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Modern Continental Reclaims ’Lost’

Tue December 03, 2002 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn

Tucked away in a remote corner of Brooklyn, NY, Modern Continental Construction is moving approximately 2.5 million cu. yd. (1.9 million cu m) of material in one of the largest such jobs in the Northeast, and probably the most unusual — it’s all fill and no cut.

Modern Continental Construction, part of Modern Continental Companies Inc., Cambridge, MA, is working on the first phase of the massive $142-million Fountain Avenue Landfill Reclamation Project. The site, so remote even Brooklyn natives don’t know about it, is in the Fresh Creek area on the Brooklyn/Queens border, on the shores of Jamaica Bay, bordering the Belt Parkway. This low-lying shoreline area was one New York City’s primary solid waste landfills in the 1960s through the 1980s before being closed down. (Subsequently New York City’s enormous volume of solid waste went mostly to Fresh Kills on Staten Island, which in turn has shut down.) When the Fountain Avenue fill closed, it was covered with only the 6 to 12 in. (15.2 to 30.5 cm) of dirt normally used to top each layer or lift of compacted waste.

Modern Continental will cap the 285-acre (114 ha) Fountain Avenue Landfill as part of the New York City Department of Environmental Protections (DEP) plan to improve the area around Jamaica Bay. The new cap will meet city, state and federal requirements for landfills, assuring an absolute minimum of contamination, particularly leachate from the fill into Jamaica Bay. Eventually, the DEP plans to turn control of the land over to the city’s Parks Department so it can be turned into a vibrant natural resource.

Modern Continental’s New York City office submitted the low bid for the contract. In addition to the earthmoving, the project, which is being administered by the New York City DEP, includes the installation of:

• more than 280 acres (112 ha) of 1.5-in. (3.8 cm) LLDPE (linear low density polyethylene plastic) liner;

• 75,000 linear ft. (22,500 m) of gas collection piping and a couple hundred gas extraction wells of up to 110 ft. (33.5 m) in depth and 3 ft. (.9 m) in diameter;

• approximately 190 acres (76 ha), or 8 million sq. ft. (743,224 sq m) of drainage geocomposite plastic liner;

• miscellaneous storm water piping and drainage systems; and

• an extensive landscaping program, planting nearly 40,000 trees.

According to DEP Commissioner Joel A. Miele Sr., “The DEP is implementing an innovative capping and remediation effort. By spending the needed funds and building upon our partnerships with community leaders, we hope that the capped landfill will become a resource to the surrounding communities. The completion of this project will convert the landfill into landscaped open space [a refuge for many types of wildlife] and will greatly improve the environment surrounding Jamaica Bay.”

Modern Continental is first covering the landfill, which forms a small hill, with approved dirt and rock fill to bring it up to grade. According to Barry Longenecker, a site project manager for Modern Continental, “We started this job this past summer and are currently bringing the site up to the basic subgrade of the DEP’s design, with at least 500,000 cu. yd. of minus 12 in. clean grading fill.” The fill material comes from various sites in New York and New Jersey and mostly is loose dirt, most of it well below the 12-in. (30.4 cm) upper limit (material is scalped for oversize pieces before Modern Continental gets it).

“Every 3,000 cu. yd. or so, or about twice a day, we sample the material and perform chemical tests to make sure it is clean,” Longenecker said. “We also perform geotechnical and physical assessments.”

John F. McNamara III, senior vice president of Modern Continental, said that as the first stage of the job moves along, the quantities of material needed are being revised upward.

“The original quantities in the specifications were based on old maps and later on aerial surveys, so we’re finding that in some places the original fill has settled 5 or 6 ft. from where it was supposed to be. As a result. the final subgrade design was just recently completed,” he said.

Next, Modern Continental will place 250,000 cu. yds. (190,000 cu m) of a minus 1-in. (2.5 cm) crushed rock, known as Type 2, from quarries north of New York City. This will form a cushion for the plastic liner that will seal the landfill. In turn, the liner will be covered by 450,000 cu. yd. (340,000 cu m) of a special minus 3-in. (7.6 cm) low permeability material imported from a materials supplier in the Albany, NY, area, R.J. Valente Gravel Inc., of Wyanantskill. The low permeability material in turn will be topped with 400,000 cu. yd. (310,000 cu m) of more grading fill and finally almost 500,000 cu. yd. (380,000 cu m) of topsoil, again imported from Albany.

Modern Continental also will barge in and place 200,000 cu. yd. (150,000 cu m) of 18- to 36-in. (45.7 to 91.4 cm) riprap for shore and drain protection; this material also will come from quarries north of New York City.

Savin Engineers designed the gas collection and combustion system for the landfill, necessitated because the decomposition of solid waste produces gas, including design analysis reports, contract drawings, technical specifications and cost estimates. Savin prepared all required gas combustion system permitting documents in accordance with NYC reclamation, EPA, and NYC DEP requirements. Moretrench Inc., Rockaway, NJ, is installing the system and is approximately 50-percent complete.

To handle 2.5 million cu. yd. (1.9 million cu m) of imported fill, Modern Continental approached the project as a mining rather than a construction earthmoving project. That’s because what seems like the most obvious method, bringing in material by over-the-road dump trucks, would have been a logistical snarl of major proportions. The highway serving the area, the Belt Parkway. is closed to trucks, which would therefore have to travel the streets of Brooklyn and Queens.

Instead Modern Continental built a concrete loading pier on one corner of the site, on the bay, and brings material in by barge and tug. A Hitachi EX1900 hydraulic excavator — actually a mining shovel — with a 13-cu.-yd. (10 cu m) clamshell bucket unloads the barges and feeds a fleet of as many as 13 Terex TA40 40-ton (36.5 t), 29-cu.-yd. (22 cu m) heaped capacity articulated off-highway trucks that spread material over the landfill; dozers finish grade it. The project is like a mine but with a reverse of the usual flow.

The Terex units actually fit between the smaller on and off-highway trucks that are commonly used in construction earthmoving applications, and larger units, usually rigid frame, used in mining The Terex units have the speed — top speed 34 mph, (54.7 kmh) — to keep up with the shovel, and the gradeability to take the low to medium slopes of the job in stride. Loaded, the weight distribution on the three-axle trucks is less than 50,000 lb. (22,500 kg) per axle, so they aren’t as likely to bog down on the dirt roads constructed on a soft landfill. Plus, with a width of less than 13 ft. (4 m) and a turning radius of 32 ft. (9.7 m), they can easily make the 180-degree turn on the pier and line up for the shovel.

Currently, according to Longenecker, Modern Continental only is running seven to nine trucks because the hauls are short. Later on, all 13 will be used, but hauls still will be relatively short; the longest hauls will likely be a little more than 1.5 mi. (2.4 km). (A 14th Terex AT40 has been converted to a water wagon to keep dust down on the haul roads and fill areas.)

The excavator is one of Hitachi’s newest, and the company actually classifies it as a mining and quarrying unit. It’s a 209-t (190 t) class, 410,000-lb. (186,000 kg) operating weight unit. The 13-cu. yd. (10 cu m) clamshell bucket is evenly matched to the Terex trucks, so they’re filled in just two passes with virtually no spillage, which could be a problem on the fairly narrow confines of the pier. Both bucket and stick come as a unit, supplied by Jewell Manufacturing Co., Portland, OR. Power for the excavator comes from a 1,025-hp (770 kW) V12 diesel.

Although using just the one Hitachi machine instead of two smaller units might seem a sticking point in terms of reliability, McNamara said he and other Modern Continental people were reassured when they visited a number of mine sites in the Middle Atlantic and Midwest states. “Hitachi units working in the mines have an outstanding record of availability.”

To bring material to the site from as far away as 140 mi. (225 km) one way, Modern Continental is using its own fleet of 15 barges, each with a capacity of 4,000 tons (3,600 t), measuring 260 by 52 by 12 ft. (39 by 16 by 3.9 m). They are towed by three Modern Continental tugs, the new “Ludwig E” and two smaller ones that have been repowered. Modern Continental is no stranger to the marine business, the company operates Boston Harbor Cruises, which operates ferries in the Boston area, and its construction projects have involved extensive marine operations. The “Ludwig E,” a seagoing tugboat named after the father of Modern’s co-founder Ken Anderson, was built by Hope Services of Dulac, LA, is 100 ft. long by 32 ft. wide (31 by 9.7 m) and develops 3,400 hp (2,500 kW). It sleeps eight crewmen.

Modern Continental is using four crawler dozers, three Caterpillar D6 units and one John Deere 850 unit, to spread fill on the landfill face. They are equipped with Trimble GPS (satellite global positioning system) grade control systems. According to the manufacturer, “Precise to .1 ft, this system enables operators to perform bulk earthworks in a stakeless environment.” Using an interface to the hydraulic system on the dozers, it automatically controls elevation and cross-slope, and provides the operator with a reading of blade position “on-grade” and “on-line” relative to the site design.

“We just plug in the grade we want and the dozers follow it. We’re still on a learning curve on this but so far it is working out well,” Longenecker said.

Currently Modern Continental is loading out up to 800 cu. yd. (610 cu m) per hour from the barges; they run 5,000 to 7,500 cu. yd. (3,800 to 5,700 cu m) a day. With each barge currently loaded with approximately 2,500 cu. yd. (1,900 cu m) this comes to three barges a day.

The original timetable called for the project to start in late 2000. However, various delays, including permits for installing the pier, pushed the actual start of dirtmoving back to the middle of 2002. However, McNamara said, “We are still on track to complete the first phase of the project,” moving and placing the material, “by November 2004 as originally scheduled.” He expects to continue working through the winter and start the liner in spring. They are only working one nine-hour shift at this point. “We expect the lining subcontractor will be able to do 2 acres a day, for only 115 working days. The liner is a critical part of our schedule on this job, so this will be a big help.”

When capped, landscaped and planted, the former Fountain Avenue Landfill will provide a fitting “front door” on Jamaica Bay for this corner of Brooklyn, now a burgeoning residential and commercial area, and be a key link in development of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

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