Dixie Contractor - October 17, 2005
By Steve Hudson
The Gulf Coast continues to clean up in the wake of the last year's (and now this year's) hurricanes, and the recovery includes projects of almost every size. Some, like the work going on at the I-10 bridge over Pensacola Bay, are huge. Others are smaller - but each still brings its own set of challenges to the contractors who are doing the work.
In that "smaller project" category, there is some interesting work going on in Florida's state parks. At Big Lagoon State Park west of Pensacola, for example, Hurricane Ivan caused extensive damage to the park's recreational facilities. Those facilities are currently being reconstructed, and one of the contractors helping to handle the work is Nature Bridges, a division of J.D. James Inc. based in Monticello, Fla.
"We build bridges and boardwalks", says Aaron Carl, foreman on the Big Lagoon project, "and we have a blast doing it".
Nature Bridges specializes in building pedestrian boardwalks and lightweight vehicular bridges in environmentally sensitive area. The company utilizes low-impact lightweight equipment to minimize the impact of construction activities. According to the company, "The only things left behind are footprints and a new boardwalk".
Working as a subcontractor to Gulf Asphalt, nature bridges is handling work that includes reconstruction of a boardwalk walkway, several bridges and related structures.
"The work involves several thousand feet of boardwalk construction", notes Carl.
The boardwalk and other structures being replaced on the site are built on square timber posts. On this particular boardwalk project, 6-by-6 posts are being used. Carl notes that he and his crew like to install those posts deep enough to enhance the chances that they'll survive future storms. Ordinarily, an auger would be used to drill the holes in which the posts were placed, but the soil conditions on this project render the auger approach unsuitable. The auger is used only to drill shallow pilot holes; the remaining operation is handled using vibrating plate.
Key to Nature Bridges' work on this project has been a modified compactor from NPK. The compactor, modified to fit on top of the timber posts used to support the boardwalks and other structures, was mounted on a Deere 310SG backhoe loader and is powered by the backhoe-loader's hydraulics.
To install the posts, Carl's crew first determines the position of each post and drills a shallow pilot hole using an auger. Next, using a chainsaw, a crew member cuts a point on one end of the post which is to be installed. The post is then set into position, passing through an alignment jig that allows the construction team to fine-tune each pile's orientation and ensure proper post alignment.
At that point, the compactor's plate (which has been modified with a rim which keeps the vibrating plate from sliding off the top of the post) is positioned atop the post. Once activated from the backhoe loader's operator's seat, the vibrating plate drives the post smoothly into the sandy Florida soil, quickly achieving the depth that Carl's crew is shooting for. The result is a solid substructure for subsequent construction of a boardwalk, bridge or platform.
Carl takes obvious pride in the projects that his crew constructs.
"If they want it, we can build it", he says. "We take a lot of pride in what we do. And we do it in a way that will make it safe for the people who will be using it when we're done".
When planning your next project, plan on Nature Bridges!