The word “discovery” evokes adventure, significant advancement for mankind, and the possibility of marvelous inventions that have transformed the world. From the harnessing of fire, to the use of metals and fossil fuel, numerous key discoveries have served to advance civilization over thousands of years and that’s without touching on electricity, the printing press, DNA, and numerous other scientific breakthroughs that have revolutionized the world. There is even a TV channel dedicated just to discoveries!
However, as is often the case in construction, something wonderful in one realm may not translate to a job site. Discovery, as in uncovering the unknown while working on site, is nothing less than an annoyance, possibly evolving into a headache, or, with “Murphy’s Law,” a complete catastrophe. Although all contractors encounter surprises sometimes, helical installers, working subterranean, often find things in the ground that they didn’t know were there. Among helical installers, Environmental Remediation contractors, in particular, deal with a lot of unwelcome discoveries!
Recently, Northstar Environmental, an environmental remediation contractor in New Jersey encountered a few surprises on several jobs. Soil testing at a small strip mall in Ocean City, NJ revealed high levels of benzine, a known carcinogenic found in lead-based products. Turns out the building had been constructed on a site previously occupied by a gas station and two tanks were left buried in the ground. Two businesses had to shut down, mercifully in the off-season, and a very intrusive process, involving the demo of the slab, excavation, removal of the tanks, remediation of the soil, and addition of clean fill proceeded. Many of the usual helical suspects were at play: no-vibration, access, mobilization, obstructions (old pilings), and – surprise! … surprise! – two additional old, rusting gas tanks, four total, leaching lead-based gasoline into the soil. The contamination envelope just expanded! A partition wall between the two businesses had to come down to provide access for the machine to install a helical pile to support the partition beam for that wall. This pile was in addition to the original scope of underpinning the foundation wall, for a total of five piles. The helical installation, obstructions aside, turned out to be the easy part of the project, but the helicals helped make the hard part go a lot smoother.
Sea Isle Ice had recently sold their business and was undertaking some capital improvements at their Woodbine, New Jersey branch to ensure smooth sailing for the new owners. Old, abandoned fuel tanks needed to be removed and the soil remediated. The icehouse consisted of a newer addition and an older section. Both sections of the building were on brick foundations. Excavation for the fuel tanks revealed that the newer section was in okay shape, but the older section had deteriorated. The decision was made to underpin the entire foundation in the affected area and to use angle iron underneath the footer to maintain its integrity and to ensure a better bracket to foundation connection. Northstar was originally hired to perform the tank removal and remediation work, but now added foundation underpinning to their scope. It looked like a straightforward job in which they would be working outside with no access or mobilization issues such as they encountered in Ocean City.
So far, so good, until they got to the corner of the building where the original building and the addition meet. An abandoned cesspool was discovered! Extreme care had to be taken not to damage it and thereby complicate the clean-up exponentially. A machine with an extended arm needed to reach over the cesspool to carefully install the underpinning piles without collapsing the cesspool. Then the pool could be emptied, the receptacle collapsed, and the soil remediated.
We are all aware of the positive impact many amazing discoveries have had on our world. From smoke signals, to language, to the printing press, to the internet, we have all seen the amazing progress of humankind unfold in just the field of communications alone. However, discoveries on job sites still evoke the same reactions from contractors as they confirm their belief that Murphy was an optimist and communicate their displeasure with phrases such as: Oh, boy! Oh, no! or Oh, s_ _t! (Pun intended!)