Pinnacle Finds Niche, Growth In South Carolina

Pinnacle Construction & Directional Boring is one of the busiest underground utility construction contractors working in and around the scenic coastal city of Charleston, SC.

Evolving from a company formed to bury, install and service cable television network cable and provide installation and technical services for satellite dish customers, today Pinnacle Construction specializes in trenchless construction for electrical distribution systems by horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

“We got our first exposure to directional drilling in 2001 while still doing CATV work,” said Erik Carlson, Pinnacle president. “We had an opportunity to do road bores for Time Warner, but I was hesitant to ‘buy in’ to the technology. We purchased our first drill — a Ditch Witch JT920 — and immediately saw the benefits of the technology and many opportunities for using it. That quickly led to the purchase of a second machine, a JT1720, from one of our electrical customers.”

As the company became more focused on HDD, Carlson said issues developed with his two partners, and after three years the cable installation business was dissolved.

“However,” he said, “Trina, my wife, and I recognized we had too much invested to get out of the construction business and we bought the assets of the company and formed Pinnacle Construction & Directional Boring Inc. in 2004. I realized then that I needed to refocus efforts solely on HDD.” Carlson said his recent experience with directional drilling and organizational skills from previous military service helped make the decision that established the direction and success of the new company.

With the two compact drill units (Ditch Witch JT920 and JT17200), the new company began subcontracting bores for electrical installations.

“The company that hired us as a subcontractor had been doing its own directional drilling,” said Carlson. “We actually were more efficient at making HDD installations and they stopped doing drilling and tasked us with all their HDD work.”

Two years later, another JT1720 was added to the HDD equipment fleet, along with a larger JT2720 with 27,000 pounds of pullback.

Carlson got his South Carolina General Contractor’s License in 2006. That year, Pinnacle was awarded a contract for HDD with South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) for work in the Charleston Metro area and Low Country Districts with projects extending west nearly to the state’s capital, Columbia.

SCE&G is a regulated utility engaged in the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity to approximately 664,000 customers in South Carolina. Many new distribution lines serving developments and communities are being placed underground which is preferred for aesthetic reasons. The company also provides natural gas service to approximately 317,000 customers throughout the state.

Pinnacle’s crews install main-line feeder cable, single- and 3-phase power cable; secondary cable, services and cable to power street lights.

Although electric distribution is the company’s primary market, Carlson said Pinnacle has subcontracted drilling for several gas contractors to install 1¼ through eight-inch MDPE natural gas distribution lines.

“During the boom in home construction in the mid 2000s,” he continued, “we also worked for multiple site contractors, developers and other contractors to install customer-provided conduit for the power company’s eventual use, and also installed water lines, force sewer mains and even gravity sewer lines.”

HDD concentration

Ninety-five percent of Pinnacle’s work is horizontal directional drilling. The company currently operates seven Ditch Witch HDD units, ranging in pullback from 12,000 to 30,000 pounds, all with Ditch Witch electronic tracking systems. Pinnacle’s equipment fleet also includes vacuum excavators, compact excavators, backhoe/loaders, fiber optic cable pulling equipment, pipe fusing equipment and more than 25 trucks of various sizes to transport personnel and equipment.

“All crews are equipped with hydraulically operated reel trailers which are much safer than tip-and-load trailers,” said Carlson.

For a growing number of projects in Pinnacle’s service areas, Carlson said horizontal directional drilling is becoming preferred over open-cut construction.

“Horizontal directional drilling,” he said, “minimizes impact to residential, commercial, and environmentally-sensitive areas. Charleston is a coastal city, so we cross many waterways by HDD. We have made multiple highway and interstate crossings and we adhere to recently updated South Carolina Department of Transportation requirements which call for highly-detailed HDD bore planning.

“In many cases, HDD is called for by project owners simply because they want to avoid trenching because of the negative social impact of open-cut construction and to avoid the impact it causes to businesses and damage to meticulously-landscaped properties. In addition, HDD often reduces the time needed to complete a project and actually reduces the cost of construction.”


Most of Pinnacle’s work, Carlson added, is in highly-congested underground utility environments. Subsurface soils typically are sand or clay; rock is rarely encountered in coastal areas.

Projects that illustrate Pinnacle’s range of work include:

• Street lighting — Earlier in 2012, Pinnacle crews began installing 60,000 feet of street lighting conduit for the Town of Mount Pleasant. Work is along the edge of Highway 17, one of the busiest boulevards in a suburb of metropolitan Charleston. The project was made necessary by a street widening project. To complete the work, Carlson said as many as four crews with three JT2020 HDD units will be needed to install three-inch HDPE conduit. The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2013 with approximately 400 bores ranging in length from 50 to 250-feet, with an average length of 125 feet. The lighting will enhance sidewalks along the street.
• Power upgrade — Pinnacle used HDD to upgrade SCE&G’s electrical distribution system serving a portion of Sullivan’s Island, one of the most affluent ZIP codes on the east coast. The area overlooks Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, part of a string of fortifications built to protect Charleston Harbor. Fort Moultrie dates to 1776 with the current structure completed in 1809. The Civil War began at Fort Sumter in 1861.

Pinnacle crews used JT3020, JT2720 and a JT1220 along with compact excavators to install 52,000 feet of two-, 3- and six-inch conduit for single- and three-phase power distribution lines to serve residences, a church and a boat landing.

“The oceanfront area,” Carlson said, “has very affluent permanent residents and vacation homes, all on immaculately-landscaped property, and the owners were delighted we completed the work without digging up their yards.”
• Charles Towne Landing — Pinnacle placed 10,000 feet of single- and three-phase electrical conduit at this national historic site, using the JT2720. Twenty bores were made with average lengths from 400 to 600 feet. Archeologists hand dug entry and exit points for each bore prior to drilling and searched for artifacts in the previously undisturbed soils.
• Island-to-island bores — To bring electrical power to a private residence on a private island off the coast of Seabrook Island, the crew drilled to one island, then to the next, moved the drill unit to the second island, and used the newly-installed, three-inch conduits to pump drilling fluid from the mixer on the mainland to the drill unit almost 1,000 feet away. The longest was a continuous shot of 1,500 feet. The JT3020 was used on the project. Walkover tracking equipment was used to track the bore head and provide information for guiding the bores. Conduits were cleaned prior to installing new power cable.

“When the conduit was in place, we then pulled in 2,500 feet of primary cable, terminated and tested it before turning it over to the electric company to be put into service,” Carlson said. “This was our first big private project.”

Pinnacle’s HDD fleet is carefully selected to fit the projects the company does. All are relatively compact with footprints that permit set-up in confined spaces, limiting the need to close streets or redirect traffic. Rubber tracks take the machines over paved surfaces and expensive landscaping. Although relatively small in size, the machines have the capability of drilling several hundred feet and to pull in strings of fused conduit.

However, construction machines don’t operate themselves, and Carlson credits the experience and commitment of the company’s long-term employees as a key to the Pinnacle’s success and growth. General Manager Mike Harrawood has been with the company from the beginning, he said.

Pinnacle Construction’s dealer is Ditch Witch of the Carolinas, Ladson, South Carolina.

Pinnacle Construction and Directional Boring, (843) 873-1012
Ditch Witch, (800) 654-6481,

Safety First

Safety is a priority with Pinnacle Construction & Directional Boring.

First and foremost, the goal is to prevent injury or death to workers and anyone in the area of a construction project and to prevent damage to existing utilities and property on and around work sites.

“Our record for safety and damage prevention are keys to being trusted to do a client’s work,” said Pinnacle President Erik Carlson. “We work diligently to notify, track, verify and maintain proper notifications to all of the utility operators and private owners through South Carolina’s centralized one-call center.”

Training is a key to working safe.

“We train every week,” Carlson said. “The schedule includes revolving OSHA training, on-the-job training topics, high-voltage terminating and switching, mud schools and site specific client training. We have an electronic picture frame in our office that we regularly update with photos illustrating good and bad job-site practices to share lessons learned. We pay quarterly crew bonuses based on safe operation first, then performance.

Carlson is active in the Low Country Utilities Coordinating Committee (LUCC), participating in monthly meetings, and helped organize the group’s first annual seminar. Pinnacle also participates in the North Carolina/South Carolina annual convention. In 2012, Carlson is serving as LUCC secretary.

Pinnacle Construction was named 2011 LUCC Damage Prevention Contractor of the Year.

Carlson said it’s never too early to begin safety training. For several years, Pinnacle Construction has provided excavation and underground utility safety awareness at the Fort Dorchester Elementary School for kindergarten through third grade students.

Pinnacle Construction’s HDD Equipment

Pinnacle’s current HDD fleet is composed of the following rubber track drill units:

• One JT1220 model powered by a 60-horsepower engine. It develops 12,000 pounds of pullback force, 1,200 foot pounds of torque and maximum spindle speed of 180 rpm;
• Four JT2020 machines developing 20,000 pounds of pullback, 2,200 foot pounds of spindle torque and maximum spindle speed of 150 rpm;
• One JT2720, 113 horsepower, 27,000 pounds of pullback, 3,200 foot pounds of torque and maximum spindle speed of 225 rpm; and
• One JT3020, 156 horsepower, 30,000 pounds of thrust, 4,000 foot pounds of torque and spindle speeds to 225 rpm.

In addition, Pinnacle crews have seven 750 and 752 electronic trackers, multiple 86, 86BH and one 86VBH Extreme beacons.

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