Every demolition job comes with inherent risks and potential complications, but some projects simply require more thorough planning and greater diligence than others.
The final closure of the Harrisonburg Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was one such project.
The Harrisonburg RRF, which opened in 1982, was a waste-to-energy facility owned and operated by the city of Harrisonburg’s Department of Public Works that helped convert the region’s municipal solid waste (MSW) into steam used to heat and cool nearby James Madison University’s campus. In addition to providing steam, the RRF served to reduce the volume of solid waste requiring disposal in the local municipal landfill. The facility, which took in 200 tons per day of the area’s waste, closed in 2015.
After closing, the city planned to decommission and partially demolish the plant and sell the site to the university. In early 2016, the city solicited proposals for the implementation phase of the closure. Stryker Demolition & Environmental Services LLC (Stryker DES), based in Wayne, Pennsylvania, was selected from a pool of multiple companies to be the lone contractor on the job as part of the competitive bidding process.
According to Mark Klotzbach Sr., president of Stryker DES, the final closure of the site was carried out in five main phases: removal of the remaining waste inventory consisting of both MSW and waste ash; characterization of waste residues to determine proper handling and disposal methods; removing and/or decontaminating equipment, ductwork, building structures or other materials containing or contaminated with waste residues using a combination of wash-down and vacuum methods; review and certification from a registered professional engineer that the closure was completed in accordance with the approved plan; and obtaining Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) approval of the closure.
Weighing the risks
According to Klotzbach Sr., before the actual demolition work could begin, his team had to ensure it was taking the proper precautions related to the health, safety and welfare of all personnel on-site.
Due to the amount of regulatory involvement and oversight from the VDEQ, he says this project required a more comprehensive and formalized program and procedures when it came to not only planning the project, but also carrying out the decommissioning and demolition. In addition to the typical work plans, such as a health and safety plan and demolition permitting, Stryker DES prepared additional documents that included demolition implementation plans, client-specific Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA), decontamination work plans, emergency action plans, waste sampling and waste management plans, a rinsate-specific sampling plan, and dust suppression and air monitoring plans to help negate the potential for safety complications on the job.
According to Klotzbach Sr., while the job involved a number of risks, dealing with hazardous waste contamination from years of municipal waste processing was the primary concern.
“An enormous amount of planning and work plans were developed prior to mobilization,” he says. “The demolition strategy was to maintain the safety of our project team and minimize the generation of additional waste streams while achieving proper regulatory closure. Cadmium waste was encountered during implementation. The cadmium waste deposits had been generated from household batteries that were commingled with the municipal waste over the years. There was also lead present from historical site operations, so those were two exposures that we were very keen on.”
At times, sequestering this hazardous waste required the use of water. However, Stryker DES was mindful of limiting its water use so as not to generate large amounts of hazardous waste via the spread of contamination. To achieve this goal, they employed vacuum methods and only introduced water when needed.
Klotzbach Sr. says Stryker DES implemented various engineering controls, such as ensuring the site had adequate ventilation, and conducted a robust personnel monitoring program for employees.
He notes that Stryker DES worked in close conjunction with the city and the engineering team hired to oversee the demolition and verify the company was in compliance throughout the project.
“This decontamination and closure of the site required a lot of coordination between the engineers the city had hired, Draper Aden Associates, and the city of Harrisonburg,” Klotzbach Sr. says. “This coordination centered around the VDEQ’s closure requirements. The closure requirements were extensive and took a lot of detail to get right. We did a lot of sampling—hundreds of samples went out—to document what we did, the level of cleanliness we were maintaining, and then what we did for the actual closure report itself.”
Once the team completed decontamination and final wipe and waste sampling, Mark Klotzbach Jr., vice president of Stryker DES, says the company went to work bringing down the structure via various methods. Heavy equipment such as forklifts, aerial lifts, skid steers and loaders were used for much of the dismantlement, but it was the team’s hydraulic cranes ranging in weight from 60-150 tons that were tasked with much of the heavy lifting.
“The facility had a 150 foot-tall stack that was of a unique design. There was a lot of ductwork, cyclones and economizers that had to be removed from the facility. There was a significant selective dismantlement component that required the use of cranes and rigging techniques. We utilized multiple cranes during this phase of the project to gain access to the stack and to remove multiple sections at a time. At times, the cranes had to work in conjunction to maximize efficiency,” Klotzbach Jr. says.
For more nuanced parts of the job and much of the decontamination work, smaller pieces of equipment such as torches, HEPA vacuum trucks, and various hand tools were used. Klotzbach Jr. says at times, the crew needed to take a more granular approach to the demolition.
“When possible, areas of the site were removed by mechanical means. This was the preferred approach. In other instances, we unbolted various components of the structures and removed them. We also used reciprocating saws and torches,” Klotzbach Jr. says. “We were in a facility that was still operational in parts, so we had to be very careful what we were doing because there was a lot of live equipment. We had to be very mindful of not interfering with any of the operating equipment or any lines that were live.”
In addition to avoiding other workers and operations at the facility, Klotzbach Sr. says Stryker DES had to be cautious of the RRF's layout.
“There were multiple levels in this facility, and as we went through and removed parts of the building and various equipment, having proper fall protection was a major priority for us,” he says. “We also minimized fall hazards by covering holes in the floors that were left as a result of the equipment we had removed. In some instances, railings needed to be removed to gain access to a certain piece of equipment slated for dismantlement. In those instances, we installed temporary railings. Crane safety was another major focal point for this project. We needed to understand each of the crane’s lift capacity. During the planning phase of the project, we made sure to calculate the weights of what we would be lifting before we rigged something to the crane to make sure we were not putting our team or equipment at risk.”
Klotzbach Sr. says because demolition results in a wealth of metals, recycling was of paramount importance on the Harrisonburg RRF. But it was only through rigorous decontamination and testing that the company was able to keep this once-hazardous material out of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) landfills.
“We were, of course, required to recycle only metal that was clean or decontaminated and showed no presence of waste on it—that was mandated through the testing,” he says. “We took out approximately 600 gross tons of carbon steel. We had a little bit of nonferrous with some copper we pulled out and a little bit of stainless steel, but it wasn’t very much. Most of it was plate, structural and No. 1 steel, and we recycled 100 percent of this.”
Beyond the metals recycling facet of the job, Klotzbach Sr. says a sustainability mindset filtered through other aspects of the project.
“While we recycled 100 percent of our metals, there were other significant portions of this project that also met the category of sustainability,” he says. “Water use was minimized so as to not generate large additional volumes of hazardous waste. In order to minimize water use, vacuum methods were employed and water was only introduced when needed. Our decontamination water was captured and strictly controlled. We containerized it, sampled it and then we sent it out for treatment.
“Additionally, because of our decontamination efforts, which were conducted prior to demolition, Stryker DES was able to prevent cadmium- and lead-containing waste from being released to the environment during demolition. Finally, all equipment that could be reused or salvaged—such as the facility’s existing turbine generator—was dismantled and loaded for use by a third party once decontamination efforts were completed. This was not only sustainable, it aided in offsetting implementation costs for our client.”
Finally, Klotzbach Sr. says the project “exemplified the definition of community enhancement,” since Stryker DES not only prevented environmental contamination during the project, but also helped ensure a greener Harrisonburg in the future.
A study in excellence
After multiple mobilizations and phases, Stryker DES completed the job over the course of two years. Stryker DES personnel logged approximately 220 working days of on-site time, with crew sizes ranging from six to 23 dependent on the specific phase of the project, in addition to a full-time construction manager. When all was said and done, the Stryker DES crew worked nearly 30,000 field hours without a recordable injury.
“I have to say, this was a really great job. It was difficult because it was complex in that we had no margin for error and had to do everything correctly for the closure and to ensure that no one got hurt,” Klotzbach Sr. says. “I’m proud to say we had zero injuries on the job. We also complied with the closure plan expertly—everything that was required of us to perform for sampling and for documentation purposes, we were on top of. And believe me, that was a lot. The closure report was over 500 pages due to the sheer scope of work on the job.”
Klotzbach Jr. gives credit to the city and state regulators for helping streamline the demolition. For a project that could have easily been hindered by regulatory red tape, he says that government officials and engineering personnel from Draper Aden Associates helped guide the project along thanks to transparent and open communication.
“The success of the project was a testament to the city and state, their knowledge, and overall engineering oversight,” he says. “They were very familiar with the protocol and their communication was just exceptional. They really laid the groundwork for a great working relationship to exist between Stryker DES, the city and state, and Draper Aden Associates.”
Stryker DES’s work on the Harrisonburg RRF did not go unnoticed. Thanks to their due diligence, exemplary safety record and emphasis on recycling, the project earned the company recognition by the National Demolition Association (NDA). In 2019, the association awarded Stryker DES with the Excellence in Demolition top award for projects between $501,000-$2 million in scope.
“We’re extremely appreciative of the award, but it was truly a team effort,” Klotzbach Sr. says. “A lot of people use that phrase, but I think sometimes companies are prone to just go about doing their project trying to get it done as quickly as possible so they can go home. The Harrisonburg RRF wasn’t like that for Stryker DES. We knew the importance of getting this right. It took a lot to work through all the closure requirements and check all the regulatory boxes, but our team did everything by the book, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we were able to do.”