Dredging & Marine Construction

LeveeLock Trenching Technology Designed To Be Cheaper, Greener, Safer

Gerald DeNeal compares excavating a trench with the LeveeLock system compared with traditional equipment as akin to a surgeon with more advanced technology at his hands.

“Our concept is minimally disturbing,” he said. “It’s like minimally invasive surgery.”

Continuing that comparison, he noted, LeveeLock is also safer, more efficient and more economical.

 “First, it is easier to avoid falling into a narrow trench, so it is safer,” he said. “Second, it is much more efficient and less total environmental disturbance to handle the material from a narrow trench than that of a wide trench.”

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The LeveeLock system is based on an idea DeNeal came up with over the course of his more than 40-year career as an environmental engineer and project supervisor in the coal mining industry and reclamation/environmental side of the mining business. It included several years as a certified federal dam inspector.

“We knew we had something very special here,” co-founder Eric Gregg said of DeNeal’s idea.

Gregg, with his background in local government as well as market development, was eager to help turn DeNeal’s idea into a marketable product.

Deneal and Gregg, both of Harrisburg, Ill., know each other from going to church together. They started LeveeLock with their business partner, Jim Lancaster of Fargo, N.C., whom they described as a business strategist who keeps them on course and helps them avoid potential business pitfalls.

“The concept is simple,” Gregg said. “Why dig a wide trench when a narrow trench will do?”

The challenge for all trenches is keeping the trench open long enough for the work to be completed, he said. LeveeLock uses a combination of new technologies for which the company eventually received three patents. 

“Custom designed air-lift cushions are slipped into the narrow trench and inflated to compress the soil on the trench sides,” DeNeal said. “These cushions are left in place while custom-designed long-reach excavator extensions work under the cushions to the necessary depth, if so required. When it’s time to line the trench, we deflate and remove the cushions. And, depending on the specific purpose of the trench, the patented trench liner equipment installs either an impermeable or permeable geo-textile fabric into the open trench.  The liner is pulled down to the trench bottom where it leaves an envelope of fabric in the trench. That’s both sides and the bottom completely lined with one continuous fabric.”

Lancaster said lining the trenches is important.

“The lined trench provides a new and perfectly clean way to ensure that a good concrete mix will not be degraded with loose soil from the trench sides,” he said. “Wherever competent concrete is needed in any trench location, such as in levee cutoff walls or general levee stabilization work, a lined trench will always give the best results.” 

Since the liner can create a waterproof barrier, applications can include the creation of one or multiple cut-off walls to assist in levee remediation, preventing ground water contamination, containing agricultural waste or enhancing security via underground tunneling prevention methods.

For projects requiring drainage or filtration, LeveeLock allows the installation of a trench lined with filter fabric and rocks or with activated charcoal. Deneal said the system allows uniform thickness in the trench for effective groundwater pollution control jobs.

LeveeLock is also designed to be safer. Gregg mentioned a recent article from a construction magazine that reported seven trench collapse deaths in the United States in the first two months of 2021. It is not uncommon, he said, to have 40 or more deaths from trench collapses in the United States each year.

“This trend, this year, is starting out much higher than usual,” he said. “LeveeLock can help.”  

Being environmentally friendly is also important to the company founders. The LeveeLock technology means less soil is disturbed than in using traditional methods, and that a crew can work in a smaller area. 

“As an environmental engineer, I can tell you that significant soil and vegetation disturbance normally associated with trench cutoff walls, especially slurry cutoff walls, is a real issue,” DeNeal said.  “This is where LeveeLock really shines. We can minimize the environmental disturbance and its added environmental costs in every job.”

Gregg added that he believes the technology could eventually become the gold standard in deep trenching work.