Project Profile: Turning Regulations Into Profit

May 1, 2009
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Erosion control has become everyone’s business. In the past, only contractors working on large job sites had to worry about erosion. That has changed. As stricter enforcement of more stringent regulations takes effect across the country, contractors of any size now spend more time working on erosion control. Small contractors are discovering that they can use their compact equipment and appropriate attachments to provide erosion control services, turning these regulations into profit.

Since 2003, controlling erosion from a job site as small as an acre has been mandated by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. This system is now in effect on construction job sites in most states and will soon be in effect everywhere. This means that contractors who are breaking or moving ground on any job site in the United States need to plan for-and control-erosion of dirt or silt, as local and federal authorities enforce these new regulations and issue warnings and fines.

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A New Market to Serve
Colter Dent is a third-generation contractor who works in the Salina, KS, area. “My father is a developer and he received a warning on one of his job sites because he needed to have a silt fence,” says Dent. “There was only one company in the area that had a silt fence installer, and it gave me the idea that there was money to be made from doing erosion control work.”

Dent and his partner, Pete Hocking, started North Central Kansas Erosion Control to fill this niche in the market. The company installs silt fence, geofabric, and other erosion control measures to prevent runoff of soil into streams, rivers, culverts, and storm sewer systems. Should rivers or streams become filled with silt and sediment, environmental damage could occur. Over time, erosion allowed to flow into storm sewers could clog the sewer system, creating the need for expensive repairs or replacement.

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Many local governments now require commercial site-development plans to include locations of erosion control systems, just as they want to see what type of building and landscaping will be constructed and installed. These plans show the elevation and locations of silt fence and other erosion control measures.

Using a Silt Fence Installer Attachment
A silt fence can handle most of the erosion control needed on a job site. To install the fence, North Central Kansas Erosion Control uses a Bobcat silt fence installer attachment on a Bobcat T190 compact track loader. In the past, contractors installed silt fence by hand or with trenching equipment, often a time-consuming process. The silt fence installer attachment installs the fence more quickly and with less labor. “We can put in 1,000 feet of fence in two-and-a-half hours,” says Dent. “Doing it the old way, it would take twice that long. With the silt fence installer attachment and a two- or three-man crew, we can install 4,000 feet in one day.”

To operate the attachment, silt fence is threaded under a rod and through the chute on a blade. The attachment is then lowered to the ground and the silt fence unrolls automatically as the machine is driven backward, plowing the fence into the ground. Silt fence can be installed up to a maximum depth of 20 inches.

Dent says many silt fence installations are done improperly. He says the bottom of the silt fence should be buried in the ground at least eight to 12 inches, depending on the application. After burying the fence with the attachment, Dent drives along the fence with the tracks of the T190 to compact the soil that has been disturbed. Stakes are driven into the ground every 4 or 5 feet with a hand-held, hydraulic post driver. Then, Dent attaches the fence to the stakes with a small pneumatic stapler.

Dent uses a compact track loader because he likes the traction and the flotation of the machine. Dent often works with hard ground, and the traction from the tracks makes it easier to install the fence. “Sometimes, we put silt fence in marshy or low-lying areas that have water problems and the flotation of the tracks is the only way we could complete the job,” says Dent.

Do It Yourself
Wruck Excavating in Becker, MN, is another contractor that provides erosion control. Tony Wruck, owner of Wruck Excavating, also decided to purchase a Bobcat silt fence installer attachment. Wruck runs his attachment on a Bobcat S185 skid-steer loader. The contractor has over-the-tire tracks that he uses so the machine has flotation when working in wet soil. The tracks are removed from the tires in the winter, when Wruck uses the S185 to remove snow. Wheels have better traction in snow and ice than tracks.

Wruck says he likes how he can use the silt fence installer attachment on more than one piece of equipment. If his skid-steer loader is not available, he can use the attachment on his compact tractor.

Before providing erosion control services, Wruck hired subcontractors to do the work. By doing the work himself, Wruck says he saves time and increases his profitability. “We complete our jobs much faster because we install the fence ourselves and then go on to the next part of the job,” says Wruck.

The cost for Wruck to subcontract silt fence installation varied from $1.40 to $2 a foot, depending on the location. Wruck purchased the silt fence installer attachment in 2007 and installed over 10,000 feet of fence that year. “Not only was that money contributing to my bottom line, I was able to pay for the attachment the year I bought it,” says Wruck. If he maintains his silt fence installer, Wruck says it should last the life of his business, making the attachment a moneymaking investment.

Other Attachments in Erosion Control
The silt fence installer is not the only attachment Dent and Wruck are using for erosion control. Often, there is work that needs to be done before the fence can be installed. On some jobs that Dent is hired to do, erosion onto streets has already occurred. In these cases, he uses a bucket to move the dirt off the street. Wruck uses a Brushcat rotary cutter to clear thick grass and brush where the silt fence will be installed.

Both contractors use pallet fork attachments. Dent uses the forks to move pallets of silt fence stakes around the job site, while Wruck uses them to remove the silt fence. Dent uses a root grapple for fence removal.

Wruck seeds and installs sod or mulch on some erosion control jobs. The grass and mulch are part of the finished product that helps prevent erosion. Wruck has a soil conditioner that he uses to level and prepare the area for the seed, sod, or mulch.

While other attachments are used, Wruck says the silt fence installer does most of the work on erosion control jobs. “The silt fence installer is the first tool you bring when you arrive on a job,” says Wruck.

Dent says the silt fence installer is the best way to complete the work because the attachment does a good job. “With the silt fence installer, the fabric is laid into the ground and you can pull it all you want, even with the stakes, and it won’t move, which is exactly what you want,” says Dent.

Controlling the erosion from a job site does not have to be a time-consuming process. The silt fence installer is a helpful tool that quickly performs its job, whether a contractor wants to install the fence himself like Tony Wruck or hire a contractor like Colter Dent. Wruck and Dent have both found that they have been able to recoup the cost of the attachment within a year, allowing both men to turn this environmental requirement into a profit.