The Balanced Approach

Imagine being roped up halfway down landslide-ravaged batters, cutting out 4-ton rootballs with a high-pressure water knife.

Sometimes on a job site you can face uncharted hurdles that require some improvised and inventive solutions. Arborist Campbell Brooke runs PowerClear where they specialise in largescale work in the utility, local government and construction sectors. A recent clean-up project of a cyclone-devastated stretch on the Gold Coast saw his crews tackle some particularly precarious situations which called for some creative thinking.

Since being established 15 years ago, PowerClear has grown to become much more than your standard tree service company. Now running up to 70 full-time staff and boasting over 130 heavy pieces of machinery in their fleet, they focus on big projects and can offer a full suite of services to their clients all over Australia. So whether it be general arbor work, tree surgery, stump grinding, landscaping, planting, watering, fencing, turfing, maintenance, right through to large-scale clearing, vegetation management, hard-access removals, sensitive transplanting and even concreting footpaths and curbs, PowerClear can do it all. It’s not only satisfying for the company to see a job all the way through, it’s also easier to manage and more reassuring for the client.

“We do the whole lot, start to finish with our own staff,” reiterated Campbell. “By doing it all in-house we can maintain a quality service that we can control. That’s what we’ve been able to offer our clients now – that holistic approach. This has just been developed over time and that’s one reason we’ve been so successful in the council work; we’re able to self perform everything.”

This holistic approach is further exemplified with PowerClear’s strong regeneration and planting drives and their sustainable use of the timber they collect.

“So the trees we remove, we then mill them,” continued Campbell, “so anything that’s salvageable for construction timber or furniture doesn’t go to waste. And then if it’s not good enough grade, we turn them into tree stakes and use them to plant new trees. We do thousands of them a year. It’s just renewable and it just makes sense.”

Even though he manages the whole business as the company Director, Campbell is an arborist first and foremost, through and through. He still gets on the tools to give the fellas a hand. At the same time he also gives major credit to his highly professional staff.

“The guys we’ve got on board are really knowledgeable and from various backgrounds,” he affirmed, “and then we also put them through their arboriculture certification as well. We’ve got a lot of staff with experience, not only with trees, but also all the civil stuff. We run a really small management structure. Underneath that are the crews and each crew has a leading hand. Actually, on a lot of our crews we’ve got several lead hands with a lot of guys that are just as experienced as each other.”

With a long history in the game and through his heavy involvement in the multitude of interesting and complex projects that PowerClear undertakes, Campbell has seen his fair share of crazy things. Still to this day he’s surprised, and excited, by the different jobs he continually encounters. The aftermath and clean-up of severe tropical cyclone Debbie in 2017 saw he and his team face new challenges that required some thinking outside of the box.

One of the deadliest storms to hit the South East Coast of Australia in recent times, cyclone Debbie resulted in 14 deaths and caused $1.7 billion in damages, primarily as a result of extreme flooding. Campbell remembered it “like an apocalypse had gone through and just completely wiped everything out”. It was a busy time for PowerClear who were contracted for several clear and repair operations.

“Because of the huge rain dump trees were down and there were landslides everywhere,” recalled Campbell. “There were proper, fullon, big slips. We started off by doing a lot of the civil stuff; cleaning up all the slips with the excavators and skid steer loaders and tippers. We had four 30-ton excavators and a 20-ton long reach just to clear the roads.”

Once they were able to open the roads back up, the flow-on work after that lasted for almost a year. They were tested with some painstakingly difficult tasks in hard to access disaster zones. Attacking one matted mess at a time, they wouldn’t just hit a snag, they would hit a mountain of snags all tangled together.

“We did some really interesting work with some gnarly trees where the batters had slipped. There was a lot of high-toaccess work where we were removing the trees, and then also a lot of rock scaling;

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

so getting big boulders that were loose off these unstable batters so crews could come in and start to excavate underneath. It was something we had some experience in, but not to that scale.”

At the same time Campbell had other crews working further inland at Lamington National Park where the cyclone had decimated the pristine rainforest. “We did a heap of crazy winching and really remote stuff where these walking tracks were just completely blocked. We had to uncover them with manual winching and get all the rootballs, rocks and trees out of the way.

And then we had to move it all away from the tracks. A lot of that stuff was over cliffs and through some gnarly terrain.”

It was during the perilous clean-up that Campbell and his team came up with a unique solution to a tricky problem. Some of the situations saw car-sized rootballs of trees overhanging off the slippery slope of the batters. They had to work out how to get them down without damaging the surroundings or getting things more tangled.

“So we’d go in and take the trees out, but there would still be the massive rootballs left there,” explained Campbell. “We’re talking 4-ton rootballs and there was no way of getting any machinery to them. So we decided to get the guys to use the water knife unit to actually cut the rootballs off the batters. They were roped up, 20 to 30 meters up the batters, and they had to cut the rootballs out and then winch them down to the road below. That was something really different. We did it on six or seven different sites. You couldn’t have done it any other way.”

Even though it was somewhat of an experiment, it worked very effectively; like a surgeon removing a giant tumour. They used a DenJet water knife; a stand-alone unit with a 4-cylinder diesel engine that can go up to 9000 psi.

“It’s like a huge, high-volume, highpressure gurney,” Campbell described it. “It will cut through just about anything. It’s a very dangerous bit of equipment and you’ve got to wear Kevlar boots, Kevlar pants, the whole lot. We normally use it on flat ground.

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

So successful was this original technique that PowerClear continues to use it. When they needed to transplant some big cycads from the side of cliffs at Springbrook they went up on a boom lift to neatly cut them out, again using the water jet knife.

Even after all these years Campbell knows there’s always something new around the corner. Like many, that’s what he loves about the job.

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