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Contractor Takes On New Jersey Muck With ’Solar’ Power

Wed August 16, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Jack Ellery

Take some New Jersey muck by the side of a river, add some concrete pilings, sift the dirt to remove debris, rearrange things a little bit, and watch as townhouses spring up in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. That is exactly what is happening along the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, in Edgewater, Bergen County, directly across from Manhattan. In Edgewater and neighboring towns, thanks to the booming economy, homebuilders are busy in an area that was once just barren land.

Talk about a room with a view, these new townhouses will face the Manhattan skyline. To the rear of the project are huge apartment buildings, built on cliffs that rise abruptly from the land below. Add in the spectacular vista of the George Washington Bridge, and ERS Construction Company, site contractor, Hillsboro, NJ, knows it’s building a winner.

Thirty-six townhouses, ranging in price from $600,000 to $1 a unit, in six new buildings, will be added to a river’s edge plot that already has three buildings finished and sold.

Daewoo dealer Hoffman Equipment, Piscataway, NJ, has some very special equipment on the site, and without this equipment, the cost to the homeowner would be even more expensive. Hoffman created a special narrow bucket for use with a Daewoo Solar 70 excavator to dig trenches for interconnecting concrete beams that will keep the project from slowly sinking into the river muck.

Along with ERS, John Balletto, owner of Balletto Concrete, Secaucus, NJ, is also relying on the strong specs of the Daewoo equipment. “The standard bucket for the Daewoo Solar 70 is about 10 inches too wide for what was necessary,” he said. “We couldn’t get a backhoe in here with a small bucket because there are sewer pipes jutting through the concrete foundation. We needed something really small. We use the 70 to build the trenches to hold the interconnecting concrete beams my company is putting in. Had we filled the trench the standard bucket was digging, we’d have been pouring a lot more than what was needed. The answer was to find, or construct, a custom bucket. I suggested it to the guys at Hoffman, and next thing I knew we had a specifically made, cut-down twelve inch bucket.”

Also being used by the ERS is a Daewoo Solar 220 and a Daewoo Mega 300 III. The soil composition and Mother Nature have tested the equipment severely. After a recent rainstorm, with mud knee deep, the 220 needed every bit of its drive system, which is powered by independent high torque piston motors through planetary reduction gears, to simply maneuver around.

“Real bad” is the way Dave Ellis, head of ERS described the site conditions. “We have a Read screening plant here that takes the soil and sifts it just like a baker sifts flour,” he said. “We are taking out rocks the size of automobile hoods. Without that, and without those steel casings filled with concrete which were pile driven into the bedrock, there’s no way you could build anything here.”

The specs of the Daewoo 220 have been impressing ERS crews. Weighing in at 44,300 lbs. (20,100 kg), its arm weighs 1,318 lbs. (598 kg). With side frames welded to the track frame the sturdy unit moves about with a maximum traction force of 40,560 lbf. (18,400 kgf). On this site, with the soil conditions being what they are, none of this seems to be wasted.

The Solar 70 is perfect in every way for this particular job according to ERS and Hoffman. Weighing in at 4,991 lbs. (6800 kg), it is nimble enough for doing the relatively small excavating needed with the reinforced concrete footings. As it digs, the Solar 70 and the Solar 200 feed a Daewoo Mega 300 III. With a bucket capacity of 2.3 cu. yds. (1.7 cu. m), the Mega 300 hauls dirt and rock to an on-site sifter. What comes back is soil in the best condition possible, considering the area.

All day long the two excavators, one doing small work, the other biting at the entire site, pull up soil and rock, neither of which is stable enough for construction purposes. As Grady Humphrey of Millennium Homes, site developers, said, “Ordinarily you would never dream of putting anything on this land without the expense of pilings. We’re sifting out rock, laying the soil back down, and combined with the pilings, we can do wonderful construction here. When we are finished, this will be a beautiful and well-constructed group of homes. Quality work is being done.”

The skillful work of ERS and Balletto is what will keep the buildings from sinking.

“My guys are specialists,” said Balletto. “They know more than anyone on earth exactly how to do this project. We’re not doing little things here. We are building a foundation for very expensive housing on land that can support nothing. We don’t need anything sinking.”

Sinking is exactly what happened to the original units built on the site. Those homes sank some two feet and eventually had to be propped up. Seems the original design didn’t take into account the fact that the soil at the site had insufficient substance to support the construction. Consequently, not enough pilings were used, and where there was no support, there was a problem. That oversight cost the original owners a huge amount of money. The new units under construction will sit atop interconnected pilings driven 135 ft. (40 m) into bedrock below. Those pilings were installed by New York dockworkers, specially trained for working on construction sites built near water.

As the Hoffman-provided equipment continues to eats at the soil, dredging up huge chunks of gook mixed with rocks, crews expect to hand over the project in 18 months to homeowners searching for the best view of the Manhattan skyline.

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