Contractor Profile: Sorensen Companies Inc.

Utah utility contractor Sorensen Companies Inc. (SCI) was established by Craig Sorensen in 1977 with one old backhoe and used truck to install underground telephone cable.

Contractor Profile: Sorensen Companies Inc.“My father was working for Mountain Bell, and he saw the ways cable was being put in the ground,” said SCI president Chad Sorensen. “He believed he could do the job better — bury cable faster and more efficiently than it was being done, so he started a company to subcontract utility excavation.”

Basic telephone construction has evolved to building telecommunications networks and a significant part of SCI’s work is in that market. Telecom work today includes FTTX (fiber-to-anything), cell tower and  LTE (long-term evolution) construction. In addition, the company provides construction services for electrical power and natural gas distribution and water and sewer systems.

Today, SCI has a fleet of more than 1,000 pieces of specialized equipment and trucks operating in the 14 western United States, with a primary focus in home state Utah and the Rocky Mountain region.

“We are a multi-disciplined contractor with many specialties,” said Sorensen. “We have the ability to recognize future trends, so we are able to adapt quickly to changing markets and execute with high proficiency, completing the most complex projects at a quality that exceeds industry expectations.”

SCI services go far beyond simply placing cable or pipe in the ground — with engineering capabilities, the company offers design/build services to provide turnkey services of all elements of a project.

Keeping it in the family: (l-r) Debbie and Craig Sorensen with their sons Cody, Clint, Chad and Chase.Sorensen credits SCI’s success and growth to the core established by his father when he went into business 37 years ago.

“Working as a team, we are committed to doing quality work safely with integrity and respect,” said Sorensen.
Craig Sorensen maintains involvement in the company as chief executive officer, with his four sons in positions to manage the business and carry on SCI’s tradition: Chad as president, Clint as director of production, Cody as chief financial officer, and Chase, who is director of the estimating department.

“Each of us,” said Chad Sorensen, “started at entry level jobs and have worked our way up. We’re very focused on building a lasting legacy that will be sustained by future generations.”

From that first backhoe, SCI has built a fleet of specialized equipment for putting cable duct and pipe in the ground. The method of construction used depends on many factors and varies by project.

Expanding to HDD

A good example of SCI’s flexibility is the adoption of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) as a primary method of installation.

“We put our first directional drills — early Ditch Witch models — in service in the mid-1990s when telecom work was booming,” Sorensen said. “Trenchless construction brought many benefits to underground utility construction and we began using it in areas where excavation was difficult or impossible.”

In a relatively short period of time, directional drilling went from a novel experiment to an accepted preferred method of construction. Drilling equipment and techniques have evolved and, Sorensen believes, advances in electronic tracking has been a key element responsible for growth in the industry.

SCI’s HDD fleet varies in size as workloads change. The company is equipped to make directional bores up to 1,000 ft in length to install product up to 30 in. in diameter. HDD models include Ditch Witch JT25 with 27,000 lbs pullback and 4,000 ft-lbs of rotary torque; JT3020 with 30,000 lbs pullback and 4,000 ft-lbs rotary torque; and JT4020 All Terrain with 40,000 lbs pullback and 5,000 ft-lbs rotary torque.

“From thousands of feet of bore along the shoulder of an interstate highway to a 20-ft shot under a driveway, no project is too large or too small,” said Sorensen. “We are able to install cable, conduit, or a combination of multiple products for whatever the need is. The HDD process minimizes environmental disruption. It is suitable for a variety of conditions and jobs, including road, landscape and river crossings.”

“Soft” excavation with vacuum excavators is another tool the company has incorporated into its underground utility work over the past dozen years. Using high-pressure water or air, a vacuum excavator can quickly dig potholes to verify the location of buried utilities. The dual-purpose equipment also can perform multiple clean up jobs or work sites. Sorensen’s fleet of vacuum excavators includes Ditch Witch models FX30 (200-gal water tank, 800-gal spoil tank) and FX60 (500-gal water tank, 1,200-gal spoil tank).

“There is a heavy emphasis today on keeping construction sites clean,” said Sorensen. “Vacuum excavators keep HDD areas free of drilling fluids. However, with today’s crowded easements, potholing to verify the location of existing utilities is their most important use.”

Details of recent projects illustrate the scope of Sorensen’s work.

During the past year, SCI has placed more than 600 miles of fiber-optic cable in rural communities in the Rocky Mountain region. Installing utilities in rural areas creates many challenges, including tight running lines, solid rock conditions, weather and local wildlife. It is not uncommon for equipment operators to have multiple bear sightings in a day. Snake protective and fire prevention gear are on hand at all times.

Soil conditions in the Rocky Mountains are diverse — a crew can be drilling in solid rock one day and potato dirt the next. SCI uses directional drilling to protect vegetation and preserve the natural surroundings. SCI crews often place utilities on steep terrain, but crews use heavy equipment to place utilities on the sloping faces of mountains. Or, a crew may cross a river in the morning and drill through heavy wooded areas in the afternoon. On open ski slopes powerful plow units allow product to be safely placed at depth.

With such a range of conditions, to complete work on the scale SCI operates requires the best operators and best equipment, ranging from 40,000-lb pullback directional drilling equipment, 45,000-lb-class excavators, rock breakers, earth saws, quad track plows and large 100,000-lb cable plowing equipment.

In addition to terrain, weather often is a factor which can bring unexpected, radical changes. There can be a mid-summer snow, followed by 90-degree temperatures the next day. This can be taxing on both crews and equipment and requires operators and machines to be the best in the industry. Because local emergency facilities often are far away, SCI employees are certified in wilderness first aid and CPR.

“There is so much to plan for when working in these conditions, we always have to be at the top of our game mentally and physically and to keep everyone safe, plan for all the possible dangers,” said Sorensen. “However, we look on such complications as an adventure, part of what makes our work interesting and fun…exactly what we want to do.”

“Any terrain, any weather, any time, We can do the job — that’s our guarantee.”

Jeri Lamerton is public relations manager at Ditch Witch.
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