Compact Equipment Aids Florida Utility Work

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

Drainage is an important consideration in virtually every development, and projects in the Florida panhandle are no exception. But as drainage systems are enhanced in some area, the necessary re-grading sometimes removes much of the cover over underground utilities. When that happens, the utilities must be excavated and then reburied at the proper depth.

That was the case on a recent project in Destin, FL, where grading had diminished the cover over utility lines in a residential development north of U.S. 98.

The job of excavating and re-burying the area's telephone lines went to Ft. Walton Beach, FL-based Owens Communications, a contractor specializing in the installation and relocation of telephone cable. The lines in question had originally been installed at a suitable depth. But as drainage ditches were installed, the cover over the lines became less and less until some of the lines were as little as 4 inches beneath the surface.

“Our job was to dig new trenches and rebury the lines so they are 36 inches below the bottom of the drainage ditch,” says John Owens, owner of the company.

Owens got his start in the splicing end of the business. As a cable splicer, he traveled a good bit in the course of this job. But as he puts it, he “wanted to stay in one place instead of hitting the road so much” – and launching Owens Communications was the way to achieve that end. Today, his company generally works south of Interstate 10 from Marianna and Panama City to Navarre.

Gearing Up For Utility Work

The Owens Communications fleet includes a bucket truck for working on overhead lines, a digger truck (outfitted with a 21,000-pound capacity boom) for setting poles, and a winch truck for pulling cable. It also includes a Yanmar ViC-35 mini excavator – and on this project, it was the excavator that was the star.

Owens' ViC-35 is outfitted with a 12-inch bucket. “That's all we need for the work we do,” he says, “since the biggest thing we place is 4-inch to 6-inch pipe.”

One enhancement that Owens uses is a flat steel plate welded across the teeth of the machine's bucket.

“The plate helps keep the bucket teeth from cutting into any unforeseen utilities,” he says, “and helps the operator feel it if there is any unexpected contact.”

Compact Machines Find A Niche

For this sort of work, Owens says, compact equipment is ideal.

Rubber tracks allow the machine to work in residential areas or on sensitive pavements without causing pavement damage.

“You can't use a big excavator for work like this,” Owens says, explaining that today's smaller machines have the power needed to handle any necessary digging and to deal with obstructions such as roots. In addition, he says, smaller machines also offer a better sense of “feel” during the excavation process.

“With a big machine, if you catch a water line or other utility, you may not feel it until it's too late,” Owens explains. But it's possible to idle down the small machine and actually feel it if you contact an unexpected underground utility, he says.

Another feature that Owens likes is the unit's rubber tracks.

“Much of our work is in residential areas,” he says, “and if you start running over driveways or pavers with steel tracks you may cause damage and make the local residents unhappy.” But the rubber tracks, he says, eliminate that problem.