Great Lakes keeps fusion in the family

Bryan Marks started working when he was only 8 years old. His job was to pick up the loose trash that had blown off the Venice Park Landfill his family owned in Lennon, Michigan. By the time he was 10, he was running bulldozers, loaders and off-road trucks.

It seemed natural for him to be part of the operation since they did all their own construction, plus it was a great opportunity to learn a valuable skillset that would be helpful down the road. His late grandfather, Ralph Crawford, instilled a strong work ethic, and while he may not have fully appreciated it at the time, he’s very grateful for the experience.

As the owner of Great Lakes Fusion, Marks’ company specializes in all facets of landfill construction: excavation, drilling, HDPE pipe fusion services for pipe up to 65”, and installation of methane and leachate collection systems. He’s also diversified with Great Lakes Ready Mix, Great Lakes Rental & Supply, and Great Lakes Machining & Fabrication, which makes HDPE specialty products.

Embracing New Technology

Not surprisingly, Marks’ introduction to fusing HDPE pipe also came early in 1986 when he was just 14. They were constructing a pipeline to collect methane from the landfill that would be used to power a cogeneration facility.

“My grandfather was always fascinated by new technologies and new advancements,” Marks said. “At that time, it was on the cutting edge- nobody was collecting methane to produce electricity. We were only the second landfill in the state of Michigan to ever do that.”

Adopting new innovations required unique equipment. They selected McElroy fusion machines early on and Marks has stuck with them ever since. He still has some McElroy equipment that is more than 30 years old including the first fusion machine he ever used and still uses — a Rolling 28 for 2- to 8-inch HDPE pipe.

He finds the equipment easy to use and likes having the flexibility of removing the carriage from the chassis and placing it in a trench for in-ditch fusion.

“It’s the most reputable fusion equipment on the market that I know of today. It’s made right here in the USA so parts availability … that’s huge,” Marks said. I also like the fact that it’s made in the USA and it promotes US jobs.”

Keeping it in the Family

The company business came to a close in 1992 when they were bought out by a large international waste firm. While his grandfather, mother Jo Marks and uncle Rod Crawford moved on, Ric Crawford and Marks stayed on with the new company. Shortly thereafter, Marks was promoted to operations manager for another landfill site in west Michigan. He also had his own pipe division within the company and was installing methane gas systems in-house until 1998.

At that time, his employer decided they wanted to outsource the pipe installation part of the business and that prompted an entrepreneurial spirit in Marks. He left the company and started his own excavation and pipeline construction company — Great Lakes Fusion. It turned out to be a good decision for everyone involved. Great Lakes Fusion started as a subsidiary of this uncle Ric Crawford’s company, Lennon Construction. They were able to negotiate a deal with his previous employer to buy all their fusion equipment and immediately was hired by them as an independent contractor to install methane gas recovery projects throughout Michigan.

“I worked under (Crawford’s) construction company and he mentored me over the next few years with the agreement that if and when I was ready to go off on my own, he would let me buy Great Lakes Fusion out and that’s what I did in 2001,” Marks said.

Crawford retired shortly after the buyout, but he became bored. “He said, ‘Have you got anything for me to do? I’ve got to have something to do.’ “Be careful what you wish for,” Marks quipped. “So, my uncle who mentored me and trained me is working for me now.”

But Marks still considers Crawford a mentor.

“He runs any piece of equipment and can bid any job, age hasn’t slowed him down a bit,” Marks said.

His cousins also work at Great Lakes Fusion. Chad Crawford is Chief Financial Officer, and Randy Crawford, the Chief Operating Officer. Marks thinks of them as the pillars of the company. “They could run this place even if I wasn’t here,” Marks said.

Today, Great Lakes has over 40 fusion technicians on the job at any given time working mostly at landfills, sewer and dewatering projects primarily in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee. Every spring, ISCO Industries comes in to provide certified fusion training for new operators and recertification for their existing fusion crews.

Landfill Expansions

Great Lakes has grown to become the preferred excavation and pipeline contractor for many landfills in the midwestern United States. Building new waste cells and drilling wells into newly deposited trash to collect methane is one aspect of their ongoing work. As the landfill grows, they have to drill more wells, more lateral pipelines are added, and the larger mainlines have to be extended.

One of their most recent projects was a five-week gas expansion project where they fused a two-mile, 18” mainline that looped the circumference of the landfill. From the mainline, they branched 4”, 6”, and 8” lateral piping up the mound of the landfill which connects to the gas wells. Once piped to a cogeneration facility, the methane turns giant power generators that provide enough electricity to power over 5,500 homes.

Because of HDPE’s durability, chemical resistance and flexibility to withstand the underground shifting, Marks said it is the ideal pipe material to use in landfills.

Jobsite Solutions- Lids and Sumps

Being around landfills all his life, Marks’ company has discovered many ways to operate them more efficiently. Their GLF Lids are the perfect example. They were created in response to the difficulty workers were having in removing bling flanges from cell risers. This is a routine function at landfills so that leachate — which is the water that drains though the landfill — can be pumped out and treated at a waste treatment facility.

It was taking two people as long as an hour to remove each blind flange and each landfill could have 25 or more of them so it was a time-consuming process. The removal required two large wrenches to remove the nuts and bolts and those were easily lost and functioning poorly due to corrosion.

The GLF lids were a great improvement because tools are not needed to remove them, and it only takes one person about 30 seconds. Being composed of HDPE, they provide an airtight and leak-free seal with the base fused to a manhole or slope riser pipe. Stainless steal “T” bolts and HDPE hand torque nuts are used to attach the HDPE lid which protects them from corrosion. They are easily removed from the lid while staying permanently attached to the flange so there are no loose parts. Great Lakes has been selling them to landfills across the country and in Canada for the past 15 years.

Last year, they released another innovation — a patented Hard-Welded Dual Contained Sump, which is used to prevent methane condensation from leaking into the ground water. The Sump consists of a 24” HDPE containment pipe, for example, inside a 36” leak detection pipe with a monitoring device situated in the space between the pipes. These come in various sizes – 48” within a 60” pipe, a 12” within ad 18”, etc.

“We used to do an extrusion weld, but it wasn’t as strong, so we butt fuse everything now. With HDPE, you have a leak-free joint that is as strong or stronger than the pipe itself. You should never have to replace this. We can make it any diameter up to 65-inch.” He said.

In the News

Not every project is a landfill. Marks’ company can provide pipe fusion services for all industries including public works where the ability to fuse pipe quickly can protect a neighborhood’s quality of life and personal property.

A great example would be the situation that ensued on Christmas Eve in 2016. A large sewer pipe collapsed in Fraser, Michigan, leaving behind a huge 250-by-100-foot sinkhole. Residents from more than 20 homes were evacuated and three homes were damaged beyond living conditions.

To prevent the risk of further damage, Great Lakes was called to fuse emergency bypass line so that the sewage could be pumped around the break while the collapsed pipe buried 55 feet in the ground was being repaired. All together, they fused 2 ½ miles of 32” and 48” HDPE pipe with a McElroy TracStar® 900 and their largest machine, a MegaMc® 2065. The bypass lines operated for eight months before the permanent line was fixed.

A Fitting Tribute

Marks’ grandfather didn’t live long enough to see his grandson launch Great Lakes and all the ways he would build upon his legacy, but it was his guidance that helped Marks build a strong foundation that has led to a remarkable career. His pointed advice has always stayed with him in every job he has ever worked. Today he lives his grandfather’s words in his work as well as his life: “You get out what you put in.”