Pumping Post Katrina
Putting the pieces back together after the devastation of a hurricane like Katrina could mean boom or bust depending on your attitude. For Eric Kuntz, owner of SMECO, the adversity of running a business from a remote location right after the storm has turned into business as usual on the two year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm hit the gulf coast as a Category Three Hurricane on August 29th, 2005. Projects that have resulted from the storm damage are keeping the Kenner, Louisiana pumping firm busy and concrete is the material of choice in New Orleans to withstand future hurricanes. But the overall population is down in the surrounding parishes with a resulting slowdown in construction activity.
“We sat out the storm in an all-concrete bank service center because my wife and I wanted to be by our daughter who was due to have a baby at a nearby hospital, Kuntz explains, “After the storm, we had 10-inches of water in our house, the roof was blown off my shop and there was no electricity. I gathered up my family and we went to Baton Rouge because the streets weren’t safe here and there were not basic services. That’s where my grandchild was eventually born.”
The fast purchase of a house in Gonzales, 40 miles west of New Orleans, provided a shelter for the Kuntz family and a base of operations for SMECO.
“We didn’t have any place for the trucks so they stayed at the shop but we set up mail service, internet and telephones at the new house,” Matt Kuntz, son of the owner and a principal in the business recalled. This is where SMECO operated from for two months while the shop was repaired. But it was two months of inactivity from a pumping standpoint as the area struggled to get back on its feet. A fund set-up by the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA) to subsidize out-of-work operators helped. “That was some of the most rewarding work I felt the ACPA had done,” states Christi Collins, executive director of the association, “And a recent safety meeting in the area had nearly 60 operators turn out so it is good to see that they are getting back on their feet.”
Today, within sight of intense construction activity for a new bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain, lies acres and acres of commercial and residential wasteland in East New Orleans. FEMA trailers sit in the front yards of those people who are rebuilding. Shuttered retailers, abandoned hotels, vacant strip malls and entire neighborhoods devoid of life are grim reminders of the storm.
New Orleans borders the south side of Lake Pontchartrain. Much of the new construction activity has moved to the north side of the lake as businesses and residents shield themselves from possible future storms. Because the major lake crossings were damaged by Katrina, there is an urgency to repair and replace some of the existing causeways and bridges. SMECO is working on two of these projects.
The Rigolet’s Bridge carries State Highway 90 across the northeast corner of Lake Pontchartrain to the growing north shore area and to Biloxi, Mississippi, a vacation and gambling destination. Like most of the bridges that span Lake Pontchartrain, the storm surge damaged the deck and support piers. Massman Construction is building a new bridge with on-going support from SMECO using their Schwing S45SX with 148-feet of reach. The curved Super X front outriggers with a front compact spread of 27’3” have been useful for fast set-up, pouring retaining walls, parapet walls and the decks . Known for its stability, the S 45 SX has industry leading 102 psi soil pressures on the front outriggers and 98 psi on the rears with factory supplied dunnage which is a factor when setting-up on existing bridge decks.
The Twin Span is another large Louisiana DOT project that is Interstate 10 across the Lake. It will replace an existing five-mile bridge that was damaged by Katrina. Traffic is currently restricted on the west side of the old bridge and daily inspections assure safe traffic flow until the new bridge is completed. Pre-cast pilings are being installed by joint venture Traylor Brothers-Kiewit-Massman. SMECO is presently pouring footings for the project using their Schwing 34X on a barge. The 300 cubic yard pours are being accomplished using ready-mix shuttle barges that supply 30 yards per hour to feed the booms 112-foot reach. The X-Style outriggers are compact when setting up on a tight barge and provide a stable platform for the pump as it floats on Lake Pontchartrain.
One of the businesses relocating to the north is Chevron Gulf Operations. Their downtown New Orleans location was only a block from the mandatory hurricane evacuation zone so a new campus near Covington, Louisiana is being constructed to assure continuous operation. The company displaced their employees for five months before reoccupying their downtown location in February of 2006. The new four story 300,000 square foot office building is a tilt-up design with an adjoining five level parking structure. Clayco, a design/build and construction firm headquartered in St. Louis is in a joint venture with Mapp Construction, Baton Rouge. During the week of June 18th, 2007 the concrete panels were installed. These panels weigh 220,000 lbs each, and at four-stories high, they are the largest panels to be used in the State of Louisiana. SMECO’s S58SX pumped these panels utilizing its 188-feet of reach. The pump is able to reach the majority of locations for panels and flatwork from one location. The pumps’ ability to reach these far-flung pours from one location has been important because of continuing wet conditions that make travel difficult in the red clay soil of new Orleans. The team has been able to keep the project on schedule for completion in 2008.
Other pumping projects that have been as a result of Katrina are readiness centers for future emergencies that have been primarily tilt-up construction. Levees designed to withstand Category 5 hurricanes are planned by the Corps of Engineers but “those will take 20 years,” according to Kuntz. Meanwhile concrete pumps from SMECO continuously reinforce existing retaining walls to withstand future storm surge. Canal work to move water away from the city faster is on-going with SMECO pumps providing concrete to replace mud bottoms and sides.
The future looks bright for SMECO with their 30-pump fleet but a shortage of operators is a continuing problem. “A lot of people left and with homeowner’s insurance premiums so high, a lot of them can’t come back, “explains Kuntz, “If we don’t have a major hurricane this season, I think you will see more commercial development.” The best sign of Eric Kuntz commitment to his market is his willingness to invest in new pumps for the rebuilding of New Orleans as evidenced by his new S 58 SX. As a Schwing dealer he is also committed to the other pumpers in the area supporting them in their endeavors to participate in the rebuilding process.