Not The Same Old Grind

Story by Karen Swanson | September 28, 2010

The combination of increasing government regulations and decreasing space in landfills is prompting many contractors to find innovative ways to dispose of wood waste from land clearing, excavation and other jobs.

With an extensive background in excavation, Joe Nuttbrock of Terra Firma Excavation Inc., Salem, Ore., began looking for his own options.

That search led him to form Nexterra Inc., a company that specializes in the on-site mobile grinding of wood waste, as well as consultation on new development and land clearing. The goal is to consider all steps in a project upfront and then proactively deal with the waste.

By looking at the entire project systematically, Nuttbrock can set up a work process for waste based on its eventual end use.

According to Nuttbrock, the best result for many clients is finding a way to get rid of waste without paying to haul it away or burn it, and better yet, to use the waste for something beneficial on the job site.

For instance, Nuttbrock recently cleared five acres of land for a new housing development. By looking at the entire project systematically, he was able to recommend using the wood chips to cover the work area around each house being constructed. In the Pacific Northwest, where conditions involve a lot of red clay and rain, this helped with erosion control and kept workers out of the mud as they were working on the house. By the time construction was finished, the chips were largely ground into the dirt so there was essentially no cleanup. The developer didn't have to pay to haul the waste away, and instead was able to use it for something beneficial.

"The market is essentially whatever you can find to do with it," says Nuttbrock. "There's a better market for a homogenous product — waste of all one type — and the cleaner the waste is, the better."

"Clean waste" is especially important in developing markets such as producing hog fuel for co-generation. Primary grinds or regrinds also can be used for compost and beneficial mulch, animal bedding, native landscaping, and soil retention.

While there are already several regulations regarding green development, even more are coming and people will need to manage development in a sustainable way. Nexterra helps its customers take a proactive stance on sustainability.

A recent project benefited from this proactive approach first hand. Nuttbrock was one of two contractors hired to clear land at The Keizer Station, a commercial development at Keizer, Ore. He had a plan from the beginning on how to clear the land, and to keep the waste clean. After clearing the land, he ground the trees into several piles. He has turned the piles a few times, and recently did a regrind with a small 2-inch screen. The developers now have a mountain of beneficial mulch they can reuse as landscaping materials on-site.

"They didn't pay to get this stuff hauled off — but they did have to pay to haul off the stuff left by the other company," says Nuttbrock. "With the regrind, they also saved several thousand dollars over importing in other landscaping material."

This idea of using the old to create something new is seen in a project Nuttbrock is doing with a gated community near Keizer, Ore. The community already had a program to collect compost material such as leaves, grass clippings and other material that would break down quickly. Stumps and larger tree limbs were hauled off-site for grinding. The community needed to keep a DOT-legal truck on the site and hire a driver with a commercial driver's license to transport waste for off-site processing.

After consulting with Nuttbrock, they were able to redesign their program around a plan to grind on-site. Nuttbrock visits the community on a regular basis, loads material out of one bin, processes it and loads it into another bin. The community has beneficial mulch and compost and saves the cost of the truck, driver and off-site processing.

Going Where Others Cannot

Because of the grinders Nexterra runs, the company gets into projects that can be difficult to access, which often are jobs that larger companies can't necessarily handle.

Nuttbrock operates a Vermeer HG525 TX. He chose this unit because he thought having a machine on tracks would make sense, based on his experience with other tracked equipment. Ultimately, though, Nuttbrock said he chose this machine because, "Compared to others in its class, it is the lightest, narrowest, and for size and weight has the most power."

These features came to play when Nexterra helped the Keizer Rapids Park prepare for future development by clearing a filbert orchard near the park.

"When we removed the trees, we knew how we wanted to handle them and what worked best for the machine," Nuttbrock said. "Our process to take them down and handle the piles was designed around the Vermeer machine.

"Because we were on tracks we just moved down the rows. And since it's a horizontal load, the height of any tree didn't matter." Nexterra was able to avoid dragging trees through the park and hauling them to the dump.

This was also the case for another city park in Corvallis. Nuttbrock cleared nearly 46 large tree stumps left after trees fell during a storm.

"We left very little impact on the park and kept damage to a minimum. Our process was more efficient and saved money," Nuttbrock recalled.

Nexterra also worked faster. The crew was able to manage the project in three days, which was considerably less time than other bids. Plus, the park ended up with beneficial mulch that was given to the public for free.

Mobility helps Nuttbrock with an ongoing job he has in a local rock pit as well. Years ago, the stumps and brush could be burned, but regulations prevent burning now. Nuttbrock routinely comes in to grind the brush and stumps and then incorporates the material into the overburden for mine reclamation. Some of this land debris is ground and sold as mulch chips to the public at a nominal cost.

Simply saving time and money is a good argument for looking at excavation and land clearing in a systematic way, but environmental consciousness is a big part of Nuttbrock's motivation.

In fact, Nuttbrock is part of the consulting phase for a 270-acre community development where everything involved will feature materials and construction techniques that adhere to the highest level of green building practices. For instance, the streets are porous concrete and asphalt. Waste handling, rain runoff and construction material waste are being considered for their environmental compatibility. Nuttbrock is developing plans to handle current construction waste, as well as future yard waste, in a way that reuses as much on-site as possible, creates efficiency and saves money.

Nuttbrock's approach does more than find innovative ways to use materials that would otherwise go to waste. By finding new solutions for old problems, he helps ensure that natural resources, as well as time and money, don't go to waste.

Karen Swanson is a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing Group, Des Moines, Iowa. Story courtesy of Vermeer Manufacturing Co., Pella, Iowa.