Cape May County is the little tip of New Jersey that juts down into the Atlantic Ocean. With 30 miles of beaches and mild weather, the peninsula is an extremely popular vacation destination.
More than 800,000 East Coast and Canadian residents arrive every summer, sometimes outnumbering natives nine to one. These men, women, and children spend more than $5 billion annually, making tourism the county’s No. 1 industry.
Two-thirds of the 277-square-mile peninsula is marshes and woodland. That makes the county an ideal breeding ground for more than 40 of the 63 mosquito species found in New Jersey. In 1915, the county formed a public agency to protect people and animals from diseases — eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, canine heartworm, and most recently the Zika virus — the insect transmits.
That’s year-round work for the employees of the Cape May County Department of Mosquito Control.
Up to 23 full- and part-time employees regularly sample “dipping stations” to gauge larvae and pupae populations in water. They spray bacteria that are toxic to larvae and stock some areas with the mosquito-eating fish Gambusia affinis. They eliminate standing water and give other fish access to the insect by maintaining a network of ditches linking salt marshes and inland freshwater bodies. If none of that works, they apply larvicides and adulticides.
All this standard and preventive maintenance requires equipment not found in the typical public works fleet. Machines like:
The Marsh Master, an aluminum marsh buggy with pontoons inside a rubber belt track system made by Coast Machinery of Baton Rouge, La.
The department uses the latter to monitor traps, “swim” across creeks between marshes where heavy equipment can’t be trailered in, and dig and clean ditches that return catch basin and stormwater to marshes. Most coastal counties lease the machine from the state. Because of the vast marshland behind the peninsula’s barrier islands, the department wanted its own.
“Traditionally, equipment is moved by laying mats and then traveling across them — a very manual, tedious, time-consuming process that can take all day,” says Edward Sokorai, a wetlands specialist for the department. “We wanted to be able to drive right up and start working.”
Not your run-of-the-mill bid
Working safely in soft marshy areas requires low ground pressure, finite balance, exceptional flotation, and high torque. There are companies that make amphibious excavators that have tracked pontoons to keep the machine from sinking in water. Or you can replace the wheels or tracks of virtually any excavator body on the market with an amphibious undercarriage.
The latter amounts to a custom-engineered machine, which complicates the government bid process.
To eliminate having to get special road permits, Cape May County also wanted a fully assembled machine small enough to travel on a standard low-boy trailer. Wish list items included a 16-inch rotary bucket and long boom.
Having done business with JCB North America’s southern New Jersey dealership for more than a decade, the department approached Farm-Rite Inc. in Bridgeton.
“We had a wish list and a budget but not much more,” says Sokorai. “It was up to the manufacturers bidding to spec out the machine and determine what they could deliver within our budget.”
Farm-Rite’s Mark Allonardo and JCB Excavators Product Sales Manager Jake Jeffords decided on JCB’s 85Z zero-tailswing excavator with 64 hp Tier 4 Final Kohler diesel engine and 30-gallon fuel tank. The body of the 18,000-pound machine never exceeds the width of the machine’s track width when rotating, so it’s a popular design with municipalities that regularly work in tight spaces.
Then the machine’s 18-inch tracks had to be replaced with a waterproof undercarriage and pontoons.
That led Allonardo and Jeffords to Wetland Equipment Co. in Thibodaux, La., which has designed and fabricated amphibious undercarriages for construction equipment since 1940. The company’s aluminum pontoons have recessed tracks that shed rather than accumulate debris that weighs machines down and can be tightened up to 36 inches with a wrench while standing on the pontoon.
“This bid was quite challenging,” Allonardo says. “Holding the line on adaption costs required a lot of back and forth between us, JCB, and Wetland Equipment to be sure everything would work seamlessly when the excavator was manufactured.”
All systems go
Specification writing began in summer 2014, the bid was published in December, and Farm-Rite was awarded the contract in early 2015. After designing the undercarriage, Wetland Equipment shipped it to Farm-Rite for installation with the JCB excavator body.
When the department receive it in late June 2015, Sokorai and his team got two wish list items: the rotary bucket from Wetland Equipment and the long boom.
The bucket is ideal for digging in marshes because it slings mud in a thin layer, allowing vegetation to grow back quickly. An auxiliary motor, which also serves as a counterweight, is mounted to the rear of the excavator to power the bucket.
The department obtained permits for wetlands use and is using the machine to ensure that residents and visitors encounter fewer mosquitos this summer.