January February 2005
 

 

 

 

On the Road Again

Road Building and Maintenance: Where Are We Today?

By Kurt Glaeseman

Less than a decade ago, when environmental edicts and bureaucratic objectives broke like floodwaters over the logging community, the subject of road building and maintenance was just one more obstacle facing a beleaguered industry. Questions were rampant: Who polices my road building efforts? Are there different standards for private versus public lands? Will I be able to recoup added expenses? Some of the solutions turned out to be common sense. Others, developed in detail, were available from various state and federal agencies. Private land managers expanded or developed their own road plans, which often served as models for smaller companies. Organizations like the Oregon Logging Conference offered credit seminars on road building. The dust is settling. New roads are being built and existing ones are being maintained, but several major problems remain. Here’s what several protagonists in the Pacific Northwest have to say about road building today.

Environmental Regulations
“We’ve been under tighter environmental conditions and regulations for some time now, so a lot of us are pretty much in tune,” says John Marshall, who works with Roseburg’s Oregon construction and engineering program and does some spillover work with BLM and Forest Service land. “The demand for road building is going to remain high for the next couple of years.” He emphasizes the necessity of knowing what is expected on wet weather hauling and understanding the need for high quality, clean rock placed anywhere near a stream run-off. Marvin Brown, an Oregon State Forester, reminds road planners that many regulations are common sense. They’re designed to maintain clear water, fish protection, and the subtle sense of aesthetic values. “If you want environmental protection, you have to have economic value to pay for it,” he says. “That comes from logging and harvested timber.” Added expenses will have to be reflected in higher prices. That works if the need for lumber stays the same or increases.

Bottomless arched pipe - Steve Smith’s Newport Equipment Enterprises, Newport, Idaho.

Credible Planning and Groundwork
There is no substitute for a careful paper plan. Jeff Classen, from the Oregon Department of Forestry, explains what he looks for in a plan that crosses his desk: He wants a written plan or design that shows how it will meet the minimum requirements of the Forest Practices Rule. He wants a legal description of the land and precise information about a targeted stream. The first-time paper plan may be the hardest, but there are prototypes available for perusal and study. Mike Mitzel, a Sierra Pacific Industries District Manager who works with California harvest plans and road building, comes at it from a slightly different angle: “When we look at plans, we basically inventory all the crossings in a watershed and offer corrective action based on what we come up with.” This far-reaching idea works for managing private lands with a well-developed infrastructure.

Culvert used at a logging road stream bed crossing.

The Calendar Window
Available time is a real constraint. John Marshall says he’d like to think of work time from April 15 to the beginning of November, but realistically it may be May 15 to October 15. Have all prep work done ahead of time. When the weather clears or restrictions are raised, be ready to start on the first open day, especially if the project is a big one. Steve Smith, owner of Newport Equipment Enterprises in the Inter- Mountain Region of Northern Idaho, cautions against a trusting reliance on the calendar window: “Sure, there is a more or less predictable time when we should be able to work, but you’re always playing the weather game.” Excessive rain or drought can play havoc with a schedule and must be factored in.

Special Equipment
Mike Mitzel sees more interest in pieces like Timbco’s hotsaw feller buncher for right-of-way clearance in new road constructions. The previous individual faller guys just aren’t as available as they used to be, and companies prefer to see fewer men on the ground. Formerly the choice for pioneering a road was the dozer, but now he sees more and more excavators, often equipped with thumbs so they can multi-task from log loading to placing riprap. John Marshall likes the Komatsu track-mounted jaws that are small enough to be maneuverable and then easily moved to another job site. He does a lot of rocking in Oregon, and he likes the big three-stage rock crusher that can keep up with heavy demand. “I’ve used these for the last couple of years,” he says, “and, partnered with a Cat, it’s cheaper than long distance trucking from a quarry.” While he acknowledges that appropriate equipment is critical, Simpson Resource Company’s Dana Clay reminds people that no one has bigger machinery than Mother Nature. “After 24 hours of rain, we simply have to stop and reassess what’s left.” Taking the energy out of such water requires a combination of human ingenuity and mechanical efficiency.

Idaho rock ready for road building. Steve Smith’s Newport Equipment Enterprises.

Culvert Installation
Rod Sheppard, Manager of Engineering and Planning for the Boise Northwest Oregon Office, has worked at placing and improving over a thousand culverts since 1996. One of the most critical regulations (OAR 629-625- 0600) is that the responsible party shall “…maintain conditions for the life of the culvert.” It’s most effective to install the culvert correctly and minimize later renovations, but he insists that you don’t have to be a biologist, hydrologist or engineer unless you are putting in a flat culvert with an 8% or more drop. Some vital considerations include adding seed rock in the pipe to slow down movement of water-borne sediment and the necessity of a lip at the end of the pipe to hold that sediment in. Mike Mitzel, who works closely with culvert research and development in Redding, Calif., is pleased with the effects of beveling pipes at a 45-degree angle to allow larger openings on the up-current side. The advantage over a more perpendicular opening is debris is pushed by the water up and onto the roadway, keeping the culvert free for water flow. The bottomless arched pipe, a culvert hybrid, is one of Steve Smith’s specialties. Smith takes company specs and builds, installs and rocks in the 16- foot arched pipe. Mike Mitzel uses them in California too. He’s developing a footing that does not require concrete, which minimizes installation costs and meets with the approval of California’s Department of Fish and Game. Jeff Classen cautions road builders to keep two important rules in mind. Make sure you get the stream gradient figured out ahead of time, and make sure you choose a wide enough pipe— it’s much safer to have a culvert that is too large rather than too small.

Fords and Bridges
While developing a ford may appear to be an economical fix, Classen advises that certain questions must first be addressed. Will this be a lowtraffic use? What will the effect be on water turbidity? Will this break down the streambed? Sometimes building a bridge is the only option. The Vancouver-based Rapid-Span Company has gotten high marks for production, delivery and technical support. Mike Mitzel says that sometimes Sierra Industries must buy the pre-manufactured bridges, but they have done shorter spans with salvage rail cars and sea cargo container platforms.

Road Maintenance
In some cases, new roads are expected to last through a 100-year storm event cycle. Of more relevance would be average yearly rainfall, seasonal variations, amount of timber harvest traffic, amount of other traffic, and user alliances with utilities and private homeowners. The use of good hard rock can prevent deterioration, and a pro-active schedule of grading keeps the crown in decent shape. Often the best feedback and warnings come from log truckers who have every twist of the road memorized. Warner Enterprises in Redding uses Calcium Chloride flakes, which trap available moisture and help reduce dust and stabilize gravel road surfaces. John Marshall likes Magnesium Chloride for both Roseburg and Forest Service lands: “We do our own dust abatement with our own water trucks. I can get Magnesium Chloride in bulk and store it without fear. We use it extensively and have been very satisfied.”

Labor Shortage – the Big Problem
You probably saw it coming. The one big issue that unites road builders in the West is a crippling shortage of labor. The need for new roads and road renovation is on the increase. The labor pool is diminishing. Mike Mitzel, says the lack of workers (especially machinery operators) is his one biggest problem. “I’ve never seen so much large Bottomless arched pipe - Steve Smith’s Newport Equipment Enterprises, Newport, Idaho. TimberWest — January/February, 2005 17 equipment parked, and this is true throughout the logging industry.” John Marshall says he often sees Oregon contractors competing for the same subcontractors and their work crews. “This is a huge challenge to road building and logging in general. We are getting more ‘skilled operator’ oriented, but then we have to tell these operators to go home in the winter months. People don’t see our seasonal operations as a desirable career choice when there are other good eight-hour-aday- with-benefit-package options available.” Joe Epler, of St. Maries (Idaho) Logging comments: “There is no labor pool in the logging industry, especially for qualified machinery operators.

Mill closures have diverted young folks elsewhere. Most high school students are channeled toward college. But we know that not all kids are ideally suited for college. I hate to see high school industrial arts or agriculture or welding programs cut back, for they often produced young folks who wanted to go to the woods.” Steve Smith has gotten a toehold on the big climb. By purchasing snow removal equipment and obtaining contracts for mall and parking lot snow removal, he can jockey trained summer personnel into winter jobs. When summer projects open up, the crew is on board. It’s a small start to a big problem. The old Diversify-Diversify-Diversify echo sounds in the background as a successful operator copes with this pervasive work force problem.

TW

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2005