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'Green' Hoe Attracts Contracts

By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.

Summary: For Mattson Contracting, switching to a biodegradable hydraulic oil has helped win jobs near environmentally sensitive sites.

Jack Mattson controls his Komatsu excavator with the synchronized actions of a well-honed golf swing. He smoothly loads an articulated dump truck with road-building material and prepares piles for the next one. As the excavator swings around, a notice on the rear cab housing attracts the visitor’s attention: “This machine uses biodegradable hydraulic oil.”

It’s what Mattson dubs his environmental hoe. Both of his new Komatsu PC200 LCs use a natural 100 per-cent Canadian canola-based hydraulic fluid. It’s a good and sensible fit for Mattson Contracting Ltd. of Hazelton, BC. Mattson’s company specializes in the design and installation of portable bridges and spillways for use on logging roads. He consistently works near rivers and streams and other environmentally sensitive sites in a part of BC with exceptional fish and wildlife values.

Add in the realities of BC’s Forest Practices Code and its new standards for environmental protection, and biodegradable hydraulic oil emerges as an initiative whose time has come. Mattson made the switch the biodegradable fluid when he traded up to the Komatsus. Terratech Equipment Inc., the Komatsu dealership in nearby Smithers, readily complied with his request, draining the tanks, cylinders and pumps and replacing them with the canola-based oil.

“I figured it was the way to go, starting from day one with the new machines so there were no impurities in the fluid system,” says Mattson. The biodegradable oil costs about twice as much as conventional hydraulic oil but doesn’t need changing as often, he reports. The machines still use diesel, planetary oil and anti-freeze but they are housed effectively inside a guarding package. ”The chances of engine oil and anti-freeze system failure are slim and none, and not in any large volumes,” points out Mattson. “But if you blow a big hose while swinging a 10,000-pound bridge deck panel across a creek you can lose 30 gallons of hydraulic fluid right where you least want to.”

Biodegradable Mattson also specified a full guarding package for the Komatsus, air conditioners and an extended warranty. The machines are also equipped with telephones. If in doubt, dial “don’t dig.” That’s good advice to any bush machine operator in light of the Forest Practices Code. Striking off in new directions is not new for Mattson. He moved the tools of his trade – a portable welder – from 100 Mile House to Hazelton and found work a-plenty.

He introduced the first excavator to the Hazelton area in 1988. Now his portable bridges and spillways are gaining attention from forest companies, the provincial forest service and environmental protection agencies. Mattson has patents for both the portable road spillway and the re-usable b ri d ges he builds and installs. The spillways come in 24' and 20' lengths and resemble a cattle guard. They’re composed of a steel grid that sits on top of two L-shaped concrete abutments.

The spillways are positioned across a logging road to best intercept mud, debris and winter sand running down the road, often in tire ruts. Frequently this occurs near the base of a hill and where there are streams or other habitat sensitive sites close by. In most applications, settling ponds are located on the low side of the spillway to collect and settle debris, which allows cleaned water to gradually percolate away. The steel grid is easily removable to clean out debris.

Mattson reports the four installations to date have done their job. “They’re so simple, that’s the beauty of it. You can transport the entire spillway in the back of a standard dump truck and they take only about four hours to install,” says Mattson. He notes the steel grid can be turned for road closure or deactivation while continuing to divert and disperse d eb ris and silt.

The key to Mattson Contracting’s re-usable portable bridges is to stay away from stream banks as much as possible and leave them in their natural state. The way to accomplish that is to extend the length of the bridge a couple of metres to keep the abutments behind high-water levels, explains Mattson. He has installed 17 of his bridges in the Hazelton area during the last three years.

The bridges use steel span girders which are attached to a pre-cast abutment wall with concrete footing. Most have a pre-cast concrete running surface. A gain, keeping things simple is Mattson’s credo. “A bridge can be installed in about 10 hours with one hoe and three people. And you have the advantage of using small er 50,000-pound cl a s s machines,” he says.

“There’s less impact on a creek than with a pile bridge.” Mattson believes using biodegradable oil and portable spillways and bridges helps reduce the environmental impact of forest road construction. And that isn’t just desirable: these days it is a legislated necesssity.


This page and all contents 1996-2007 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.
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