Company excels at handling massive volumes in Florida cleanup effort: Gainesville firm brings grinding expertise to bear in aftermath of hurricanes

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Generally speaking, Floridians are a fairly accepting and resourceful lot — accepting of the fact that they occasionally have to deal with hurricanes and the damage associated with them; resourceful in their ability to spring back from a storm’s unbelievably daunting challenges. However, the hurricane season of 2004 may well be remembered not only as one of the most active in recorded history, but also as the year the mettle of even Florida’s heartiest souls was tested. From Tropical Storm Bonnie to Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, Mother Nature’s wrath seemed relentless with each storm targeting a different part of the state.

In between storms, as massive volumes of debris were collected and brought to select sites for processing, the demand for companies equipped to process mountains of debris into a manageable size for removal became immediate and critical. And no one was better suited to handle a task of that size than Wood Resource Recovery (WRR). After Charlie hit, the firm was hired as a subcontractor to Asplundh Environmental Services, Inc., the disaster recovery division of nationally-recognized Asplundh Tree Expert Co., to handle cleanup for the city of Oviedo which, like its neighbor Orlando, suffered heavy vegetative losses. Armed with a 1000 hp Morbark Model 7600 “Boss Hog” horizontal grinder, Gainesville-based WRR set to work ridding the city of its latest contribution of felled debris — even as Frances bore down for another round.

Charlie Packs a Punch
It’s hard to visualize the amount of debris that a storm like Charlie or any other hurricane can generate. Even though the City of Oviedo was spared the widespread structural damage suffered by areas like Punta Gorda and Ft. Myers Beach, the city, nevertheless, lost a goodly amount of its palm and Australian Pine, some of which had been there for 100+ years and seemed virtually indestructible.

“A hurricane’s force is like no other,” says Bill Gaston, WRR’s president and owner. “Charlie came into Central Florida after pounding the southwest coast and still packed a serious punch. After it cleared the area, we were contracted by Asplundh to assist them in their collection, grinding and disposal efforts. We came in with a fleet of nearly 150 trucks to collect green and wood waste, and have been taking it to temporary debris storage and recovery sites (TDSRS) where we process it, and haul it away for disposal.”

Horizontal Advantage
Despite Oviedo’s relatively small size — its population is in the 26,000 range — the volume of material collected from curbsides throughout the city was sufficient enough to warrant three TDSRS sites in the immediate area. There, it was fed into Gaston’s horizontal grinder which, he says, really showed its colors during this period alone.

“There are currently all sorts of grinders — from every major grinder manufacturer — at work out here,” he says. “And the bulk of those are tub grinders which can be excellent performers. I should know, just prior to getting this unit, I traded in a pair of Morbark Model 1300s, the second of which was leaving here as Charlie was coming onshore. However, I really feel the Boss Hog I have now will outperform anything — even a pair of tub grinders. I am rotating it between the three TDSRS sites and the loaders have to work just to keep it fed. That’s what you need in a situation like this. It seems it’s the only way we can even come close to getting the upper hand on things.”

According to Gaston, a number of factors played into his decision to purchase a horizontal grinder, including the fact that he can now grind virtually anywhere without the risk of flying debris.

“These TDSRS locations are fairly remote,’ he says, “so debris exiting the hopper would not really be a concern. However, there have been times with our tubs when we were working in areas adjacent to residences or businesses and we had to be very careful that the operator properly fed the unit to keep debris in the tub. In addition, I like the fact that the 7600 is an upfeed mill, that is, it feeds material in an upward direction. That design eliminates having the impact forces concentrated in a single area; instead it spreads them over the entire screen area. A downfeed mill, on the other hand, tries to force-feed all the material through a single area on the bottom of the unit. You can literally feel the ground move when a downfeed mill is at work. This unit does not, which tells me that it is not suffering the degree of stress of many of those other grinders. We’ve literally been 100 yards away, on the back side of a pile and could not feel or hear the unit at work.”

Changes in Attitudes
If it sounds like Gaston and his crew know a thing or two about trees, perhaps that’s because the company that is now Wood Resource Recovery started out in 1972 as a tree service company. According to Gaston, the change in attitudes toward material disposal in the 1980s prompted a corresponding expansion of their business.

“Our original name — and the name of our current parent company — was Gaston’s Tree Service, and we specialized in doing commercial and residential tree trimming and removal. In the 1980s when burning and landfilling green waste was banned, we had to find alternative ways to dispose of the material we were generating. So we looked at other ways to dispose of that vegetation. We came up with the idea of processing it into a product that we could return to the community.”

The end product for that collected waste is as varied as Gaston’s operation itself. The company grinds material for use as boiler fuel; creates a mulch product — both natural and colored — for landscaping; and even offers blower truck technology to apply it. To process that material, Gaston first employed a number of different machines before putting the tub grinders from Morbark into service.

“In fact we didn’t even process the material ourselves at the outset,” he says. “We subbed that portion of the job out. However, once we decided to do the grinding ourselves, we were forced to use what was available at the time. In retrospect, it was not much to speak of: a small grinder that didn’t work well at all and another unit that performed well enough, but was far too undersized for what we needed. So, based on Morbark’s presence in the market and their reputation for backing their equipment, we purchased a pair of Morbark 1300 tub grinders. They were excellent performers for us and would probably still be at work had we not begun to get involved in storm cleanup and migrated to the Model 7600 Boss Hog. Either way, we can’t say enough about the Morbark contribution to our operation and its growth.”

No Rest for the Weary
The TDSRS locations in Oviedo will yield better than 150,000 cubic yards of mulch, which will keep Gaston’s crew busy for the better part of the next few months. Because sitting idle is definitely not a part of this business, WRR already has a contract currently getting underway.

“We are slated to take part in a project in Alachua County near Gainesville clearing debris from Hurricane Frances. A major national waste management firm is the prime contractor and we will be the grinding company of record. We have a half dozen contracts going on now and they vary in size and scope. If things get any worse we will be stretched thin but we will cope somehow; we always do down here.”

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