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Equipment Plays Key Role in Recovery From NH Flood

Fri March 10, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Nestled in the mountains of southern New Hampshire, Alstead residents are no stranger to hard work and tough weather conditions, but in the fall of 2005 the town was shaken to its core.

Within a period of just 18 hours, 13 in. of rain hit the area. The rapidly rising Cold River was threatening nearby buildings and structures, when a new twist added urgency to the residents’ concerns — debris blocked a culvert, creating a gigantic pool. The banking couldn’t hold and gave in, releasing a 30-ft. wall of water that took with it everything that stood in its path.

Death and destruction followed. Four people perished in the Alstead flood, and dozens of families lost their homes and belongings. Handling the situation required balancing the human aspect and the business side; considering cost-effectiveness, efficiency and speed, as well as respect and concern.

Managing the Aftermath

The first step in the recovery process was clearing the debris that the raging river had left in its wake which included trees, entire houses, animals, cars and furniture … 40 acres of land covered by wet wreckage.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) had experience with Eastern Logging of Merrimack, NH and thought it was a good choice for dealing with the challenge. Eastern’s bid was accepted, and the company went ahead and hired several subcontractors, adding more than 40 workers and dozens of trucks and pieces of heavy equipment to complement its own crew.

“After a disaster of that magnitude, people need to move on and pick up their lives as fast as possible,” recounted Eastern Owner Mario Pelletier, “so we knew time was of the essence, and we worked dawn to dusk.”

Kevin Onnela of Onnela Lumber was a subcontractor for Pelletier.

“The town commons was our temporary sorting area, and we used excavator buckets to spread the material and thumbs to pick and sort, piece by piece,” said Onnela.

“While it is a very slow process, I have quite a bit of experience with this type of sorting work and I knew of no other way of handling the volume and the mix that we were dealing with, not to mention the fact that everything was so wet.”

After sorting, the next step was loading the tractor-trailer trucks for the three and a half hour drive to the Bethlehem, NH disposal center. For the first four weeks of the cleanup, seven tractor-trailers would run two trips a day carrying approximately 28 tons of material per load. It cost approximately $108 per ton, which comes to approximately $6,000 a day per tractor-trailer.

Besides the cost, the waste was a concern.

“It was killing me to see all that dirt being hauled away forever when we could have really used it here,” said DOT Project Engineer Richard Keegan, whose background includes a lot of salvage work. “It was 50 to 70 percent good loam and it was driving me crazy to see it being lost.”

A Closer Look

“That was the way we were doing it; it was time-consuming, frustrating and costly, but we didn’t think there was any other way to tackle the job, until the day my Milton CAT Forestry Salesperson James Egan, stopped by to see how things were going,” said Pelletier.

As the two men went back and forth about the challenges of the job, Egan recommended having Charlie Gilbert, the area Milton CAT crushing and screening specialist, come to the site to take a look and give his opinion.

Pelletier remembered, “James thought that maybe there was a better way for us to handle the clearing and recovery, instead of having to truck all the debris hours away.”

When Gilbert came, based on the rapidly approaching winter, the soil conditions and the mix of materials, his recommendation for increasing efficiency was to perform the screening on site, using an Erin Fingerscreener.

Gilbert explained why he thought right away that the Fingerscreener was the best solution.

“The debris was all materials and sizes and it was very wet, as was the soil, much like the conditions we have in early spring and late fall. In our experience the Fingerscreener typically lets our customers get a month jump on their spring screening work and gives them an extra month at the end of the fall, too, so it made sense to try the Fingerscreener first,” Gilbert said.

What else made the Fingerscreener the best choice for the job?

Gilbert mentioned the variety of material output — three in one pass, all of which would be useful in rebuilding the site; also important was the higher capacity, a crucial advantage in a project where people needed to be able to see almost immediate results; and finally, the self-cleaning top and bottom finger systems that allowed processing wet debris without clogging the mechanism.

Pelletier added ease-of-use, which he considered critical.

“With so many people working together for the first time and under such challenging conditions, this was a crucial advantage, we just didn’t have the time to spend on training.”

But really, seeing was believing for Pelletier.

“Charlie knew that I wanted the trial done with the least interruption to our ongoing sorting and loading operation, so late on a Friday afternoon he brought the Erin FS165T to the site and began working with the materials mix which he did throughout all the daylight hours of the weekend.”

What Were the Results?

The results of the test were successful in terms of the machine’s ease of use and its capabilities. By Sunday the Fingerscreener was processing material at a rate of 1,500 yds. per day, and producing three kinds of output:

• “Fine,” or minus 1 in., to be used for topsoil, allowing the once productive farmland to be used again instead of becoming a barren field.

• 1 to 2 in., to be used as fill in the river banks that were washed away by the raging waters.

• Cleaned tailings.

Within three days, output was up to 2,000 yds. a day, and Gilbert brought another 165T to the site. A smaller, more mobile Erin FS125T was used to access congested areas. For the next five weeks, the Erin Fingerscreeners ran nonstop. Onnela’s words are pretty clear.

“When the screener began working, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Before the first week was over, the amount of material that was being hauled away was well under 50 percent of the amount of just days before and we were able to cut our tractor-trailer fleet in half.”

From the DOT’s point of view, Keegan stressed that since the amount of time that it took to do the job was cut in half, money was saved in more ways than just trucking and disposal fees.

“It was perfect” said Pelletier. “We were able to quickly show progress to the townspeople. We recovered topsoil that went back to restore and enrich the farmland. We reduced wear and tear to the roads and fields, and we saved on disposal and trucking fees as well as by being able to rent the screeners for just the length of time we needed.”

According to Pelletier and his people, the process started right from the beginning, based on a good conversation with someone they trusted.

“James’ dropping by to make sure we were all right, and recommending that we speak with Charlie, who in turn was ready to jump and be here any time I needed him, gave us the confidence to tackle something that was new to us,” said Pelletier.

As for the future, Pelletier has purchased one of the screeners and sees new ways in which he can expand his business, taking advantage of the lessons learned, the equipment he acquired and the support from Milton CAT.

“When logging season is over, I can put my crew to work in other areas; or I can choose to take on other jobs even as logging is under way. I am very excited about expanding in directions that make sense, and in ways that allow me to keep my crew working.”

What’s Keegan’s assessment?

“The project took seven weeks from start to finish. If it had not been for the Fingerscreeners, I estimate we would have needed four or five more weeks. If it had snowed, who knows how long we would have been there?

“It wasn’t just that the trucks needed to make two four hour trips a day, but also that they couldn’t run at all if it rained the day before, that’s how soft the ground was…”

Onnela’s words bring home the success of the Alstead recovery.

“I went to New Orleans after Katrina and being there was tough in two ways — to see the devastation and loss was heart-breaking, but for me it was also upsetting to watch how they were cleaning the hard-hit areas ’the old way.’ I knew how Fingerscreeners could have done a much better job in terms of cost savings, reclaimed materials and getting the area back on its feet more quickly…”

(This story appears courtesy of Milton CAT.)

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