Panhandle Site Work

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

The Florida Panhandle, most observers agree, is one of the up-and-coming parts of the state in terms of growth. That growth has fueled a dramatic increase in building activity as developers launch new subdivision projects, new commercial projects, and new shopping and office facilities — and one contractor that's helping bring many of those projects to life is B&H Contracting, a site work and utility contractor based in Florala, Ala.

Ron Hargrove launched B&H, after graduating from Auburn University, in the 1990s with a blade-equipped tractor. At first the fledgling company's typical project might be clearing a lot or installing a septic tank. But that was then. Today, B&H specializes in large subdivision and commercial site work and utility projects.

"On a residential development project, for example, we take the site from woods to a final product, complete with roads, curbs and utilities," says Hargrove, who today heads up the company along with partner J.W. DuBose. "When we are finished, the site work is complete with roads and infrastructure so home builders can come in and start building houses."

To tackle these projects, B&H fields a fleet that includes 65 pieces of off-road construction equipment — everything from backhoe loaders and dozers to excavators, scrapers and large motor graders — as well as a pair of lowboys, 15 crew trucks and more than a dozen dump trucks and trailers. To keep these machines busy, B&H operates one clearing crew, four earthwork crews, two utility crews, and a finish crew. Two field service crews handle all routine equipment maintenance and light to medium repairs.

For construction layout and tracking progress of the company's projects, which may number 20 or more at any given time, the B&H team also includes a CAD technician and two dedicated survey crews. One crew utilizes a traditional optical surveying system; the other uses a Trimble GPS-based 3-D earthmoving survey system. The Trimble system, Hargrove adds, works with GPS-based machine control systems mounted on the company's Case 650 dozer and on its new Volvo 710B motor grader, which Hargrove says was acquired specifically to take advantage of the Trimble system's automated grading capability.

"Sensors mounted on the dozer and on the motor grader allow us to have vertical and horizontal control within a 10th of a foot," he says.

B&H also maintains its own erosion control crew.

"Erosion control is a big part of what we do," Hargrove says. "State regulations are strict, and when you handle as many projects at one time as we do, maintaining erosion control is a priority and becomes a full-time job in its own right."

Work on a B&H job site typically begins with clearing, which is completed using a number of Case, John Deere, Komatsu, and Cat dozers. Depending on the site, clearing debris may be burned or ground on-site for subsequent use as mulch or groundcover.

Attention then turns to heavy earth work.

"We do a large part of our earthmoving with scrapers," Hargrove says. The B&H scraper fleet includes five Caterpillar 631 scrapers, plus a Caterpillar 613, Caterpillar 621 and one John Deere 762. "We use the self-elevating scrapers for shallow cuts and the open bowl scrapers for deeper cuts."

Among the more recent additions to the B&H fleet are a number of Daewoo excavators. Hargrove worked with Daewoo dealer Coastal Machinery Company's Chris Dixon, sales manager, and Gayland Lewis, product support manager, to select models that would handle the variety of excavating assignments encountered on the company's projects. The B&H fleet currently includes six Daewoo excavators — one 170, three 220s, one 300, and one 320. Solsbee bucket thumbs add to the versatility of the machines.

"Each site is different," Hargrove says, "and the size of the job, the depth of the cut, and the size of the pipe we lay dictates the size of the machine we use for a particular job." B & H performs all utility work on its projects starting with sanitary sewer, storm sewer, potable water, and finishing with sanitary force mains and the electrical distribution system.

For smaller excavations, as well as for handling pipe, the contractor is using a Terex TX760B backhoe loader equipped with a clamshell bucket and fork attachment. Also available to handle materials, including large pre-cast concrete structures, is a Sky Trak 8042 rubber-tired telescoping boom forklift.

With its ongoing project list, B&H keeps its machines and crews busy.

"Currently, for example, we have close to 1,000 lots worth of subdivision work going on just in Okaloosa and Walton counties," Hargrove says — and that's in addition to work the company did to aid the Hurricane Ivan cleanup effort in Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

"As soon as it became clear where the storm was going to hit," Hargrove says, "we went to work to line up equipment and crews. We had additional equipment leased before the sun came up the next morning," he continues, adding that his crews went to work right away. One of their first assignments was assisting Baldwin EMC, Baldwin County, Ala., in one of the hardest hits areas to return power using two ASU track loaders and a pair of D6Rs. Secondly, crews had to clear, level and gravel disposal areas and to construct roads to provide access to those areas for trucks bringing in storm debris.

B&H also had the job of sorting storm debris as trucks brought it to the disposal areas.

"At times we had as many as 1,000 trucks arriving each day," Hargrove says, adding that the debris sorting was at times a massive job.

To handle the post-hurricane cleanup, B&H utilized eight dozers and four excavators. The company's crews worked on storm recovery for about 13 weeks. But even while helping with the storm recovery, B&H was able to maintain work on its regular projects.

"It involved some logistics shuffling," Hargrove says, "that you would not believe. But it worked out well in the end."

All in all, Hargrove attributes their success to providing their customers "a quality product, in a truly quality manner and at a competitive price."