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Conquering cobble for fibre’s sake

In conditions where others had ventured unsuccessfully, Canadian contractor Accurate HD emerges victorious in a challenging trenchless battle with the underground.

Vermeer's D100x140 Navigator horizontal directional drill successfully navigated the stone and cobble beneath the Little Saskatchewan River.
Vermeer's D100x140 Navigator horizontal directional drill successfully navigated the stone and cobble beneath the Little Saskatchewan River.

When the site for incorporating the village of Rivers, Manitobawas chosen in the early 1900s, the community’s visionary founders could not foresee a day when there would be a need to install fibreoptic cable underground so that the residents of this bustling community, located 146 miles (235 km) west of Winnipeg in southwest Manitoba, could enjoy fast and efficient access to the Internet. Nor would they have known how its geographic location, situated atop a ridge of stone and cobble, might wreak havoc for trenchless contractors attempting to install the fibreoptic cable network beneath their town. But, that’s exactly what happened.

As the town of Rivers grew, so did the need for moremodern communication technology, specifically, access to cellular telephone and cable television service,and access the Internet via a high speed fibreoptic network. In early 2011, Rivers town officials, school administrators and parents alike were in mutual agreement that for the town of Rivers to remain competitive, its somewhat rural location should no longer be an information technology impediment. So the company that provides communications products and services to southern and central Manitoba got to work and mapped out a detailed installation plan to connect the folks of Rivers to the company’s existing fibreoptic network.

Things aren’t always as they appear on the surface

The nearest connection point was located approximately 16 miles (26 km) from Rivers in soil conditions that were much different at the point of origin from what lies just beneath the surface of the town of Rivers. The first 10 miles (16.1 km) was a fairly consistent clay-based soil composition that would present minimal installation challenges. It was the abrupt and unpredictable presence of rock - specifically, well-graded cobble and stone of 4- to 8-inch (10.2- to 20.3-cm) diameter - situated beneath the Little Saskatchewan River just to the southwest of Rivers, that presented the greatest threat to success.

After previous attempts to drill through the stone and cobble had failed, AccurateHD, a Canadian-based installation contractor experienced in horizontal directional drilling technology, arrived on the scene.

“When we first started the job, Rivers town officials who had been close to the project said we’d likely have to go overhead with the fibre in town,” says Jessie McKuski, one of the three founders of Accurate HD, who also served as project superintendent on the Rivers job. “Based on earlier failed attempts, they felt that the odds of drilling through the cobble successfully were not in our favour.”

Employing a combination installation approach

The installation plan involved installing HDPE conduit to house the small-diameter fibreoptic cable at depths ranging from 40 to 50 inches (101.6 to 127 cm), along a route that spanned more than 16 miles (25.76 km). The diameter of the HDPE conduit varied from 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in town, to 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) in areas outside Rivers’ town limits.

For the 8.7-mile (14km) stretch from the fibreoptic network connection point to the Little Saskatchewan River, located a stone’s throw outside of town, McKuski employed the company’s Vermeer XTS1250 ride-on tractor with vibratory cable plow attachment. “Since fibreoptic cable is small in diameter, and the ground conditions outside of Rivers were mostly clay, the cable plow was a very efficient method,” he says. “It didn’t make sense to trench it, since we could use the vibratory cable plow and cover more ground faster. The only time we actually dug anything is where the fibreoptic connection vaults were located. We installed 25 vaults in all, but digging those in was relatively easy.”

Several roads, marshes and environmentally sensitive areas - in addition to a 1,200-foot (365.8m) crossing beneath the Little Saskatchewan River - necessitated the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) equipment to install the HDPE conduit. Accurate HD completed 32 bores beneath roads and marshes in the rural areas, ranging from 100 to 1,200 feet (30.5 to 365.8 m). “The drill we used comes with 500 feet (152.4 m) of drill rod; however, it is easy to change the racks so we could bore longer shots,” McKuski says. “It helped to minimize the amount of topsoil replacement and seeding we’d have to do the following spring.”

McKuski selected the company’s Vermeer D36x50 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill to tackle all bores except the 1,200-foot (365.8m) crossing beneath the Little Saskatchewan River where he employed the Vermeer D100x140 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill, primarily because of the length and intricacies of that shot. It was there where things started to get somewhat complicated.

“It was as if the river was the dividing line between the soft, dry clay and the abrupt presence of some of the most difficult cobble we’ve ever encountered,” McKuski says. “Once we got underneath that river, it was like somebody had dumped a whole bunch of rocks there. We had selected the Vermeer D100x140 drill initially because of the length of the bore. But as it turned out, after we encountered the stone and cobble, it was a blessing we were using that drill.

“The abundance and variation in size of cobble was unlike anything we’d ever encountered. The prescribed tolerance beneath the river was specified at 5 feet (1.5 m), but we drilled down to 26 feet (7.9 m), which was 10 feet (3 m) below the bottom of the river, out of necessity because of the angle of the bore and close proximity of the drill launch site to the river bank. Yet, given all the cobble and challenges, we were still able to complete the bore in less than eight hours. Nobody else had been able to do that.”

Onward and upward into Rivers

After successfully navigating the cobble beneath the Little Saskatchewan River, the Accurate HD trenchless battalion began their forward march into Rivers’ town limits. There, HDD was used exclusively. McKuski chose another Vermeer drill from his equipment arsenal - a D36x50 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill with 10-foot (3m) rod lengths -  for the in-town work.

“The D36x50 Series II drill works great in town because of its small footprint,” McKuski says. “It allows us to get into tight places, which increases the number of options we have when scouting launch sites; plus, the D36x50 Series II is very effective in drilling through that rocky ground.

“We’ve found it to be a very capable drill that can be used on just about any congested urban site, without creating a lot of damage to the surrounding landscape,” he says. “It’s a small machine, but it has a lot of power for its size.”

All in all, 40 trenchless bores were completed along the 7.5-mile (12km) route to the town of Rivers, including several road and marsh crossings before the Accurate HD trenchless experts encountered the cobble-laden bore beneath the Little Saskatchewan River. In the heavy clay before the river, a 4.5-inch (11.4 cm) duckbilldrill bit was used, which according to McKuski is more accurate in softer soil conditions. “The duckbill bit is larger indiameter, which, in our experience, makesit easier to steer,” McKuski says. “It’smeant for clay and softer ground.”

Where the drill plan involved connecting schools, government buildings, businesses and homes within the town of Rivers, the beneath-the-surface conditions included quite a bit of rock so McKuski went with Vermeer Armor tooling.

“Ground conditions were harsher than we first thought, so that’s why we switched to the Armor head after the first shot,” Mc- Kuski says. “We used the Armor tooling exclusively in town. The Armor tooling is made with carbide, and the specific bit we used is shaped similar to a shovel or halfmoon. It’s a smaller diameter, width-wise, but thicker so it does not veer offline as much when you hit a rock. When we’re going through cobble, we don’t want an aggressive bit, because it’ll grab onto the rock and stall your rotation. So with the Armor tooling, drill bit forward movement is more gradual, not so aggressive, which is ideal for cobble.”

The job, which kicked off in mid-October, 2012 was completed on December 9. Despite the stone and cobble conditions, McKuski was impressed with the production rates his trenchless crews were able to accomplish underground.

“We averaged from 450 to 500 feet (137.2 to 152.4 m) per day,” he says. “We felt that was really good for the conditions. On the first shot, when we started out using the standard dirt bit, we were lucky to get 300 feet (91.4 m). But after we switched to the Armor tooling, which we also used for all the bores in town with the D36x50 Series II drill, we were easily getting 500 feet (152.4 m) a day. It really enhanced the overall efficiency of the job.”

Accurate HD was founded by McKuski and brothers-in-law Stan Dueck and Scott Rosden. The trio of trenchless experts had all worked for another contractor prior to venturing out on their own in July 2007. Early on, the majority of the company’s business involved water, sewer and gas pipeline installations; and later expanded into the field of fibreoptic connections in 2011. Accurate HD employs more than 30 directional drilling experts and operates from three Canadian-based locations, including Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina.

“The Rivers project turned out to be one of the most challenging jobs we’ve ever done,” says McKuski, “and we’ve got more than 30 collective years of experience in HDD. In all the years I’ve been using trenchless equipment, we’ve not encountered rock and cobble conditions that tested the capabilities of our drilling equipment like those at Rivers. Completing the job successfully can largely be attributed to the durability, reliability and overall capabilities of our equipment, and the experience of our drill operators.”

Accurate HD chose the Vermeer D36x50 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill for the installation of underground fibreoptic cables for the town of Rivers, Manitoba.

When the site for incorporating the village of Rivers, Manitobawas chosen in the early 1900s, the community’s visionary founders could not foresee a day when there would be a need to install fibreoptic cable underground so that the residents of this bustling community, located 146 miles (235 km) west of Winnipeg in southwest Manitoba, could enjoy fast and efficient access to the Internet. Nor would they have known how its geographic location, situated atop a ridge of stone and cobble, might wreak havoc for trenchless contractors attempting to install the fibreoptic cable network beneath their town. But, that’s exactly what happened.

As the town of Rivers grew, so did the need for moremodern communication technology, specifically, access to cellular telephone and cable television service,and access the Internet via a high speed fibreoptic network. In early 2011, Rivers town officials, school administrators and parents alike were in mutual agreement that for the town of Rivers to remain competitive, its somewhat rural location should no longer be an information technology impediment. So the company that provides communications products and services to southern and central Manitoba got to work and mapped out a detailed installation plan to connect the folks of Rivers to the company’s existing fibreoptic network.

Things aren’t always as they appear on the surface

The nearest connection point was located approximately 16 miles (26 km) from Rivers in soil conditions that were much different at the point of origin from what lies just beneath the surface of the town of Rivers. The first 10 miles (16.1 km) was a fairly consistent clay-based soil composition that would present minimal installation challenges. It was the abrupt and unpredictable presence of rock - specifically, well-graded cobble and stone of 4- to 8-inch (10.2- to 20.3-cm) diameter - situated beneath the Little Saskatchewan River just to the southwest of Rivers, that presented the greatest threat to success.

After previous attempts to drill through the stone and cobble had failed, AccurateHD, a Canadian-based installation contractor experienced in horizontal directional drilling technology, arrived on the scene.

“When we first started the job, Rivers town officials who had been close to the project said we’d likely have to go overhead with the fibre in town,” says Jessie McKuski, one of the three founders of Accurate HD, who also served as project superintendent on the Rivers job. “Based on earlier failed attempts, they felt that the odds of drilling through the cobble successfully were not in our favour.”

Employing a combination installation approach

The installation plan involved installing HDPE conduit to house the small-diameter fibreoptic cable at depths ranging from 40 to 50 inches (101.6 to 127 cm), along a route that spanned more than 16 miles (25.76 km). The diameter of the HDPE conduit varied from 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in town, to 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) in areas outside Rivers’ town limits.

For the 8.7-mile (14km) stretch from the fibreoptic network connection point to the Little Saskatchewan River, located a stone’s throw outside of town, McKuski employed the company’s Vermeer XTS1250 ride-on tractor with vibratory cable plow attachment. “Since fibreoptic cable is small in diameter, and the ground conditions outside of Rivers were mostly clay, the cable plow was a very efficient method,” he says. “It didn’t make sense to trench it, since we could use the vibratory cable plow and cover more ground faster. The only time we actually dug anything is where the fibreoptic connection vaults were located. We installed 25 vaults in all, but digging those in was relatively easy.”

Several roads, marshes and environmentally sensitive areas - in addition to a 1,200-foot (365.8m) crossing beneath the Little Saskatchewan River - necessitated the use of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) equipment to install the HDPE conduit. Accurate HD completed 32 bores beneath roads and marshes in the rural areas, ranging from 100 to 1,200 feet (30.5 to 365.8 m). “The drill we used comes with 500 feet (152.4 m) of drill rod; however, it is easy to change the racks so we could bore longer shots,” McKuski says. “It helped to minimize the amount of topsoil replacement and seeding we’d have to do the following spring.”

McKuski selected the company’s Vermeer D36x50 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill to tackle all bores except the 1,200-foot (365.8m) crossing beneath the Little Saskatchewan River where he employed the Vermeer D100x140 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill, primarily because of the length and intricacies of that shot. It was there where things started to get somewhat complicated.

“It was as if the river was the dividing line between the soft, dry clay and the abrupt presence of some of the most difficult cobble we’ve ever encountered,” McKuski says. “Once we got underneath that river, it was like somebody had dumped a whole bunch of rocks there. We had selected the Vermeer D100x140 drill initially because of the length of the bore. But as it turned out, after we encountered the stone and cobble, it was a blessing we were using that drill.

“The abundance and variation in size of cobble was unlike anything we’d ever encountered. The prescribed tolerance beneath the river was specified at 5 feet (1.5 m), but we drilled down to 26 feet (7.9 m), which was 10 feet (3 m) below the bottom of the river, out of necessity because of the angle of the bore and close proximity of the drill launch site to the river bank. Yet, given all the cobble and challenges, we were still able to complete the bore in less than eight hours. Nobody else had been able to do that.”

Onward and upward into Rivers

After successfully navigating the cobble beneath the Little Saskatchewan River, the Accurate HD trenchless battalion began their forward march into Rivers’ town limits. There, HDD was used exclusively. McKuski chose another Vermeer drill from his equipment arsenal - a D36x50 Series II Navigator horizontal directional drill with 10-foot (3m) rod lengths -  for the in-town work.

“The D36x50 Series II drill works great in town because of its small footprint,” McKuski says. “It allows us to get into tight places, which increases the number of options we have when scouting launch sites; plus, the D36x50 Series II is very effective in drilling through that rocky ground.

“We’ve found it to be a very capable drill that can be used on just about any congested urban site, without creating a lot of damage to the surrounding landscape,” he says. “It’s a small machine, but it has a lot of power for its size.”

All in all, 40 trenchless bores were completed along the 7.5-mile (12km) route to the town of Rivers, including several road and marsh crossings before the Accurate HD trenchless experts encountered the cobble-laden bore beneath the Little Saskatchewan River. In the heavy clay before the river, a 4.5-inch (11.4 cm) duckbilldrill bit was used, which according to McKuski is more accurate in softer soil conditions. “The duckbill bit is larger indiameter, which, in our experience, makesit easier to steer,” McKuski says. “It’smeant for clay and softer ground.”

Where the drill plan involved connecting schools, government buildings, businesses and homes within the town of Rivers, the beneath-the-surface conditions included quite a bit of rock so McKuski went with Vermeer Armor tooling.

“Ground conditions were harsher than we first thought, so that’s why we switched to the Armor head after the first shot,” Mc- Kuski says. “We used the Armor tooling exclusively in town. The Armor tooling is made with carbide, and the specific bit we used is shaped similar to a shovel or halfmoon. It’s a smaller diameter, width-wise, but thicker so it does not veer offline as much when you hit a rock. When we’re going through cobble, we don’t want an aggressive bit, because it’ll grab onto the rock and stall your rotation. So with the Armor tooling, drill bit forward movement is more gradual, not so aggressive, which is ideal for cobble.”

The job, which kicked off in mid-October, 2012 was completed on December 9. Despite the stone and cobble conditions, McKuski was impressed with the production rates his trenchless crews were able to accomplish underground.

“We averaged from 450 to 500 feet (137.2 to 152.4 m) per day,” he says. “We felt that was really good for the conditions. On the first shot, when we started out using the standard dirt bit, we were lucky to get 300 feet (91.4 m). But after we switched to the Armor tooling, which we also used for all the bores in town with the D36x50 Series II drill, we were easily getting 500 feet (152.4 m) a day. It really enhanced the overall efficiency of the job.”

Accurate HD was founded by McKuski and brothers-in-law Stan Dueck and Scott Rosden. The trio of trenchless experts had all worked for another contractor prior to venturing out on their own in July 2007. Early on, the majority of the company’s business involved water, sewer and gas pipeline installations; and later expanded into the field of fibreoptic connections in 2011. Accurate HD employs more than 30 directional drilling experts and operates from three Canadian-based locations, including Winnipeg, Edmonton and Regina.

“The Rivers project turned out to be one of the most challenging jobs we’ve ever done,” says McKuski, “and we’ve got more than 30 collective years of experience in HDD. In all the years I’ve been using trenchless equipment, we’ve not encountered rock and cobble conditions that tested the capabilities of our drilling equipment like those at Rivers. Completing the job successfully can largely be attributed to the durability, reliability and overall capabilities of our equipment, and the experience of our drill operators.”

Company info

1210 Vermeer Road East
Pella, IA
US, 50219

Website:
vermeer.com

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