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Rockin’ the Rock

As one of Atlantic Canada’s largest employers, St. John’s-based Pennecon is playing a key role

August 10, 2011  By  Bill Tice

If the proliferation of new car dealers, big box stores, $35 per plate
restaurants and modern housing developments is any indication of the
state of the economy in St. John’s, N.L., then Canada’s most easterly
city is doing extremely well.

If the proliferation of new car dealers, big box stores, $35 per plate restaurants and modern housing developments is any indication of the state of the economy in St. John’s, N.L., then Canada’s most easterly city is doing extremely well.

Pennecon Heavy Civil completed all of the earth works on a 5.5-kilometre extension to the existing Conception Bay South bypass road, which will divert traffic away from the community and shorten the commute into downtown St. John’s, N.


Locals in this region, which is Atlantic Canada’s second largest metropolitan area behind Halifax, attribute the recent boom in the economy to the province’s offshore oil industry and its mining sector. But most residents here are not complaining. The new economy is bringing big dollars into the community, and with those dollars, comes the approval for long-needed infrastructure improvements, including new transportation routes.


One of metropolitan St. John’s fastest growing areas is the suburb of Conception Bay South (CBS). Located just west of St. John’s, this bedroom community that is home to 24,000 residents has experienced huge problems with traffic congestion as Provincial Highway Route 60 passes right through large areas of town. However, a solution is in the works, as a 5.5-kilometre extension to the existing CBS bypass road will divert much of the traffic away from the community. The bypass extension will feature controlled traffic flow with just three interchanges – one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. “When this project is completed, commuters will be able to completely bypass all of CBS’s residential areas and get to work in the city much faster,” explains Mike King, project manager for St. John’s-based Pennecon Heavy Civil, which was awarded the contract for all of the earth work up to the subgrade stage of the project.

King, who has been with Pennecon for about 12 years, says the province went to tender on the project last September, with Pennecon winning the contract over three other companies with a $13 million bid. “We are doing excavation, fill and pipe, and the structures,” adds King. “The crushed stone, asphalt and bridges will go out for tender later. We will also bid on the bridges as we have a division that does that type of work.”

Project Process
After receiving the go-ahead from the provincial government, Pennecon started the project last November and completed everything up to the subgrade at the end of June. Now, King explains, the road will sit idle at this stage for a full year to allow for a freeze-thaw cycle, which will let the materials settle and will minimize future problems.

Pennecon operates a number of rock quarries in the St. John’s area. Last year, the company produced three million tonnes of aggregates for internal and external use.


King says the timing was good for Pennecon as it allowed the company to utilize some of its equipment during the winter months and keep the “core group” of its labour force employed year round in what is typically a seasonal industry, especially in Newfoundland. However, on the downside, he says working through the winter presented issues with moisture as last year, the region experienced an overly wet winter, and he notes they were dealing with a silty, sandy material that had up to 20% silt content. “One thing that did help us with the excessive moisture was that we sourced rock for the top metre of the subgrade from a quarry that was just two kilometres from the west end of the project. It was granite instead of the sedimentary rock we typically use, and although it is more expensive to drill and blast, it was close and it provided us with excellent drainage, and that will help prevent frost heave later on.”

Step 1 of the CBS Bypass project was clearing the trees, which King says was subcontracted out to a local firm. Any trees over six inches in diameter were salvaged with a feller processor and then sent to another company for additional processing, while smaller trees were mulched. The topsoil and grubbing was then removed from the cleared surface prior to the levelling process being started. “We used a typical fleet of excavators, dozers and trucks to move materials from our cuts to our fills,” adds King.
Pennecon’s inventory of gear includes numerous models from Komatsu, Caterpillar, John Deere and others, and King says at the peak of the project, they had more than a dozen of the huge articulated earth movers working on the bypass.

Structural Work
King says they installed pipes as they went along, including ATV and snowmobile crossing pipes. The major structures on the project were long span structural plate arches, which have reinforced concrete head walls and mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls. Pennecon Concrete Capital Precast makes the concrete panels for the MSE walls in St. John’s. In total, King says four of these structures were required for the project, including two for roads (one is part of an interchange and one is part of a bridge structure), one for diverting a creek, and one for a hydro penstock, which moves collected water through gravity to a turbine that creates energy and feeds the local power grid.

As for staff, King says at the peak of the project, they had approximately 60 employees on board, a number that dropped down to 45 as the first part of the project came to a close. Throughout the project, Pennecon’s crews worked primarily eleven hours per day on a 10 days on, four days off rotation. King reports they did not have any safety or environmental incidents, which he notes is a reflection of Pennecon’s commitment to recognizing its responsibility in these areas as an integral part of its overall business management.

Now that the CBS bypass project is in a holding pattern for a year, King, who is originally from the St. John’s suburb of Middle Cove, is making a regular commute from St. John’s to Corner Brook where the company is working on a major community hospital project.

Pennecon – The Big Picture
When Pennecon Limited gets involved in a major roadbuilding project such as the Conception Bay South (CBS) bypass extension, they come to the table with a full lineup of resources to get the job done.

Pennecon-9For starters, the St. John’s, N.L.-based company, which is part of the Penny Group of Companies, has a Concrete Division that is the largest producer and supplier of ready mix concrete in Newfoundland and Labrador. In addition, Pennecon Concrete manufactures a variety of concrete products, including manholes, catch basins, pipe, box culverts, septic tanks, wall panels, retaining wall blocks, girders and architectural blocks.

To supply its Concrete Division, Pennecon operates numerous quarries, and  gravel and sand pits in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in other areas of Canada. Last year alone, the company produced 3,000,000 tonnes of aggregates for internal and external use Canada-wide.

Pennecon Heavy Civil, which is an ISO 9001:2008 registered company, has completed major projects in the mining, transportation, oil and gas, and hydroelectric industries, along with many municipal projects.  Providing a combination of essential heavy civil services gives Pennecon Limited a competitive edge in the heavy civil industry. In addition to roadbuilding projects, Pennecon Heavy Civil has played a major role in building bridges, aviation runways, and industrial sites in Newfoundland and Labrador for more than 30 years. They have also tackled a number of major projects across Canada.

One of the larger projects taken on by Pennecon Heavy Civil in recent years is the earthworks and plant site development at the Vale Inco processing plant in Long Harbour, N.L. This mine processing site project began in July 2009.

The work is located on a greenfield site and consists of a main access road to the site, a plant-to-port pipeline corridor, the plant site, several other access roads and pipeline corridors, a site storm water diversion ditch, a quarry site, a camp site and a contractor’s laydown area.

Pennecon says the total aggregate drilled, blasted and crushed over the duration of this project will be approximately 3,000,000 tonnes.

In February 2010, Pennecon’s Capital Ready Mix was awarded a contract from Vale Inco to supply, erect and operate two concrete batch plants at the same site.

With an anticipated 120,000 m3 of concrete over a 27-month period, the two plants are capable of producing 130 m3 per hour combined total, with the primary plant capable of 80 m3 per hour and the secondary or back-up capable of 50 m3 per hour. Both plants are fully automated, winterized and totally independent of each other.

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