September 2011, Vol. 66 No. 9


Contractor Finds Success Embracing Island’s Pristine Environment

It’s among the most historic, unspoiled and coveted vacation spots anywhere in North America. Located off the southern tip of Cape Cod, MA, Martha’s Vineyard is the largest true island along the East Coast of the United States.

Known primarily as a summer colony accessible only by boat and air, the number of year-round residents living on this 87.5-square-mile collection of resort communities is estimated to be approximately 15,000 full time dwellers. The summer population often swells to more than 75,000 people, including a virtual who’s who of celebrities and dignitaries. More than 55 percent of the Vineyard’s nearly 14,500-plus homes are seasonally occupied.

Martha’s Vineyard is made up of six towns, each governed by a board of selectmen, elected by town voters. All six communities are also members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the entity that regulates island-wide building along with environmental and aesthetic concerns. Recently, some government programs on the island have been regionalized, including the public school system, emergency management and waste management, and there is increasing pressure to adopt further regionalization in the areas of law enforcement, water treatment and possible government regionalization.

Now recognized as among the successful business entrepreneurs who, as an outsider, was able to break in and become successful as an infrastructure installation contractor is Andy Farrissey, who founded Farrissey Telecom in Oak Bluffs, one of the six towns located on the Vineyard. Farrissey started his company in 1983 after spending three years as a technician working for Rolland Cablevision in nearby Rhode Island.

Protect, preserve
“The locals are very much concerned about leaving the island as it is,” Farrissey explains, “so it’s not necessarily considered a good thing to come in and try to widen a road. Residents of Martha’s Vineyard are primarily concerned with maintaining the natural ‘patina’ of what is there. It’s what people come here for, the originality and uniqueness of the island. No McDonalds, no Dunkin’ Donuts and very few chains; perhaps a couple of hardware stores and an occasional grocery store but that’s about it — certainly no restaurant chains.”

“I have worked many other places around the country and usually the communities were looking for improvement, moving it forward and keeping things current with modern times,” Farrissey continued. “While folks on the island are very interested in moving into modern times for the ‘information age,’ the process of getting there, getting things installed to make it happen — they don’t want any part of that. They don’t like disruption and certainly don’t want to disturb the natural integrity of the surroundings.”

Farrissey, whose wife is among the few native residents of Martha’s Vineyard, saw an opportunity after a major storm had knocked out the vast majority of basic services on the island. Much to the chagrin of locals at the time, Farrissey Telecom was responsible for helping construct the first cable system on the island and today provides a variety of utility installation services for communications giants Verizon and Comcast, as well as the local waste and water departments. Presently, the installation contractor is working with Industrial Communications and AT&T on a major cellular infrastructure upgrade. Farrissey recalls that first big project and what it actually meant to the residents.

“It was a big deal on Martha’s Vineyard,” Farrissey says. “When we first came to the island, if you had a really good antenna, you were happy receiving two or three network TV channels. The residents were actually information-deprived. You can imagine what a big deal it was being at someone’s house and all of a sudden there were over 100 channels available. You can imagine how successful the market penetration was after word spread. Then when the seasonal folks arrived, they were used to having cable in their permanent residences so they immediately signed up.”

Currently, Farrissey is working on a 2000-foot sewer force main extension with 23 laterals to service properties along the way, after which his crews will be installing E1 pumps off of each lateral. The privately funded project is being initiated by affected property owners; the result of environmental concerns and protecting resources that lie just outside their front doors.

“This project is somewhat unique in that it is being completed using private monies,” Farrissey explains. “The people in the neighborhood are doing this out of concerns for preserving the environment. We completed a privately funded water main improvement upgrade project in the same area a few years ago. They want to make sure the infrastructure supporting their basic services is sound, solid and properly installed. While this presented some initial challenges for us, there are now very few island residents who aren’t fervent supporters of horizontal directional drilling (HDD). Since we started drilling here 11 years ago, I would say that well over 75 percent of our installs are completed using HDD.”

Farrissey is using a Vermeer D24x40 Series II Navigator drill to install a three-inch HDPE green-striped color-coded pipe — the color Farrissey has selected to represent sewer.

“Because we are also the locators and installers from Endstar, Verizon and Comcast, we do the majority of the installs on the island and established a color-coding system for the various services,” Farrissey explains. “We are a firm believer in color coding for identification purposes and a huge supporter of a national color coding standard and methodology.”

Sand: good for clamming; bad for drilling
Having broken ground on the project, Farrissey is using a vacuum excavator to pothole the bore path. “Potholing is a necessary component for navigating through the often challenging and deceiving density of sand that comprises the vast majority of the island’s terrain. While most people tend to think of sand as soft and easy to drill through, the reality is that sand actually grinds down tooling at a far more aggressive rate than typical topsoil or clay.”

“We use a standard bit with hard facing to help extend the life of the tooling,” Farrissey explains. “From experience we know that the body supporting that hard face will just disappear. It’s a highly unusual reaction, so we’ve engaged several engineers and technicians to witness this firsthand so they can better prepare other contractors for what they will likely encounter when drilling in these conditions. Every consultant who experiences this is very much amazed by the wear that sand causes. Sand is something we have dealt with for years and have learned techniques that are most effective in confronting it.”

In addition to a dedicated crew to support production of the main line being completed by the D20x24 drill, Farrissey will enlist a second crew to complete some of the laterals using piercing tools. This is most effective for some of the short laterals situated under narrow driveways or similar shots, and an approach that helps them maximize production rates given the timeframe established for completing the project, shorter daylight hours and winter temperatures. However, depending on the situation, the laterals will also be installed using the drill.

“It can get very cold and temperature affects the ability to maintain the integrity of the mud mix, which is critical for successfully navigating this sand,” Farrissey says. “We tried to work a 600-foot shot every day on the main because that worked well with a good time cycle for us to shoot out and pull back.”

The HDD/piercing tool combo approach also helps minimize disturbances to the integrity of the surface, a critical factor for completing any job on Martha’s Vineyard given Farrissey’s awareness of residents’ sensitivity for maintaining things as they are.

“In the neighborhoods we’re working in to complete this project, there are only two year-round residents occupying all of the homes affected by this installation upgrade,” Farrissey says. “We’re talking about homes that exceed $2 million in property value. When the seasonal residents return in the spring, the majority won’t even know we were here. The work will have been completed with literally no disruption or visual evidence that a new sewer line was installed. That’s our goal, and by using this combination installation approach, I can guarantee, barring some unforeseen complication, it’s a goal we will certainly be able to achieve.”

Competitors come, go
Farrissey is also proud of his company’s track record of completing hundreds of new installations and upgrades to existing infrastructure on Martha’s Vineyard over the years, and having done so with an ardent respect for the residents’ desire to maintain the environmental integrity of their island treasure. He is also quick to credit trenchless methodologies as a critical component to the success of Farrissey Telecom.

“Over the years, we have gotten to as many of the engineers as possible, serving as HDD missionaries,” Farrissey says. “We have also done a great job in successfully educating the locals about the many merits of trenchless installation technology. With no intent of patting myself on the back for being able to thrive here, I would also venture to say that Martha’s Vineyard is likely among the most difficult places to do business. Not necessarily because of the varying ground conditions like many contractors face — and overcome — but because we are under constant scrutiny to maintain the geology, ecology and environment of the island.”

“Many contractors have tried to get established here, and all have since left,” Farrissey continues. “Most just weren’t able to deal with all of the additional components we face in doing business here be it good, bad, easy or what may seemingly appear to be impossible. Our attitude is that we will always conduct ourselves as professionals, work through the sensitivities, environmental concerns and the subjective issues and not only embrace them, but assign value to them. After all, we live here too. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Farrissey Telecom, (508) 693-5398
Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337,

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