KELLEYS ISLAND, OHIO — On a remote island — at least as remote as any island in Ohio can get — six plastic lumber brands are being put to the test.
In April, Ohio's Department of Natural Resources started work on a walkway to a vibrant bird habitat on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie. The largely volunteer labor force used 2-by-6 planks donated by six plastic-lumber companies for the surface of the walk.
The 1,700-foot walkway is one of the tasks in a three-year, multiclient demonstration partnership between the Plastic Lumber Trade Association based in Akron, Ohio; the ODNR; the American Plastics Council of Washington; and Battelle Memorial Institute, a private, not-for-profit research firm based in Columbus, Ohio.
Companies participating in the project are Plastic Lumber Co. of Akron; U.S. Plastic Lumber Co. of Boca Raton, Fla.; Renew Plastics of Luxemburg, Wis.; Temple Inland of Diboll, Texas; Bedford Industries Inc. of Worthington, Minn.; and Hammer's Plastic Recycling Inc. of Iowa Falls, Iowa.
Half the plastic-lumber boards in the walkway were donated by the six manufacturers, while ODNR purchased the rest from Plastic Lumber Co.
Building the walkway with different types of plastic lumber gave ODNR a chance to do a side-by-side comparison of the various products.
``The quality control killed us,'' said Bill Loebick, project coordinator with ODNR's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.
While each company's product had a slightly different look, it turns out the boards were very similar in terms of handling and installation. But secondary processing — mainly the cutting of the boards to the proper length at the factories — showed differing attention to detail.
Not all the boards were cut off at a 90-degree angle — or even to the same length, Loebick said. The volunteers worked to keep one edge of the walkway straight as they drilled the planks into the wooden support structure, leaving the opposite side uneven in places. Now Loebick will have to go back with a chalk line and saw to make the other side match up, he said.
``It was one extra step we shouldn't need to do,'' he said. ``If we were to bid it out, the boards would have to have 90-degree cuts and have to be the same length.''
Other concerns included the boards' tendency to warp when cut lengthwise, and some boards ``cupped,'' which will allow water to pool in the middle, Loebick said. He added that the products from Renew were the best overall in terms of quality control.
Otherwise, workers found the plastic lumber fairly easy to work with, Loebick said. The boards were pre-drilled and countersunk before being attached to the wood substructure with stainless-steel nails.
Prabhat Krishnaswamy, now vice president of Engineering Mechanics Corp. of Columbus, helped design the structure for Battelle. He now works for Battelle on a contract basis. Louisiana State University also helped with the design parameters of the boardwalk.
Krishnaswamy said they used a ``design overkill'' principle when specifying the joist spacing for the planks at 12 inches. Common joist spacing for wood decks is 16 or 24 inches.
The more-robust structure increased overall costs for the project, which would have been two to three times an all-wood structure if the plastic lumber had not been donated, Loebick said.
``We would have liked to do an all-plastic walkway,'' Loebick said, noting the plastic-lumber deck is expected to have an 80-year lifespan, while the wood substructure may have to be replaced in as little as 11 or 12 years.
But the all-plastic idea ran into resistance from ODNR's engineering staff, Loebick said.
ODNR is no stranger to plastic-lumber walkways. In 1993, the department completed a totally plastic-lumber walkway in a rare glacial bog near Kent, Ohio. That walkway uses plastic lumber through-and-through; from basic support structures to the walkway surface.
Loebick said some problems have developed with the Kent bog project, but none can be attributed to the actual lumber.
``We made mistakes,'' Loebick said, noting the different types of ground and brush the walkway traverses have caused it to buckle and heave in places.
As part of the Kelleys Island project, ODNR personnel will be making semiannual reports about the condition of the deck, Krishnaswamy said.
Meanwhile, the multiclient study will continue with plastic-lumber structures being planned for an overlook platform at Great Falls National Park in Maryland and a boardwalk at Fort Belvoir, a U.S. Army facility in Virginia.