Tackling the Impossible

Sept. 1, 2003
“Sometimes you show up for a job and you just have to laugh,” says Mark Mainquist, owner of CYN-MAR Environmental, a Nebraska-based erosion control company. “The conditions can be so brutal and challenging that at times you can’t even walk up and down the hills in the project site.”
But challenge is something that Mainquist relishes, and tackling next-to-impossible projects in Kansas and Nebraska is what CYN-MAR is all about. Founded in 1988, CYN-MAR Environmental (a name that was mutually agreed upon by Mark and his wife Cyndy) specializes in handling erosion control issues in road and bridge construction areas. And even though erosion control has become a vital topic in many transportation departments as of late, it wasn’t always that way. “In the ’80s, if you mentioned erosion control around the other contractors at a job site, they would just giggle and turn their back on you,” says Mainquist. “The times have certainly changed.”Indeed they have. Federal and state departments are paying close attention to erosion control issues at road and bridge construction sites, and it has become a critical part of the overall project plan (particularly if the plan involves state highway money and federal matching). This and overall increased awareness of environmental issues have played key roles in keeping CYN-MAR extremely busy. In late 2001, the Nebraska Department of Roads began work on expanding a portion of Highway 275 between Norfolk and Stanton from two lanes to four in each direction. Located in a hilly section of northeast Nebraska, the area is often referred to as “The Bavarian Alps” of Nebraska by locals and contractors alike. The project had three stages as each side of the highway was expanded, followed by redevelopment of the median. Nebraska Hydroseeding of Gretna, NE, was contracted to handle the erosion control part of the job. Mainquist and his machines were back on their payroll. “A job like this takes a lot of coordination,” says Mainquist. “Working for them allows me to be in the field doing what my machines and I do best.”The initial work consisted of leveling the “Alps” along an 11-mi. stretch, cutting, and filling. In some areas of deep fills, 240 days of settling was required. However, heavy rains throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2002 delayed the work because the ground was oversaturated. Once crews were able to get at the site, Mainquist realized he had his work cut out for him.“The cuts that were about 2:1 in slope definitely made it not easy to maneuver around in,” he says. “But we specialize in slope work, so we knew we could handle it. We spend our whole lives going up one side of a hill and back down another.”
One of the reasons Mainquist was so confident was from his years of experience: There was not much he hadn’t seen. Another reason was his choice of equipment. He had used a high-tech, all-purpose loader from ASV Inc., an affiliate of Caterpillar, on several similar projects. Similar in shape to a skid-steer, the loader utilizes a patented rubber-track undercarriage that provides traction, power, and high flotation. These attributes made it ideal for the steep slopes where he would be working. The ASV machines also have an extremely low ground pressure (2.53.0 psi, depending on the type of machine, compared to the 6.0 psi of a person walking across the ground or the 50 psi of a traditional skid-steer), which allowed Mainquist to operate on sensitive erosion control netting without doing damage.Mainquist went to work on various soils, from clay to sugar clay, including some very sandy areas. Using the ASV equipment, silt fences were installed throughout the projectÑall of which had to be maintained by removing the silt and sediment that accumulated after each rain event in some very awkward places. In all, 6,800 hay bales were placed in bale checks notched out by the machines. As slopes were completed, the final step of laying the net both in ditches and on slopes could be accomplished.“Laying down the net is the biggest part of the job,” notes Mainquist. “With proper machinery, it will take 60 to 80 days and a crew of 13 to get the job done. Getting the job done correctly is always the first priority, but getting it done fast certainly doesn’t hurt. Saving time saves money, and that helps us offer a low bid on projects.” Once the Type A erosion control netting was down, 0.25 in. of dirt was added on top of the material. “We reused the original dirt from the initial bale check cuts for this part of the process,” says Mainquist.He used the loader with a grade rake attachment to prepare the soil for seeding. He then switched to a seeding attachment to tackle the second stage of the process. The last step was to install the net. “We didn’t want to hand-seed the area because, quite frankly, in places the slopes were too steep,” he recalls. “We also needed to be careful that we did not damage any Type A net that we had laid down. The loader was able to get the job done without ruining the net, which was critical.”To make things even more difficult, the weather continued to be uncooperative throughout the entire process. “We had to just leave our equipment on-site,” says Mainquist. “When the weather finally cleared, we would just head out to the site as soon as possible to get back to work. It really was a muddy mess though.”Nebraska Hydroseeding wrapped up this portion of the work going into winter 2002-2003. The next stages of the multiyear contract began again this spring.