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VolkerStevin uses wide-tread Caterpillar bulldozers to protect Welsh seafront

The contractor has had to choose its plant carefully as part of its work to restore the beach at Colwyn Bay to its former glory.

Colwyn Bay used to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Wales, with its beach being among its major attractions.

Since the 1950s though, coastal erosion has seen the beach recede to such an extent that it is now almost entirely underwater at high tide.

With the beach no longer there for protection, the ocean pounds the sea wall separating it from the promenade. Now a new project is aiming to restore the sand to its previous levels to provide a natural barrier between the water and the wall.

The creation of the beach directly to the east of the brand new Porth Eirias Watersports Plaza on the seafront is part of the £17 million regeneration of the town, and will protect the A55 trunk road and the North Wales Coast Railway from the effects of the sea.

Sand pumped to shore

The first phase of the beach regeneration will see 500,000 tonnes of sand imported from an offshore dredging site 32 km north of Colwyn Bay. The dredging ship will connect to a 1.8 km-long, 800 mm-diameter steel pipeline to pump the sand onshore.

“The type of sand we are using compacts and drains very quickly, so we had to use low-pressure bulldozers”

Andy Hills, VolkerStevin

VolkerStevin is the contractor in charge of the onshore landscaping, the nature of which poses its own challenges. The company will use two wide-tread Caterpillar B6 bulldozers to shift and shape the sand.

“We picked the B6 because it is the optimum machine for the volume of material we are shifting,” says VolkerStevin contract manager Andy Hills.

Type of material crucial to plant

Mr Hills says that a smaller machine like the Caterpillar B4 would not be sufficient to move the necessary amount of sand within the required timeframe, whereas a larger one would struggle on the sandy surface.

“The type of sand we are using compacts and drains very quickly, so we had to use low-pressure bulldozers,” he says. “Anything else and it would be like running on quicksand.”

The beach will be profiled, with all of the sand sorted accordingly, and will be finished with a crest. As the tidal range at Colwyn Bay is 6 m, the machines will have a very limited working area at high tide. To combat this, the team will import more sand than is required to give a solid working platform.

“By using more sand than necessary initially, we enable ourselves to continue working even at high tide,” Mr Hills says. “We’ll grade and profile the sand when the water is high, and at low tide we will work on levelling the beach using the bulldozers.”

Live environment poses challenge

Perhaps the biggest challenge the team faces is in managing the public. The beach will remain open throughout the process, and the contractors must make sure that their earthmoving never poses a danger to public safety.

“This is our biggest concern,” Mr Hills says. “We’ve split the beach into three sections so that the public can still enjoy it while we work, but that requires a lot of management on our part to make sure they are safe throughout.”

The beach landscaping phase of the project is expected to take two and a half weeks once it begins. Welding is currently being carried out on the pipe that will carry sand to the beach, with all work expected to be completed by the end of April – in time for Colwyn Bay’s summer season to begin.

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