Gerken Ferries Quality to North Bass Island
When Gerken Companies, Napoleon, Ohio, was hired to pave a remote island airport runway, Area Manager Kyle Borstelman felt a mix of nervousness and excitement.
“We were interested in the job because we knew it would be a great job to put on our resume if we could accomplish it,” Borstelman said. Along with the prime contractor on the job, Tenmile Creek Excavating, Metamora, Ohio, Gerken set about thinking through the logistics of the challenging project.
North Bass Island (NBI) is a 688-acre island belonging to Ohio, located in Lake Erie halfway between Ohio’s Port Clinton and Kingsport, Ontario, in Canada. Nearly 600 acres of the island remains undeveloped and is preserved as North Bass Island State Park.
The island has been historically used as a vineyard; Ohio still leases 38 acres of vineyards to Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio.
The island does, however, have its own airport. North Bass Island Airport is part of the Put-in-Bay Port Authority and has a 1,800-foot airstrip. While tricky to navigate due to its proximity to Canadian airspace, the airport is a necessity for the residents of the island. According to a 2018 article by The Columbus Dispatch, the island has a population of eight.
NBI has no ferry service and is surrounded by ice four months of the year. The airport provides transit to the mainland, mail service, and even shuttles students to nearby high schools.
The runway was initially paved in 1995 and after nearly 25 years of use, was in need of repaving. The improvements were funded by a $2.3 million grant from the Federal Aviation Authority.
Transportation of the mix to the job site presented a number of challenges, including a long drive and ferry ride to the job site and weight limitations on the island’s dock and roads.
“The dock hasn’t been used for many years. All of the island’s goods are flown in, which is why they were concerned about getting the airport refurbished,” Borstelman said. When they first bid the project, they realized the dock wouldn’t support haul trucks and equipment trucks. The edges of the dock were beginning to wash away, the shoring was starting to deteriorate and much of the decking on the dock was broken. “Even with a lighter vehicle on that dock, you’d have to be careful. There was no way it would support our trucks weighing 80,000 pounds.”
Gerken considered doing a barge landing on the beach instead of using the dock. However, it was determined to be too risky with water level fluctuation and rough currents. They also briefly considered a portable plant, but quickly realized they would encounter the same challenges bringing the plant, materials and other equipment to the island. In the end, ferrying equipment and asphalt to the island was only possible following nearly $500,000 worth of dock improvements, performed by Geo Gradel Co., Toledo, Ohio, in 2019.
Another logistical challenge was that Gerken could not use the island’s existing roads due to weight restrictions. So, Tenmile Creek created its own temporary road by mowing a one-mile route through old vineyard fields to the runway. Even this became a challenge. Due to heavy rainfall, Tenmile Creek had to compact and add stone to wet areas to prevent damage to the land and limit the risk of a truck getting stuck.
“The whole time we were transporting equipment and mix to and from the jobsite, Tenmile had a roller operator out there rolling out the wheel ruts we were creating as we were creating them,” Borstelman said.
Once those obstacles were behind them, the Gerken team still had to figure out how to transport mix to the job without sacrificing quality.
Ferry the Mix
On a sunny, 50-degree morning in October 2019, Gerken fired up its Astec plant in Parkertown, Ohio. They had to do the job later in the year because the company contracted to ferry the equipment and mix over during the job, Miller Ferry, Put-In-Bay, Ohio, was too busy with normal operations carrying passengers and goods around the area throughout the summer months.
The first two ferries and the last two ferries of each day carried the crew, the paver, the rollers, the foreman’s truck, distributor truck, and water truck. “We wanted our equipment off the island at the end of each day, in case something came up,” Borstelman said. “We didn’t want our equipment stuck out there in the event of bad weather.”
To get the mix to the island required a one-hour drive from the Parkertown plant to the port and another hour on the ferry. Gerken hired two ferries to transport its 16 haul trucks for each day’s paving. Every truck on the job had to have working tarps and proper insulation because of the long haul.
Additionally, Gerken tried to use as many live-bottom trucks as possible on the job. “We find that they’re very well-insulated and hold temperature better than straight boxes,” Borstelman said.
Each ferry carried four trucks for a total of 80 tons of asphalt per trip, making eight trips to deliver mix per day. The drivers of each group of four trucks made sure to stick together on the road so they could load onto the ferry together.
“We didn’t want the ferry sitting there waiting for our trucks on the island and being late to pick up the loaded trucks at the dock on the mainland,” Borstelman said. “The crew on the island was able to get into a sequence of four trucks per hour so they could make it back to the dock in time for the next ferry of haul trucks to come in.”
“We passed four full trucks at the halfway point on the lake when we were headed back to the mainland with four empty trucks,” said Adam Shaefer, Evotherm technical specialist. “When we hit dry land, the next four loaded trucks were arriving from the plant ready to board the ferry. It was like clockwork.”
Gerken’s dispatching team uses Verizon Connect to track its trucking fleet, so they rarely needed to call in to check on trucks to adjust ferry dock timing.
The runway, which was 60 feet wide, would be paved in four 15-foot passes with Gerken’s Roadtec RP 190E paver. With the timing of the ferries, this resulted in a paving speed of just under 10 feet per minute. However, on the last day of paving, everyone had to kick it into high gear.
“Lake weather in October isn’t the best,” Borstelman said. After three days of paving according to schedule, the weather forecast called for less-than-optimal paving conditions. Temperatures were expected to drop and the wind was expected to get worse. “We had roughly 30 hours before the weather was going to go south on us. We had to make a big decision. If we didn’t finish the runway within the day, completion of the project would have been postponed until sometime in 2020.”
Gerken contacted the team at Miller Ferry to ask if they would be able to ferry their trucks overnight. They hired additional haul trucks and brought in the company’s other crews so they could complete the project in multiple back-to-back shifts. In the end, they wrapped up the project after 22 hours of round-the-clock paving.
They were also able to speed up production during the overnight shift, since Miller Ferry was able to free up two additional ferries for the project. With four ferries, the crew was able to pave nearly 100 tons per hour at a speed of 15 feet per minute. Even at an elevated speed, compared to when they only had access to two ferries, the crew still needed to pave slowly to alleviate any unnecessary cold joints,” Borstelman said.
The crew paved two 2-inch lifts with a P403 PG64-22 mix, a common design for runways carrying aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. In total, the job required just under 3,600 tons of asphalt, plus an additional 40 tons the Gerken crew ended up paving on the dock as they got on the ferry the last day. “We literally paved right up to the ferry,” Borstelman said.
Ingenuity with Ingevity
The job also had a percent-within-limits (PWL) specification with a bonus for how closely inside the density boundaries Gerken’s actual measurements were. “Warm-mix was the only way we could accomplish this job,” said Jim Shoemaker, quality control manager at Gerken.
They added Evotherm, a warm-mix asphalt (WMA) additive from Ingevity Corporation, North Charleston, South Carolina, to the mix at 0.4 percent. Shoemaker said Gerken has been using Evotherm for about a year.
“We chose Evotherm as a sort of insurance policy for the long haul, trying to ensure the mix remained workable over the hours-long trip the trucks would make from the plant to lay-down,” Shoemaker said. “With the ability to compact the mix with Evotherm at lower temperatures, it seemed like the best option.”
They initially produced the mix at 310 degrees Fahrenheit to see how much temperature loss the mix would experience, as well as how it would react to the ferry ride. However, they discovered after the first few loads that they were only losing about 15 degrees from the plant to the paver, despite the long haul.
“We were seeing such high temps at the job site that the rollers had to wait to get on it,” Borstelman said, adding that the first loads behind the paver were around 290 degrees Fahrenheit.
After adjusting the production temperature to around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the rollers, both Sakai 774ND oscillatory double drum rollers, were able to get on the mat right away.
“Our concerns were through the roof when we were ready to take off,” Borstelman said. “At one point, we were just hoping the material would come out of the back of the truck. After the first few loads arrived, our foreman and the crew behind the screed were fascinated by the quality of the product we were getting.”
Gerken used a standard rolling pattern, though Shoemaker said they allowed the mix to set up a bit before they began rolling “as these mixes always seem to be a bit tender.” In the end, densities averaged between 93.5 to 94.5 percent and met the PWL specification.
“We were thrilled we were able to succeed on this job,” Borstelman said. “Not only did it show that we could do it, but I think everyone is happy with the final product. There were a lot of moving parts that had to go just right for the job to be successful, but everyone on the project worked really well together.”