Digging Into Underground Utility Construction

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

Utility and site development construction continues to do well in southwestern Florida, and one company active in that market is Forsberg Construction.

Forsberg Construction, formerly known as T.A. Forsberg, Inc. of Florida, has been handling a variety of municipal and private projects in Southwest Florida since 1982. Growing out of T.A. Forsberg Incorporated, Okemos, Mich., the company got its start when Terry Forsberg, Richard L. Wendorf, and two other partners looked south and formed T.A. Forsberg, Inc. of Florida.

T.A. Forsberg, Inc. of Florida was incorporated in Florida in September of 1982 following the completion of the Deep Creek Development in Port Charlotte, Fla., a $21-million joint venture with Eisenhour Construction. Richard Wendorf, an employee with T.A. Forsberg Inc. since 1957, served as president of the company from March 1990 until Dec. 31, 2005, and became the sole owner of the company in August 1997. Currently, Bruce Wendorf, Richard's son, serves as president, with Gregg Marsh as vice president.

These days, Forsberg Construction, handles projects ranging from public utility systems and rural and urban roadways to site development for golf courses, subdivisions, colleges, churches, and retail shopping centers. The company focuses on southwestern Florida, primarily in Manatee, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, Desoto, Collier, and Sarasota counties. Bruce Wendorf notes that over the years the company has developed into a complete sitework contractor, handling not only pipe work and underground construction but also excavation, grading and road construction.

"We do everything but the paving and curbing," he says, adding that the company's projects range from golf course communities to large commercial jobs to work for public and private utilities.

Municipal Water And Sewer Upgrades

One of Forsberg Construction's recent jobs, a major utility upgrade for the city of Cape Coral, fell into that latter category. MWH Constructors, Cape Coral, Fla., is serving as construction manager on the overall project — a multi-phased effort to get local homes and businesses off of septic tanks and water wells and onto gravity sewer and a municipal water supply, while also supplying residents with irrigation water and upgrading existing underground stormwater infrastructure to current standards.

Each phase of the project is completed under multiple contracts, with individual contracts typically ranging from $5 million to about $15 million. Forsberg Construction is one of the contractors active in the upgrade program, with Andrew Hume as superintendent, assisted by foremen Luis Aparicio, Dean Campbell, Doug Adcock, Evert Warren, and Joe Knapps.

On one recent contract, Forsberg Construction's work included construction of about 40,000 feet of 8-inch gravity sewer, installation of 34,500 feet of 8-inch and 6-inch water line, and installation of 44,000 feet of irrigation pipe in diameters of 4 inches, 6 inches, 8 inches, 12 inches, and 24 inches. Though irrigation and water lines were relatively shallow and run down the sides of local roads, installation of the new gravity sewer required cuts to depths approaching 20 feet in some areas. And — because new gravity sewer runs down the middle of the existing streets — the project also includes road work needed to remove and reconstruct the local streets and four-lane boulevards.

Work was completed in sections of about 3,000 feet each and began with milling of the existing roadway. Subcontractor PMI, based in Fort Myers, milled and mixed the existing asphalt pavement and base in place. The resulting material was then treated as virgin ground.

Underground construction began with sewer line installations. On this particular project, there were existing lift stations; so the new sewer lines tied into existing manholes.

"And once tied in," Wendorf says, "we just took off."

As a section of underground work was completed, attention turned to base and paving on that section of the new asphalt street. New limerock base was compacted by a Bomag roller, readying the site for Ajax Paving to place new asphalt pavement.

Multiple Excavators

Much of the excavation was in sand, but throughout the area crews had to deal with a 1-foot-thick to 3-foot-thick layer of rock encountered at a depth of 2 feet to 9 feet. Because of the highly varied nature of the work, a number of different excavators have been utilized on the project.

Equipment used included several Komatsu excavators, including a large Komatsu 600 outfitted with a heavy-duty excavation bucket. Also busy on the project was a Komatsu 300 outfitted with a breaker attachment. No blasting was allowed, and no rock trenching was required.

Elsewhere on the project, smaller excavators stayed busy. For example, Komatsu PC78US excavators — outfitted with a 60-inch ditching bucket and using polycarbonate shoes — handled installation of smaller service lines. With their polycarbonate tracks, these machines were also able to work from freshly paved road surfaces to handle assignments such as driveway removal, grading and restoring lawn edges.

Dealing With Rock

Rock figured into much of the project, whether when used as bedding material or when encountered during excavation.

Number 57 stone was used as pipe bedding for the sewer lines, while number 89 stone was used to bed the pressure pipe. Stone came from local sources.

The biggest rock-type challenge, however, stemmed from that widespread rock layer. What became of that excavated rocky material? It was transported by Volvo off-road trucks to a central processing area, where it was screened to produce clean backfill material. At the screening site, a Cat 966 loader handled material and loaded processed backfill material back onto the trucks. The end product was clean backfill for the ongoing sewer line installation.

"In essence," he says, "we were reusing all backfill material during construction of the new lines."

Back on the site, a Komatsu 380 loader was among the machines placing the processed fill and carrying stone bedding material to the pipe crews. Several Cat dozers also worked on trench backfilling. A Bomag vibratory roller compacted the sewer trench backfill material.

Making Equipment Choices

When selecting machines for his fleet, Wendorf says that he "likes to have a mix of manufacturers" but adds that he tends to standardize within types of equipment. For instance, many of the company's excavators are Komatsu. Similarly, his dozers tend to be Caterpillar. According to Wendorf, focusing on a single brand within a given equipment category allows for commonality of buckets, filters and so on, allowing interchangeability and simplifying maintenance.

Since maximizing productivity is always a concern, Wendorf adds, he also considers speed. But he adds that numerous on-site factors are equally significant determiners of productivity and can diminish the importance of speed alone.

"These include the presence of existing utilities, the water table and other such variables," he says.

"One of the most important things in choosing equipment," he continues, "is the level of service that the local dealer can provide." He says that dealer service is "at least half" of what he considers in selecting the equipment he uses on his jobs.

Wendorf adds that the combination of sandy soil and a layer of rock can be hard on equipment. To keep his machines in top condition, he continues, Forsberg Construction maintains its own shop, staffed by a shop manager and two mechanics. The company also fields its own service vehicles to make equipment repairs on-site.

Communication Is Key

Because of the diversity of projects such as this one, which involves multiple contractors working in multiple areas at the same time, great attention is given to coordination among the many parties involved. The construction manager meets with the various contractors involved at least once a week, alternating between field meetings and meetings in the office. This assures that coordination of efforts is always addressed in a proactive manner.

Another important aspect of such work has to do with interfacing with residents and businesses in the areas where the work is going on. Particularly on residential projects such as this one, Forsberg notes, close communication with those who live and work in the project area is another key to project success.

"We are constantly in contact with the area residents to ensure their individual needs are being addressed to their satisfaction," he says.