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Contractor Aids Nature-Friendly Projects

Morbark grinders also enable Triangle Excavation to improve bottom line

By TimberLine Staff
Date Posted: 4/1/2004

      LINCOLN, Calif. — Developers suffer from an image problem. They are often perceived as uncaring, faceless entities, pushing forward with their projects with little or no regard for the area they are developing. In some cases the perception may be accurate. In the case of Placer Holding Inc., it is not.

      Situated among 30,000 native trees, Placer Holding Inc.’s latest master-planned community, the 6,000-acre Twelve Bridges development in Lincoln, Calif., which is north of Sacramento, boasts a wealth of natural beauty. It demonstrates that new home development and nature need not be mutually exclusive.


Surgical Tree Removal

      To get to the point at which concrete pads can be poured for new home sites, Placer has contracted with Dixon, Calif.-based Triangle Excavation to remove more than 1,500 trees. Triangle owner Wes Rose compared the process to surgery.

      “This has been an interesting project from a number of perspectives,” said Wes. “While we are often directed as to what trees to leave alone and which ones to remove, it is usually in a more general sense. Here at Twelve Bridges, there has been a state-employed arborist on site for most of the project — first to identify and mark the trees to be removed, and subsequently to ensure that the land clearing is going according to plan. In addition, we are grinding all the material we are taking down in two Morbark grinders — a Model 1300 tub grinder and a Model 7600 Wood Hog horizontal grinder — and turning the material over to the developer for use in slope protection. We’ve had to be extremely sensitive to everything around us, but the result is going to be an excellent development in a great setting.”

      His business has changed over the years from one that used to pile and burn wood waste, Wes explained. As environmental regulations became stricter, he moved to grinding wood waste and subcontracted for grinding services. As recently as four years ago, Triangle was spending more than $50,000 annually for contract grinding services and over $100,000 in tipping fees at landfills and transfer stations to dispose of waste wood material.

      “Subcontracting didn’t work for us because often the subs had scheduling conflicts and the work would not get done, delaying the rest of our operations,” said Wes. “In addition we realized that the material we were taking down could be used both for the co-generation fuel market and for the landscape industry, which had already expressed an interest in our material.  With this in mind we did a lot of research on processing equipment. Chippers were one option, but then we would still have to purchase a grinder to process the stumps or hire a company with one, putting us once again at the mercy of someone else’s operation. We got in touch with Morbark a couple of years ago, and together we’ve come up with the grinding solution we needed all along.”


Excavation & Extraction

      Once trees have been identified for removal and marked, Triangle’s crew moves in for the excavation facet of the job. The project is being helped by soil conditions at Twelve Bridges.

      “The soil here, a combination of sand and soil, actually turns to an almost dust-like powder after any prolonged rain-free period, making our technique for tree removal fairly easy,” Wes explained. “Using an excavator, we clear the area from around two sides of the tree — usually the depth of one bucket will suffice — thereby weakening its stability. Using the boom of the excavator, we then simply apply pressure to one side, toppling the tree in the direction we need. It’s not rocket science, but we do have to be careful to avoid any damage to surrounding trees.”

      On a project of this scale, the company generally has five excavators at work: three dedicated solely to pulling trees; one that is equipped with a stump shear attachment to pre-process stumps for grinding; and another loading the grinder. In addition the company uses two skidders for removing logs from the woods and two loaders, one equipped with a rake and another with forks and clamps for material movement.



      Once trees have been extracted, they are hauled to a central processing area – a landing — where they will be sent through one of the two grinders Triangle has used at the Twelve Bridges site.

      At the Twelve Bridges development the company set up five landings. “The project we will be starting soon at Bickford Ranch, also in Lincoln, is so large we will need 10 landings,” said Wes. “It’s just a way for us to streamline the grinding process.”

      To process the more than 1,500 trees, which will produce about 3,000 tons of mulch,  Triangle splits the grinding duties between the two Morbark grinders.

      “We actually did the bulk of the project using the Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder, but for the latter phases of the job we purchased the Morbark 7600 Wood Hog and used it to wrap up the grinding,” said Wes. “They have both been excellent performers, grinding up virtually anything we put in until nothing larger than a 5-inch chip remains. Our reason for switching to the horizontal grinder was strictly one of economics. Though the tub grinder does an excellent job, the longer trees would generally have to be pre-processed in some manner to fit in the tub. With the horizontal grinder we just shear off the stump, feed in whole trees as long as 9 feet in length, and then feed the stump in afterwards.”

      The Morbark Wood Hog is designed to provide power in the 850-1050 hp range and yield output rates as high as 500 yards per hour, depending on material and the final product desired.  Particularly attractive to Wes was the machine’s 76x65 infeed opening and 48-inch discharge stacking conveyor with hydraulic fold for transport.

      “The power, of course, is important to get the production rates we need,” Wes noted. “However, the infeed and discharge sizes were equally critical given the size of material we often encountered at the site. And because we are a mobile operation, the 7600’s ability to fold up for easy transport will prove invaluable.”


Triangle Moves On

      Work at the Twelve Bridges site is just about complete, with homebuilders and road crews literally following in Triangle’s footsteps. Wes will immediately move on to the Bickford Ranch project and then onto other similar projects in an area that seems to be continually developing.

      “We’ve been really successful at what we do, and I’m sure that’s because developers know we can go in, do the job, and turn it over to them faster than anyone else. And I leave a site far cleaner than the typical land-clearing company, as well.  That’s due in large part to the equipment I’ve chosen to use.

      “The folks at Morbark — particularly Steve Johnson, the company’s regional manager — have gone to great lengths to see that I have what I need, both in terms of product and support,” Wes continued. “I established Triangle as a service-oriented company, so I know the value of customer satisfaction. Morbark has got it down.”


The Bottom Line

      Steve Johnson was very helpful as Wes considered machinery options and during the start-up of the new equipment. “He works with you until the grinder is doing everything you expect a grinder to do,” said Wes.

      All the grindings are going to power plants for fuel — some as close as 10 miles and others over 100 miles. “It really is driven by the price that each plant will pay,” said Wes. “Their prices, on the other hand are based on the volumes they have on hand. So if they have a huge stockpile, the price is less, if their supply is down, they are willing to pay more.”

      Wes has put trees up to 40 inches in diameter in the Morbark Wood Hog. “The length doesn’t matter at all,” he added. “With the horizontal grinder, as long as you get the tree started, it will take the whole thing.”

      “I figure I have reduced my tipping fees by at least 90% and have offset the remaining 10% by what I am able to make in selling the product to the power plants for fuel. There are some grinding companies around here that still think taking the material to a dump is the best way to go. They can’t see the justification in a huge outlay for grinding equipment. However, area tipping fees have continued to rise, so I think I’ve made the right decision. I think my bottom line — after all is said and done — is about 20% better than someone who chooses not to grind.”


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