Making it better

Last week we found everyone hard at work in the immediate aftermath of a devastating storm. This week the Pine Island team is doubling down and doing whatever it takes to make it even better. Everyone is pitching in wherever they can: everyone who can be spared is running a dump truck or an excavator or a front loader. We’re patching everything up so we can get the reservoirs up and move around the property easily. We’re replacing gates where they got washed out. All of our trucks and all of our equipment are running at full capacity and it’s taking a lot of coordination, as there are multiple teams working at multiple locations.

“Our big focus right now is rebuilding, sure,” says Fred Torres, general manager. “But water is on our minds constantly and we’ve been slowly raising the water levels in the reservoirs and canals. It hasn’t rained in a week, so we’ve been putting boards in to raise water levels for ditches in the areas we know will be stressed the most.” It’s steady but slow work; our team is busy fixing and refilling the main reservoir breaks, but it’s necessary to go slow; you can’t bring the reservoirs up too quickly as it’s bad for fresh fill. It won’t have settled yet and will be too spongy to hold the water back. We also need to turf up the sides a little to keep them from sinking. That’s a job in itself; we needed a massive amount of gravel very quickly. Our team has had to do some innovative thinking and find ways to get material to turf up the sides right away. With so much water moving through it’s necessary to get them as sound as possible. Fred has also sent out a small team to pick up loose berries: “Once the water dropped, some fruit was left on top of the debris; we needed to get it picked up so we don’t have a problem with rot. It’s always a concern.”

We’re also busy still prepping our equipment for harvest, and we have a team out mowing dams and trimming gates to gets the boards in before the harvest starts.

The work has been nonstop. On Wednesday alone, by Bill and Tug’s calculations, two crews had managed to haul 60 to 80 loads of fill to get dams patched and sides turfed up. The difference in just a week is amazing and is a tribute to our team and their willingness to do everything they do better every day.

It’s been tough, but we’re getting it done. Last week the airstrip reservoir looked like this:

But it’s been cleaned and patched and we’re working on the water levels:

It’s also now much easier to get around Sim Place; last week the dams by Otter #2 were in bad shape:

They’re looking much better already!

The events of the past week have been a true test of Pine Island’s operational efficiency. But our team has risen to the challenge; they are working seven days a week from just about sunup to sundown to get us on track for the harvest and make us better than ever. Junior Colon, a second-generation employee who’s been with us full time for over thirty years, said it best out at Sim Place: “We’re still going. We won’t stop, and we’ll get it done.”

Bad Day at Black Rock

As you may have heard, things around Pine Island Cranberry have been . . . interesting this week. New Jersey caught the tail end of Hurricane Isaac, who brought us over eighteen inches of rains (along with funnel clouds) and left us with an enormous amount of clean-up.

About 1:30 A.M. Tuesday, the rainfall was significant enough that a number of our team members headed out to try and stay ahead of catastrophe, monitoring water levels, pumps, and flood gates. And the rain kept coming. By the afternoon the water had nowhere to go, and the dams began to let go.

We won’t really have an assessment of the damage to the crop until October’s harvest. But leaving the crop aside, we lost twenty dams on seven major reservoirs, irrigation main lines were damaged where dams washed out, and 50% of the farm was underwater at some point. Some bogs were only under for 24 hours, some for 48, and at Sim Place, where damage was heaviest, some of the bogs were under for almost 72 hours. “We’ll be feeling the effect of this for at least two years,” Bill says. “We won’t know about the crop until harvest begins, but we’ll need to get things back in shape, and it’s definitely slowed down the renovation project. Up until now what we’ve been doing is triage.”

Wednesday’s (9/5) priority was getting the water off the bogs, which became easier once it all had somewhere to go. This was done with the use of lift pumps (a pump that brings water from a lower to a higher level, and usually consists of a piston and vertical cylinder with flap or ball valves in both piston and cylinder base), which are used in this instance to augment the water’s natural flow as quickly as possible, as rapid drainage is particularly crucial in this case.

While the greatest damage occurred at Sim Place, the Home Farm suffered tremendously as well. Just off the main road at our Black Rock bogs (actually named for a bad day when its irrigation system was being built; wordplay and Westerns have long been farm favorites), a dam gave way Tuesday night and flooded most of the bogs in the section. Our team did everything they could with everything they had and managed to get the water off the bogs as quickly as possible; as of yesterday, they are already hard at work on repairs.

We’ve received many offers of help–equipment, manpower, whatever is needed–from the local cranberry community, and would like to thank Joe Darlington, Bill Cutts, Tom Budd, Sam Moore, Steven Sooy, Stephen Lee, all their families, and several other area residents and growers. We’d also like to thank Ted Ward of Pine Barren Liquors & Deli in Green Bank, who brought a few dozen sandwiches out to a team who had been on duty since 1:30 A.M. We’re very grateful to have such good friends and neighbors. It’s a sign of the strength of our cranberry & local communities that so many are willing to lend a hand wherever needed. We are also extremely grateful that our entire team is safe and that no buildings were damaged. What happens to the crop remains to be seen; we will know for sure when the harvest ends. Bill’s pragmatic take on the situation is that if the fruit was sound to being with, the crop might be okay; the water by itself won’t necessarily be the issue. In the meantime, the Pine Island team will hold steady and keep doing what needs to be done: it’s what we do and who we are.