Sweet movement

20 March 2008

To be more competitive, USSC, the lar g est sugar cane producer in the US, has invested $200 million in a new sugar and processing plant at its Clewiston, Florida operation. Titled Project Breakthrough, the new plant will have a capacity of 40,000 tons (36,000 tonnes) of sugar per day.

It was early in 2005 when Crane Rental Corp. (CRC) was first contacted by USSC to talk about heavy haul transport of the plant's processing vessels although planning for the new plant had begun long before that. Twenty evaporator and eight separator vessels weighing up to 137 tons (124 tonnes) each were set to be manufactured and shipped via barge from the Louisiana Gulf Coast region.

Dimensions of the vessels were up to 45 feet long and 21 feet in diameter (13.7 x 6.4 m). Barge sizes ranged from 180 by 43 feet to 195 by 35 feet (55 x 13.1 to 59 x 10.7 m). The shipping route included barge transportation from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Okeechobee via the Inter-Coastal Waterway from Fort Myers, Florida. CRC's portion of the job was to transport the vessels off the barges from the Lake Okeechobee public boat ramp, over the levee, and then four more miles through town into the plant.

While not ideal, the public boat ramp was the only solution for offloading. The vessels arrived four each on eight barges from early January to April of 2006. Permission for the route to the boat ramp had to be secured from the South Florida Water Management Division and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The boat ramp was not made with barge landings in mind. As the water level of the lake is closely regulated and often changed and the ramp slope was made to accommodate private watercraft, 40 foot (12 m) barge ramps had to be constructed to bridge the gap. In-house generated CAD drawings and engineering support were provided by David Duerr of 2DM Associates. The firm determined that multiple layers of sandbags measuring one cubic yard each would be needed to land the barges safely on the boat ramp. This measure was completed to provide weight distribution and a flat surface for the barges to be ballasted down to as the transporters moved across the front end of the barges.

Engineering determined 1 inch thick by 10 foot by 40 foot (25 mm thick by 3 x 12 m) steel matting sheets would have to be placed on the barge decks prior to the vessels being loaded in Louisiana to reinforce the barge to handle the point-loading of the Goldhofer platform trailer with the load. Planning was also made to load the vessels at the correct height to allow the Goldhofer transports under the vessels.

To complicate matters, during the course of the project, there would be several national bass fishing tournaments held at the lake, requiring the use of the public boat ramp. This would mean that the ramp would need partial demobilisation from time to time between deliveries of the vessels.

The project started on time in January 2006, but rough seas, storms and the like made scheduling a challenge. Once the vessels arrived at the lake boat ramp, sandbags were landed on the submerged part of the boat ramp for the front end of the barges to rest on. At no time would the barge come in contact with the concrete boat ramp. Using a 100 ton (91 tonne) capacity Liebherr LTM 1090 hydraulic crane, the 100 sand bags were hoisted into place.

The barges were moored using two mobile cranes as dead men.

Ballasting operations then began using four centrifugal pumps. Once the barges were ballasted to the correct draft, the barge ramps were put in place using the crane. The ramps spanned the distance between the edge of the barge and the boat ramps. Timber matting was used on the boat ramp to adjust the barge ramps to a level fashion. To create additional control during offloading, the towboat remained hitched to the barges to maintain stabilisation.

For the offloading and transport CRC used 6 and 12 line Goldhofer self propelled and towable hydraulic platform trailers. The Golhofers traversed the boat ramp and barge ramps to move on and off the barges. Actual offloading took about eight hours per barge.

Once the vessels were on land they were transported to the plant. The route to the plant involved travelling over the Okeechobee levee and uneven terrain with up and down grades. The levees were not a problem the Goldhofers that were towed by CRC's Kenworth C500 and Oshkosh heavy haul tractors. CRC worked with local authorities to relocate utilities along the four mile (6.4 km) haul route. The Clewiston Police department provided escort services, and was very helpful when it came to crossing the intersection of Highway 27, one of the busiest four-lane highways in Florida.

The hauling of the sugar processing plant vessels was completed ays ahead of schedule by Crane Rental Corp. Total man hours he job were 1,680 with zero lost time accidents

One of the greatest challenges to overcome was the problem caused by a leaking barge transporting four evaporators. To avoid disaster, the barge was directed to a safe harbour in Port St. Joe in the panhandle of Florida where it was moored at a dormant coal-loading facility and was kept afloat by continual pumping.

Crane Rental was also called to resolve that problem: finding a new barge and then mobilising a 350 ton (318 tonne) capacity Grove hydraulic all terrain to the site to hoist each vessel up and then shove the barges back and forth under the suspended load until all four vessels were relocated. This operation spanned about eight hours. Three days later, the replacement barge pulled up to the boat dock and the four vessels were safely offloaded.

The final challenge was to schedule the hauling around the activities of a local high school to avoid any potential traffic problems. Once at the plant the vessels were either set on stools or taken directly to the main hoisting crane and tail crane for setting into their final position.

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