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September 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

BRIDGES AND CULVERTS

BUILDING IN FLEXIBILITY

A certification program in New Brunswick is providing the forest industry with a level of flexibility that allows companies—and certified individuals— to operate more effectively when it comes to the construction and installation of bridges and culverts.

By George Fullerton

 

Hugh Hambly (above, right) who presents the certification course, and Robert Whitney, director of continuing education at the Maritime College of Forest Technology.

In an effort to maintain good water quality in the forest, forestry operations are continually refining their guidelines and management, in addition to dealing with a growing array of provincial regulations around road building and harvesting. While no one questions the need and desire to maintain water quality, the nature of bureaucracy sometimes makes compliance with regulations a very time-consuming—and often frustrating—exercise.

The New Brunswick Department of Environment (DOE) enacted Clean Water Legislation in the 1980s and began working with the forest industry to ensure compliance. The department promoted Best Management Practices for work being done near water, and began requiring permits for construction of bridges or installation of culverts in brooks and streams.

The legislation required all forestry operations on private lands to file permit applications for every individual bridge and culvert installation. The department issued work permits for a time window of June to September, when rainfall and water flow is generally at its lowest. (In New Brunswick, Crown lands operations allow smaller drainages to be administered through the licence operating plan.)

Each permit was accompanied by specifications including size requirements and installation or construction guidelines that outlined Best Management Practices for mitigating damage while working near watercourses. Each installation was also subject to a random audit by department staff to determine if the work was carried out according to the permit. Although the permit system has evolved and gained good compliance, there have traditionally been complaints that it was slow and awkward, and not responding effectively to the forest industry, in particular.

“The department receives numerous Watercourse and Wetland Alteration permit applications through the year, most of which come during the spring and summer months,” explains Catherine Poirier, a technician with the Watercourse and Wetland Alteration program.

“A large portion of these applications come from the forest industry for bridge and culvert maintenance, installations and replacements. The large volume of applications from the forest industry alone was bogging down the system.”

As a result of the permitting system bottleneck, permits were slow to reach companies and contractors doing watercourse work. The forest industry was but one sector that was calling upon the DOE to streamline the system or come up with an effective mechanism that provides timely issuing of alteration permits. The lobbying efforts led to a proposal to train and certify culvert and bridge installers and to audit their individual work to insure compliance.

The department decided that the forest industry could be better served—and have alteration permits in a more timely manner—if a certification system was developed that provided detailed training that covered theory and detailed technical information related to watercourse crossings. The department would follow up the installers’ compliance with regulations through auditing their completed work.

The first step in developing the certification scheme began in the winter of 2002 with the development of a Best Practices manual (in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans) and a training course to certify installers in Best Management Practices.

The DOE went looking for professional expertise to develop and offer the training course, and they selected the Maritime College of Forest Technology, Continuing Education (MCTF), in Fredericton.

“It seemed that the MCFT was the ideal choice,” says Poirer. “The school is in the business of training forest technologists and they understand the techniques and challenges associated with forest operations and road building. They have a good working relationship with the NB Department of Natural Resources, they were able to meet our timelines, and they also have experience in delivering educational extension programs.”

Robert Whitney, director of continuing education at MCFT, says that although the college had been providing courses directed at both industrial and woodlot road construction, there was still a tight timetable for developing a course.

“Early in 2002, we started to work on developing the certification course and we had also started advertising for delivering the courses in the late spring, prior to the 2002 installation season. We were receiving chapters of the manual as soon as the department signed off, and immediately incorporating them into the curriculum.

“It was a very intense few months, but we were able to offer three oneweek courses in the spring prior to the installation season. As we finished each course that spring, we would go back and make a few revisions in the curriculum to cover gaps that became evident.”

The course covers the standards of responsibility under the certification program, and includes the responsibilities of the certified installer, and standards for culvert and bridge crossings, providing special focus on avoiding oil spills. Students learn to read maps to determine the drainage basin served by the structures, and how to calculate the proper size to handle the maximum potential flow.

The course also reviews provincial and federal (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) regulations, and the impacts of erosion and sedimentation. The planning watercourse alterations section emphasizes proper road location and determining the best locations for crossings. The culvert installation section reviews various types of culverts, culvert installation, fish passage and continued maintenance.

Bridge construction, similarly, covers sizing, building materials, and general construction practices. The course also covers general roadbuilding and construction methods, underlining that proper planning, construction and maintenance all help to reduce the potential of erosion and sedimentation problems in waterways.

The Watercourse Alteration Certification program provides the forest industry in New Brunswick with a level of flexibility that allows them to generally operate more effectively.

The New Brunswick certification program allows certified installers to make a blanket application for multiple installations, rather than have to make an individual application for each crossing. The blanket application must be submitted at least three months prior to installation season. At the end of the construction season, each installer is required to submit a summary report detailing what work they have completed. The summary report includes all calculations for sizing structures that were installed or replaced. The reports are audited by the department and a portion of completed projects are audited by personnel from provincial and regional offices. If the audit finds problems with a certified installer’s work, a warning is issued. If an additional infraction is discovered, the installer loses his/her certification status.

“Poor quality work can lead to a suspension of their certification and, practically speaking, their ability to carry out their work. So certified installers have a very significant reason to do every installation to the very highest standard they can practically achieve,” says Whitney.

Installer certifications are currently automatically renewed annually unless they are decertified (for non-compliance reasons) or if guidelines, working methodologies or the regulations evolve to the point that retraining is required. In that case, all certified installers would have to be re-certified.

Whitney says that the Watercourse Alteration Certification has provided the forest industry with a level of flexibility that allows them to operate more effectively. “The process relies on
providing knowledge to installers and then relying on them to act in a professional and responsible manner in their work. Instead of relying on the department for guidance, certified installers have a very high degree of ownership in the work that they do.”

Presenting a comprehensive and very specialized course of instruction is a demanding task, requiring very special teaching and human relations skills, Whitney comments. “We were very fortunate in that Hugh Hambly had just taken retirement from the woodlands department of Ste Anne Nackawic, as their mechanical superintendent for roads and maintenance. Hugh has a great deal of experience in industrial forestry, particularly in road and bridge construction and maintenance.”

Hambly is also an experienced facilitator, conducting Contractor’s Forum sessions with the Canadian Woodlands Forum. “Hugh simply has the best available instruction skills for this particular subject and he has the skill to impress the high level of responsibility and professionalism that the certified installers need to adhere to in achieving and maintaining their accreditation.”

Whitney adds that the certification program has transferred well outside of New Brunswick. Nova Scotia has adopted Watercourse Alteration Certification, and developed it further than New Brunswick. “They have made it clear that in the future culvert and bridge installers, whether in the forest industry or other sectors, will be required to have certification. We are also getting inquiries from Newfoundland and as far away as the Yukon.”

Both Poirier and Whitney conclude that the methodologies learned through the course have resulted in an improvement in water quality in the forest operations using certified installers. “The Watercourse Certification Program has met and surpassed the department’s expectations,” notes Poirier. “We eventually hope to offer a similar program for most alterations approved through the Watercourse and Wetland Alteration program where contractors working on behalf of landowners or clients would be certified, and could commence an alteration without waiting on our permitting process.”

 


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