related damage to FDOT property. He also will be liable for preventing damage to underground utilities and fiber optics during the course of the job. CEG