... 5 Things to Know When Bidding Land-Clearing Jobs  

5 Things to Know When Bidding Land-Clearing Jobs

Clearing land for a pipeline project is tough work. Oftentimes, the terrain is rugged, the jobsite remote and the deadline short.

But the challenges start long before brush is cleared. Just bidding on a land-clearing job is complicated. To submit the best bid possible, contractors need a clear picture of what exactly the job entails, and that often means getting answers to questions covering several different areas.

“If they only had three things to consider, their job would be a lot easier,” says Jeff Bradley, Recycling & Forestry product manager at Vermeer.

Instead, contractors need to take into account the project deadline, location and size of the area being cleared, topography, regulations, labor needs, material disposal and much more.

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This information is not always included in the bid documents. So even experienced contractors need to be aware of the questions to which they need answers.

“What’s in the RFP varies by project,” Bradley says. “So there are definitely times the land-clearing contractor will need to go out and do research to have enough information to bid the job and reduce their risks.”

Bradley, who visits land-clearing jobsites around the world, shared his thoughts on five areas a contractor needs to consider when bidding on a pipeline land-clearing job.

Clearing Deadlines

No. 1 is always going to be the deadline, right? The timelines on land-clearing jobs are notoriously short and inflexible. This is largely because much of the construction activity comes after the land is prepped, so any delays in land clearing will likely set everyone else back.

“For the pipeline owner, the timeline is going to be their biggest concern,” Bradley says. “All other parts of the installation will likely be stalled if the timeline for the land clearing is not met”

There’s so much that can affect that, however. Bradley says many of the successful contractors he encounters have contingency plans in place so they’re prepared if something comes up, and it’s something they take into account when drawing up their bid.

Some of these contingency plans call for keeping extra machine parts on hand, particularly wear items like tips for a mulcher head when a forestry mulcher is being used, as one way to potentially reduce project delays. Other contingency plans could include backup equipment, accounting for weather-related delays and more.

On a related note, mid-job is not the time to ignore machine maintenance. The temptation may be to do just that because of the tight deadlines, but delaying machine maintenance could cause the project to fall behind schedule.

Land-clearing contractors will travel long distances for work, and it often pays to have a relationship with an equipment manufacturer with an extensive dealer network. When putting together a bid, look at what type of local support may or may not be available.

“To be able to have a network of dealers to help support their machines is critical,” Bradley says. “If something comes up, the local dealer can help get the machine back to work quickly and to keep on target with the project’s schedule.”

A contractor who knows the level of dealer support he has and who has made a commitment to having spare parts on hand and to keeping up on maintenance can submit a more confident bid.

Less certain is the weather. The 10-day forecast won’t help when submitting a bid, but there are still things a contractor can do, according to Bradley. For one, check out seasonal forecasts from sources like the National Weather Service or even the Old Farmer’s Almanac. A contractor can also look at historical averages for temperature and precipitation in the months they’ll be working.

Clearing Topography

Topography is another major consideration when bidding on a job. This will affect the amount of time it takes to do a job, the type of equipment used and even whether tracks or tires are better.

“With a forestry mulcher, tracks are traditionally better on hills because of the improved traction you get,” Bradley says. “If the job requires road crossings you need to remember to figure in the cost of planking the track equipment across the roadway or loading it onto a truck, both of which can require additional time. At the same time, depending on what a contractor has in their fleet, their options may be limited, which can impact the bid.”
In terms of material, thick, heavy brush can cause visibility issues, which can be a challenge. When clearing large trees, it’s the handling of the material that can be difficult because the trees have to be removed and hauled offsite.

Having a good relationship with a robust dealer network again adds benefits here. Bradley says contractors bidding on a job in an area they’re unfamiliar with should contact the local dealer to gain further insight.

There are a few other issues involving the site that are important to understand when bidding on a project. Two obvious ones are the size and location of the jobsite. Contractors also need to know what kind of access they’ll have.

“If you’re talking about a right-of-way for a pipeline, they may only have access points every few miles, so then you have to think about access for your equipment, for trucks, for maintenance vehicles along the route,” Bradley says. “Accessibility is key to understanding the cost and time that will go into
a project.”

vermeer-ft300_mulcher-head_angleClearing Regulations

Contractors also should be well aware of regulations that could affect their work. One of the biggest trends is growing restrictions on the burning of material, limiting the traditional pile-and-burn method. Local governments are doing this for environmental and safety reasons, but another factor is that burning debris simply isn’t popular with the public, including land owners along the pipeline route.

Also on the regulatory front, governments or even pipeline owners themselves are increasingly enacting rules related to soil disturbance, runoff and environmental impact.

“Ground disturbance and ground pressure can be critical to machinery choice, and contractors need to think about this when bidding a job,” Bradley says.

These trends have led to growing usage of forestry mulchers on land-clearing jobs. A compact machine on tracks like a forestry mulcher may cause a lower environmental impact. Plus, the material processed by the machine provides ground cover along the pipeline route, resulting in less soil erosion.

“Forestry mulchers have become mainstream as contractors have realized they can be more efficient and have less ground disturbance,” Bradley says.

Clearing Labor

Payroll is one of the biggest expenses for most businesses. When bidding a job, a land-clearing contractor needs to have a firm understanding of the manpower it will take to do
the work.

Here again, Bradley is seeing more contractors turn to forestry mulchers. Because the pile-and burn method can be time consuming and require more machinery, it’s becoming tougher to find people willing to do it. Forestry mulching can also reduce many of the traditional steps involved in land clearing, such as site prep, cutting/felling/hauling and site cleanup.

Processing onsite also eliminates the need for multiple machines, such as a bulldozer accompanied by some combination of excavators, tree shears, wood chippers or grinders, as well as hauling equipment. A forestry tractor has one operator in a machine mulching the vegetation, and usually less support equipment than traditional methods.

Clearing Disposal

Speaking of processing material, what will happen to the cleared debris is another question a contractor should answer before bidding on a job. Can it be processed and left along the right-of-way? Or does it need to be taken offsite either because the project owner requires it or there are large trees that need to be processed elsewhere?
“What are the logging requirements?” Bradley says. “If the project owner wants the material offsite, logging may make sense depending on the local market for them.”

If the material is not mulched and left along the right-of-way, Bradley recommends that contractors search for a market for it. In certain regions of North America, there are biomass or compost facilities that will take it. Or there might be a mulch producer that will pay for it.

“Those are opportunities for some back-end revenue on a pipeline job,” he says. “There again, a dealer network can be instrumental in making those connections. They know the local companies that will purchase the waste material from a land-clearing job.”

5 Tips, But Many More

Deadlines, topography, regulations, labor, material disposal — that’s five different topics. But each one has many parts, making the list of things a land-clearing contractor needs to consider when bidding on a job much longer.
“Ultimately, getting the information you need and proper planning will help you submit the best bid you can,” says Bradley. “Some of that may be in the RFP, some will require research by you, and you can also tap into the expertise of your local equipment dealer. At the end of the day, the bid you submit will likely determine whether you win a job and, if you do, your success on it.”

Gregg Hennigan is a features writer for Two Rivers Marketing on behalf of Vermeer Mfg. Co., based in Pella, Iowa.

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