Massive Forklift Assists With Housing Project for Fish

Fri July 25, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Maura Bohart



Weeks Marine of Cranford, N.J., had a problem. It had a contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit to take some 1,662 retired work cars and “B Division” subway cars and drop them into the ocean, where they would serve as luxury homes for sea grass, blue mussels, sponges, black sea bass and tautog.

The contract was going well, except for one thing: the company didn’t have a piece of equipment big enough to lift the subway cars off its barge. Workers had to use a backhoe loader to push the 20-ton (18.1 t) cars into the ocean. The cars on the top of the pile would fall 10 ft. (3 m), landing on the deck before being pushed off.

This caused a lot of damage to the barge.

“It was still a worthwhile project to us,” explained Jason Marchioni, manager of Weeks Marine’s Heavy Lift Division, “but it was very expensive to repair the barge.”

Paper Clips Save the Day

The company had purchased a Cat 5110 hydraulic excavator from Foley CAT several years before and had found it to be a versatile machine. One day, as Tom Weeks, senior vice president of Weeks Marine’s Heavy Lift Division, was sitting at his desk, he picked up a scale model of the excavator and began to attach paper clips to it.

Marchioni walked into Weeks’s office.

“I walked in and Tom was sitting there with the scale model of the excavator and some paper clips, making a forklift and he said, ’Do you think it will work?’ and I said, ’No, I think you’re crazy,’ but he sent it to our engineer, Bernie Mellies, and we built it and it’s working great,” Marchioni explained.

The forklift weighs approximately 150 tons (136.1 t) and has 12-ft. blades. Its lifting capacity is 22.5 tons (20.4 t).

“We tested [the forklift] at 110 percent capacity at the maximum radius and we load tested the weight at the end of the fork to make sure that the weight wouldn’t break or bend the forks,” Marchioni said.

The forklift passed all its tests and is now serving as an important component in the artificial reef job.

“Now we can get the cars into the water without doing damage to the barge,” said Marchioni.

This is not the first time the Cat 5110 has solved a problem for Weeks Marine. Several years ago, it was used in a job placing 10-in. (25.4 cm) minus stone in water up to 60 ft. (18.3 m) deep with plus or minus 1-in. (2.5 cm) accuracy in the East River, N.Y. The excavator’s heavy lift capacity and reliable performance made it a very important piece of equipment.

“We keep modifying it and using it for different things and it does a good job,” Marchioni said.

But versatility isn’t the only reason Weeks Marine bought the machine. It was also because of the good service the company receives from Foley CAT and the reliability of the machine.

“We can’t afford a breakdown in our business, because we’re in the ocean. It costs us $20,000 to tow down from Jersey City, so we follow Foley preventative maintenance schedule and we haven’t had a problem so far,” Marchioni said.

Housing for Fish

The U.S. residential market may not be at its strongest, but there is one group of organisms that is experiencing a housing boom. Black sea bass off the eastern coast of the United States are enamored with their new homes in the sunken subway cars.

The artificial reef program was started seven years ago by the MTA New York City Transit, when the agency had “redbird” subway cars it needed to dispose of. It knew an artificial reef could attract fishermen, divers and tourists.

The solution was to clean up the rail cars and place them into the ocean.

So far, the program has been extremely successful at attracting marine life.

“The barnacles like to attach themselves to the handrails,” said Marchioni. “I think the fish like it because [the cars are] like a cavern.”

Subway cars that have been deposited off the coast of Delaware are now overgrown with lush sea vegetation, covered with barnacles and teeming with fish.

The artificial reef is a great place for fishermen and divers to — well, fish and dive. Many states hope the reefs will attract tourists.

By the time the program ended in November 2003, Weeks Marine had transported 1,269 retired “redbird” subway cars to reef sites in New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. This project saved the MTA some $22 million that it would have cost to remove asbestos from the cars and dispose of them through more conventional measures.

The program was so successful that the NYC Transit is now extending it to dispose of retired work cars and “B Division” subway cars.

A Trying Task

NYC Transit cleans the cars according to the standards established by the U.S. EPA. It removes plastic, degradable materials, tanks, greases, wheel assemblies, undercarriages and anything else that could harm a marine habitat.

After that, Weeks Marine must pick the cars up, which is no easy task.

NYC Transit’s facility is located on the Harlem River. To move the cars out of the facility, John Devlin, project foreman of Weeks Marine’s Heavy Lift Division, must check the tides of the river, and schedule openings at the Spuyten Duyvil and Broadway bridges. Devlin also organizes crews, coordinates with the towing department and works around a restricted tide schedule.

Once Devlin has coordinated the pick-up, Weeks Marine uses its Weeks 297 barge to get the cars. The 75-ft. (22.9 m) wide barge has to squeeze through narrow openings until it arrives at the pick-up place.

A crane accompanies the barge and carefully lifts the cars using NYC Transit’s spreader beam and a two-sling basket lifting method. The opening between the waterline fence and the office trailers and warehouse buildings is narrow and it requires skill and precision to lift the 60-ft. long, 9-ft. 9-in. high, 8-ft. 4-in. wide (18.3 by 3 by 2.5 m) cars. Four men guide them up by manipulating cables attached to the cars. A two-man crew lands them on the barge deck.

The barge then is taken back to Weeks Marine’s Greenville Yard and the cars are secured to the deck along with a Cat 5110 excavator. Weeks Marine’s crane, the Weeks 533 is so powerful it can lift the Cat 5110 onto the barge in one piece.

Once everything is attached, the 297 barge travels to the ocean, where it will deposit the cars in their final resting place.

Lifting the 20-ton cars off the barge is not easy either. A three-man crew boards the 297 via a launch boat. Then, two men loosen the cables around the cars so that they can be lifted.

Finally, Don Benesch, heavy lift rigging foreman of Weeks Marine’s Heavy Lift Division, uses the Cat 5110 forklift to pick up the cars and put them into the ocean, where they begin their new life as an aquatic home.

About Weeks Marine

Founded in 1919, Weeks Marine Inc., headquartered in Cranford, N.J., is a marine construction and dredging organization with six divisions located throughout the United States. It started as a stevedoring contractor, but has expanded to provide many services including dredging, marine-related construction, bulk stevedoring, marine transportation, heavy lift and salvage and floating equipment rentals.

The company owns its own floating cranes, barges and tugboats and is one of the largest marine contractors in the United States.

For more information, call 908/272-4010 or visit www.weeksmarine.com. CEG