May 2024 Vol. 79 No. 5


Fusion in paradise

Just south of Miami, in the tropical paradise of the Florida Keys, a McElroy TracStar 412 spent most of winter 2023 onsite, fusing high-density polyethylene (HDPE) for a massive residential water line to service one of the area’s gated resorts. 

Ocean Reef Club, in Key Largo, is a private, upscale club community, with its own private marina, airport, spa and golf courses. Over the last three months, a crew from Murphy Pipeline Contractors has been working on a 13,000-foot, 12-inch HDPE water line.  

“This is an upgrade for the community,” said Murphy Pipeline Construction Manager Paul De Rushe. Previously, the community’s water lines were made up of 12-inch ductile iron pipe, and while the community was not experiencing issues, it requested the upgrade. 

“This new HDPE is done to become a ‘fail-safe’ way of ensuring the community has nonstop access to potable water,” he added.  

Upgrade and fail-safe 

Emergency preparedness played a part in the design and installation of this line. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) oversaw the planning and execution of the project. 

“The residents wanted more water to fill tanks in case of higher demand or emergency situations,” said Ben Cosme, contract field representative for FKAA.  

The Florida Keys sees its fair share of destructive weather. Monroe County, which encompasses it and the western tip of the Florida Peninsula, calls Florida “the hurricane capital of the United States,” noting that the entire state is vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes. That includes large, destructive storms like Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm when it struck the area on Sept. 10, 2017, and caused 17 fatalities in the Florida Keys, alone. 

Currently, the community has a 16-inch main. The 12-inch line is meant to be a redundant line, allowing residents to still have water available if one line goes down. And where incumbent pipes made of metal, steel or other types of plastic may fail, HDPE is designed to be long-lived and leak-free, even in the toughest of environments. 

Environmental impact 

The Florida Keys is home to one of the world’s largest seagrass beds, which provides habitat and foraging areas for animals like sea turtles, manatees and invertebrates, along with many species of birds and terrestrial animals. From an environmental standpoint, it’s crucial to maintain water quality.  

In the past, the Florida legislature identified the Keys as an area of critical concern due to pollution and water quality issues. The FKAA is responsible for facilitating not only access to potable water, but also ensuring wastewater facilities in select areas are not negatively affecting the environment.  

According to Cosme, residents chose HDPE because it could be installed via pipe bursting, minimizing disruption to the community. But HDPE has a multitude of other benefits that make it superior to incumbent pipe material, especially in areas where the environment factors largely into installation and upkeep.  

Unlike steel and iron, HDPE will not pit, crack, or corrode. HDPE is also well-suited for wastewater use. Unlike many incumbent pipe materials, it has zero allowance for leakage or failure. This is because pipe, when fused, becomes a single continuous piece of material, with the joint itself as strong – or stronger – than the pipe surrounding it.  

Moving – and bursting – forward 

During pipe bursting, the existing pipe is opened and forced to “burst” by a bursting tool threaded through the pipe and connected to a cable and winch. In this case, De Rushe said, the bursting head had to be modified for the job. 

The usual, single “shark fin” wasn’t able to successfully burst the existing ductile iron pipe, which meant crews had to modify the existing drill head. Multiple fins were installed onto the metal drill head, finally allowing crews to complete the pipe bursting needed for the job. 

“That was really the only big hiccup we had,” De Rushe said. 

Once that hurdle was crossed, De Rushe’s 12-man crew made quick work of the job, performing about two fusions per hour with the TracStar 412 and utilizing a DataLogger 7 to record their fusion parameters.  

“Every day, we uploaded our fusion data and sent it along to our project manager, so she gets a record of that day’s joints and can check them over,” De Rushe explained.  

Despite the picturesque environment, there were few work hazards – namely the fact that they’re fusing on a narrow strip of pavement along the roadside. Beyond that pavement is a drop-off into the thick, marshy brush of the Florida Keys. Not to mention the creatures that call southern Florida home, including non-native pythons and alligators that can grow to more than 10 feet in length. 

“We’ve seen some alligators out here,” De Rushe said. “Everyone on the crew knows to watch their step while they’re working.” 

In addition to the TracStar 412 on location in the Florida Keys, Murphy Pipeline Contractors operates a large fleet of McElroy machinery throughout the United States. In summer 2023, a crew spent time in Orlando, Fla., replacing a leaking, 60-year-old concrete stormwater outfall pipe with HDPE. That job was completed with a MegaMc 2065, along with a DataLogger 7. 

 “McElroy machines are very reliable, so we tend not to be too worried about something happening on the job,” De Rushe said. “We use them all over the country.” 

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