In the marshes of Unknown Pass, a bayou near Lake Borgne, Louisiana, a 300-U.S.-ton capacity Link-Belt 348 Series 2 crane sits on a large barge, which sometimes settles on shallow mud flats southeast of Slidell.
The lattice-boom crane’s owner, Cajun Industries, LLC, uses it to drive PZ14 sheets and 60' long, 12" x 54" H-pile to shore up the CSX railroad tracks that run through the area.
The CSX Gulf Coast Hardening Wall Early Works project will eventually have 2,000' of sheet pile wall and an additional staging area that will serve as a launch point.
Another two miles of hardening wall are in the works to reduce erosion from storm surges and hurricanes.
The big Link-Belt crane installs 40' to 60' long sheet pile.
In some places, they form the bulkhead and aid in the tieback system for a battered H-pile bracing system.
In others, they create a tail wall that serves instead of the traditional tieback or waler system.
The tail wall sheets are three sheets driven perpendicular to the main line of the wall, every 15' or so.
Then it will be backfilled with small gravel and rock that will serve in lieu of a tieback wall. This has been determined to be a cheaper and quicker way to solve the same problem.
The work is being done by Cajun Marine Group, a division of Cajun Industries LLC, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The division is a key player in the marine construction market.
It provides turnkey services, from design and construction through mechanical completion, including intricate construction.
It has built and serviced many types of projects from the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries to coastal and offshore water.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the company was heavily involved in all aspects of recovery and rehabilitation in the region.
Formed in 1973 as a merit shop, Cajun Industries is a nationally recognized leader that serves the energy, chemical processing, manufacturing, building, infrastructure, and emergency preparedness markets.
It also provides fully integrated self-performed engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) services to worldwide customers.
Cajun does its work with a culture that emphasizes employee health and safety.
The hardening-wall project at Unknown Pass started in the third quarter of 2022.
Because of the unpredictability of fluctuating weather and storms, it doesn’t have a specific end date.
Stabilizing the Ground
Construction to stabilize ground for the railroad tracks started with driving 60' long PZ14 sheet pile with a 44B ICE vibratory hammer.
The piles were set 35' to 40' from most of the track.
The distance from the tracks to wall of the staging area wall varies from 40 to 90 feet.
The 15,000-sq.-ft. area is used to store materials and equipment for the future two- mile hardening wall on the opposite side of the tracks.
To form the reinforcing tie-back system Cajun drives 60' long 12" x 54" H-pile about 15' back from the sheets, also using the Link-Belt 348 Series 2 and the ICE vibratory hammer.
Together, the hammer and piling weigh 30,000 lbs.
Throughout the project, the crane has been rigged with 190' of boom and a four-part load line.
Generally, crane operator Jose Bonilla works at radii from 35' to 100' while placing and driving the sheets and piles, well within the crane’s chart.
The crane sits on caged timber mats and is secured to the barge by turnbuckles.
In addition to holding the crane, the 150' x 70' spud barge also holds the piling, hammer, power pack, and ancillary gear like walkways and a large flat work platform.
For efficiency, four or five of the 60' tall H piles are stood upright in one of the barge’s empty spud wells.
That enables the crane to lift the hammer just once to grab, place, and drive four or five individual piles.
All piles are galvanized to protect them from salt water.
A two-stage waler system ties the piles together so they can act as a secure sheet wall unit. The top waler is 1' below the top of the sheet piles. The second set is 6' below the top layer.
Weather Adds Challenges
According to Chase Williams, construction manager for Cajun Marine Group, “In south Louisiana in the winter, a strong north wind pushes a lot of water out of the area. Sometimes we don’t even have enough water to get back to where we work. Getting to the barge is about 15 miles, or half an hour by small boat.”
Added Williams, “In the late spring, we have the opposite problem. When the seasons change and we are getting the south wind, we have too much water and can’t access down to where the bottom walers should be. We have to wait for the right tides and right combination of weather.”
Cajun needs as much as 8' to 10' of water depth when bringing in materials and supplies from a distant location, because of the additional weight of sheets or piling.
It has to be timed just right, depending upon the time of year. “Mother Nature has a firm grasp on our ability to produce,” Williams said, “On a good day, we have been able to drive up to 10 sheet piles.”
The project has been straight forward according to operator Jose Bonilla. “We started the project by driving 60' tall sheet pile for 2,000'. Then we are driving H-pile back behind the wall with tie-backs, along with installing walers on the face of the sheets to stiffen the whole wall, so it will lock it in place for backfill of stone.”
Bonilla said that the Link-Belt 348 Series 2 crane has been an all-around fast and very smooth crane, especially for driving pile.
“The Link-Belt crane has been working out for us. I like Link-Belts. They have always been a good crane and it’s doing everything we need it to do,” Williams said.
Right Rig for the Job
“It’s important to have this 300-ton capacity crane for this job, since we work in shallow water and at times we can’t always get up to where we are working,” said Bonilla. “So we need that chart. We need that extra radius. We need to be able to reach out there and grab hold of something, or reach out there and drive or pull some pile. With this crane’s capacity and the 190' of boom, all of our work is well within the chart.”
Bonilla appreciates the crane’s adjustable pump control.
“The machine is really nice because you can adjust your pump control,” he said. “You can adjust your speeds on your hoisting drum or your boom drum. I just like to turn my pump all the way up and adjust my hoisting drum from there. You don’t have to use your throttle as much whenever you are doing light work,.”
Bonilla explained that for fast hook work, he normally turns everything up and works at high speeds. “During that time, the crane is just very stable on this barge and handles work well using a four-part line for the main block or a single part for the auxiliary line
“Right now the longest radius that I’ve worked at is about 140' driving sheets,” said Bonilla. “The vibratory hammer we have, the length of pile and the weight I’m hoisting is well within the chart. I still have enough head room, too.”
Bonilla said that with the Link-Belt 348 Series 2, he can adjust it to any speed.
“You can really, really slow it down and fine tune it with your pump control and your drum speed,” he said. “If you really need to slow it down and get those inch-by-inch hoisting up or down times, I normally put my pump control half way and turn my drum speed down even further. This would be done when attaching the hammer to a pile.”
Many Important Features
Another feature that Bonilla appreciates is Eco-Winch.
“No matter where your pump control or your drum speed is, you flip the Eco-Winch control and it’s counting down by the quarter inch. It will give you a quarter inch, up or down, at a time. And all that is visually on your screen, as far as you’re moving.”
Bonilla talked about another operator-friendly feature.
“Another good thing about this crane is that it gives you hook height. When calibrated correctly, it will give you hook height from the bottom of the tracks to the throat of the hook,” he said.
“That feature is important whenever you are hanging steel in tight areas, or working in the structures when you’re hanging steel or putting big hammers on some big pile way up high. You have guys in a basket guiding you to the right location and they say they look, you’re six inches above it. I need then to cable down six inches.”
Working in the area’s quickly changing weather makes the wind-speed indicator a vital feature.
Link-Belt’s anemometer is mounted on the boom tip. The readings are on the screen that has everything else on it and is in a perfect location. “It’s just very important while working on the water on this barge,” said Bonilla.
He explained that it’s often windy working by Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain.
“The weather comes out of nowhere. It’s nice and sunny one minute and a half hour later, you can get a storm rolling in with high speed winds. Another thing you will see often is a water spout. You will see now and then a tornado. Water spouts are very common. As quick as they come in, they’re out. They come in in a flash,” said Bonilla.
All About Control
“The crane has its parameters. Once you’re getting near a parameter on anything, it will start giving you a signal, an audible signal, which means we are getting pretty close to our limits here and it will start flashing,” said Bonilla. “Once it’s at its limit, it will show you in red! At that time or before, we go ahead and get the crane in a good position and dog her off, or boom it down to a certain position and dog her off. Then wait.”
Bonilla noted that, for him, the best thing about the 348 Series 2 crane, versus other cranes he’s run, is just the controls and how he can control the controls. “From the drum speeds to the pump control, everything is adjustable. Every winch, the swing, the main, the auxiliary, and the boom all have adjustable dials on where you can speed them up and slow them down,”he said.
“It just depends on what you are doing. If you are doing fast pace hook work – turn it all the way up. If you are clamming with the clam bucket to dig – turn it all the way up. If you are pile driving, you kind of go half way with it. For just the way you can address all your drum speeds, it’s a game changer and makes it a fine crane,” said Bonilla.
“The boom is strong and rugged, which is important to pile driving,” said Bonilla. “The crane can be fast or be slow and precise. It’s good for hanging iron and for pile driving. It’s obviously good on this barge for marine work.”