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Toyota Plant Site Cleared Weeks Ahead of Schedule

Wed April 25, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle

The first of many construction projects involving the $1.3 billion Toyota automotive plant near Tupelo has been completed weeks early.

Hill Brothers Construction Co. of Faulkner, Miss., recently finished the first contract, clearing the core site in Blue Springs.

Located about 10 mi. west of Tupelo off U.S. 78, the plant, scheduled to open in 2010, will produce the company’s Highlander SUV model.

Hill Brothers was awarded the contract in March to clear nearly 300 acres (121 ha) of the Wellspring Project site. Workers completed clearing and grubbing work on March 28 — 16 days after starting the project. Hill had 45 days to complete the work.

Crews have worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for the past month to complete the project. Hill had approximately 40 workers at the site, while subcontractors added another 48 personnel.

The company had the low bid of $825,740 for the contract. The bid was less than half that of the next lowest. Eutaw Construction of Aberdeen, Miss., which cleared the sites for Nissan in Canton, Miss., and SeverCorr in Columbus, Miss., bid $1.6 million. There were a total of six bidders.

“We’re pleased that Hill Brothers got the contract and we were delighted that we had two local companies that showed they could do the job,” said Charles Duke, chairman of the PUL, the state’s first regional economic development alliance. It is an acronym of the three counties involved in the alliance — Pontotoc, Union and Lee.

Flattening the land to prepare for the construction of the plant is the next step. Toyota, which takes possession of the site May 1, will choose the contractor for that project.

“They could let Hill Brothers do the whole project [site work],” said Randy Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which is helping the PUL Alliance develop the site.

Hill Brothers credits good weather with helping to get the project done ahead of schedule.

“The only unusual thing on this project has been the weather and it wasn’t a challenge,” said Becky Coombs, Hill’s spokeswoman. “Since we began working on March 12, we have had only one half inch of rainfall. This has been the greatest contributing factor to us completing the project ahead of time.”

She said there has been a lot of excitement at the job site.

“For Hill Brothers, this is probably one of the highest profile projects we have performed, and it will definitely add another notable player to our company’s resume,” Coombs said.

The company wasted no time getting the job done, because as Coombs said, “When looking at potential liquidated damages of $25,000 per day [if the job wasn’t completed in time], you don’t even want to think about delays and going over the schedule. We knew what we had to do, so we put the people and equipment on the job to get it done.”

Hill’s contract was for 335 acres (135 ha), 57 of those acres (23 ha) with minimal trees were designated as an area to be used as a mulching pit. The 278 acres (112 ha) remaining were the primary acreage to be cleared and grubbed.

The company used 21 pieces of heavy equipment for the clearing and grubbing. Some of the equipment was owned by the company and other equipment was rented from Power Equipment and Thompson Machinery.

Hill’s equipment at the job site included: Komatsu D65PX, Komatsu D65EX, two Komatsu PC300EXs, Komatsu PC220EX, Komatsu PC200 with a thumb, Komatsu PC200 with a stump shear, two Komatsu PC220s with a stump shear, one Komatsu PC220 with a thumb, Komatsu PC228 with a thumb, Komatsu PC300 with a stump shear, Cat 325CL excavator, Cat D6N dozer, Cat D6R dozer, Cat D6R LGP dozer, Cat 330 excavator with a thumb, Cat 140 G motorgrader, Cat 950G IT loader and Cat 930G wheel loader with a rake.

“We hired other local owner/operators with excavators and dozers to assist us in the clearing and grubbing operations. They supplied another 15 pieces of equipment that was comparable to what we used on the project,” Coombs said.

Hankins Forest Products handled the timber-cutting operations at the site. It hired four different logging companies to perform the timber cutting, each of which had five to seven pieces of equipment, including feller-bunchers, skidders, dozers and knuckleboom loaders.

This wasn’t the first time Hill Brothers did a lot of work on a tight deadline in Mississippi. Its crews hauled 2.8 million cu. yds. (2.1 million cu m) of borrow dirt within 80 days in 2001 for the new Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.

“The site was brought to grade for the construction of the building pads and the various parking areas and roads. The work under this contract was successfully completed even though more than 18 inches of rain fell during this time frame,” Coombs said.

Other subcontractors on the Toyota project included: Environmental Grinding Services and Triangle Maintenance, which performed much of the grinding and mulching operations.

Hill used Colom Construction Co. for the removal of structures. ILM Inc. performed erosion control items and Riverside Traffic Systems provided construction signs and barricades for the project.

Hill hopes to be awarded additional projects from Toyota.

“As a heavy civil contractor with our home office located only 45 minutes from the site, we hope to remain on-site and perform the mass grading for this large project. On the current project, Hill Brothers has worked diligently to provide a safe project site and successful completion. Everyone has been pleased with the progress of the project and we are thankful the weather cooperated beautifully over the past weeks,” Coombs said.

No cleared material was burned, said Coombs.

“Toyota takes an environmentally friendly approach to all their construction and manufacturing operations. All of the wood debris had to be grinded and mulched. Grinding Services and Triangle Maintenance Service provided grinders for this project,” Coombs said.

Environmental Grinding Services used a Morbark tub grinder and Triangle Maintenance Service is using a Vermeer tub grinder and a horizontal grinder.

Toyota recently held a 90-minute presentation in Tupelo for more than 600 contractors. The presentation covered purchasing and supplier diversity and how to do construction business with the company.

Safety was repeatedly emphasized as a primary element in selecting who Toyota will do business with in Mississippi.

“If you think we are fanatical [about safety], that’s good because we are,” said Gene Tabor, general manager of purchasing for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

Along with a company’s safety record, Toyota will be looking for supplier diversity. For the total Toyota Mississippi construction expenditures, 15 percent of the general contractor’s Tier 1 contracts must go to minority businesses.

Toyota is requesting bids now and will start awarding contracts in mid-May, according to Tabor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. CEG

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