Persistent rains, saturated soils and dense woods hamper efforts to clear a 90-foot wide pipeline path through the Big Thicket region in East Texas.
by Randy Happel, features writer —Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa on behalf of Vermeer – Pella, Iowa
Because of Texas’s immense size and topography, climate changes dramatically from one side of the state to the other. While far west Texas is arid receiving little rainfall, Southeast Texas is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. On average, that area is the wettest part of the state.
As a result, a drive through Southeast Texas reveals many areas of dense vegetation, including centuries-old pecan, oak and hackberry trees. There’s even an area appropriately named Big Thicket — located just north and northwest of the city of Beaumont — that boasts a varied ecology of piney woods, swamps and coastal prairies.
It’s not unusual for the area referred as the Golden Triangle (Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange) to receive upwards of 60-inches of rain annually. It’s here, among the stately oaks and dense mesquite thickets of east Texas, that in 2012, Go Green Services was called upon by pipeline installation contractor Pumpco Inc. of Giddings, Texas, to clear 90-foot wide path for a natural gas pipeline.
“The amount of trees was unimaginable,” says Terrell Sims, sales manager with Go Green Services, College Station, Texas. “There are miles and miles of huge, established pecans, oaks and hackberries with trunks of enormous diameter; along with thick brush, a lot of mesquite — just about everything woody imaginable. We know the area well and because of that, we have reliable and durable grinding equipment to handle the wood and brush.”
As they began their work, the Go Green Services land clearing teams encountered numerous marshy wetlands, several fences and different landowner right of way crossings. They also crossed occasional roadways along the route. Together, these hindrances, in addition to Mother Nature’s spring deluges, inhibited production efficiencies. “What we couldn’t control, however, was all the rain and mud. It rained almost continuously, making it one of the most challenging land clearing jobs we’ve ever taken on,” says Sims.
Mud mats required
“The grinders we own are awesome,” Sims says. “Oak, hackberry, pecan and mesquite are all very hard wood and tough to grind. We chose the HG6000TX on tracks for this job, primarily because it is easier to get into the limited space we had, and because it’s lighter than the HG8000TX. Because of the mud and marshes, we had to position the grinder on mats at all times; otherwise, the machine would have sunk into the muddy, marshy soil. Aside from the challenging conditions, the toughness and sheer magnitude of the wood really put the capabilities of the HG6000TX grinder to the test.”
Sims estimates the HG6000TX grinder was in use approximately eight hours every day, with periodic timeouts for inspection and servicing. He says proper servicing is critical for achieving maximum production rates and advises fellow land-clearing contractors to remain diligent in taking good care of equipment.
According to Shaun Bruect, project superintendent for Go Green Services, most of the wood was processed with the company’s Vermeer HG6000TX horizontal grinder and was outfitted with a 6-inch screen. For much of the project, the ground wood was mixed in with topsoil to serve as a stabilizer and impediment to erosion unless otherwise specified by individual landowners. In those instances, the woody material was hauled to a site nearby where Go Green Services ground the woody material with their Vermeer HG8000TX grinder.
The entire scope of the project spanned more than 420 miles with terrain ranging from rolling hills to soggy, marshy bottoms. That combined with the huge trunks, branches and tough wood fibers of the large, established trees, made the job more challenging. Mesquite is an extremely hard wood that can reach a height of 10 to 15-feet, although in most of its range, it tends to remain shrub size.
Mesquite, combined with the bushy, shrub-like blackbrush, is often difficult to remove and to grind.
“The hills we did encounter aren’t all that steep or big; it’s just that when you have a hill, you’re going to encounter a bottom,” says Bruect. “There were also a lot of creek beds. So crossing all the creeks posed delays moving ahead. It was really boggy type land.”
“And I don’t remember a year when we’ve had so much rain — consistent rains — in east Texas,” he adds. “There was what seemed liked several weeks in a row when we’d get a downpour on Thursday, forcing us to shut down for a day or two afterwards just because we couldn’t access the site. Then we’d try to make up for lost days over the weekend, so we could stay ahead of the pipeline crews.”
“There were many times when, because of the weather, we were loading logs with the welded pipeline already laid out ready for installation,” he recalls. “So the rain not only affected our clearing the right of way; but it also made it difficult for Pumpco to trench for the pipeline. We’d never seen anything like it.”
“We’ve been really pleased with the reliability and toughness of our grinders, yet, even the best equipment is going to need repairs,” Sims says. “But the frequency of such repairs can be minimized with proper servicing and maintenance. Obviously, the wet conditions were particularly hard on the equipment. I know that there were times when we may have forced materials in both grinders that were too wet for any equipment to process efficiently.”
“But at the end of the day, we know we have a dealer in Vermeer Texas/Louisiana and manufacturer that we can rely on when something happens that we can’t fix ourselves. They’ve saved us many times; they’re responsive and understand how important it is that we stay up and running. When there’s a pipeline installer closing in not far behind, we can’t afford not to be moving forward.”
For more information about Vermeer products, visit Vermeer.com .