In the early days, the Eastern office was a small metal building off of Highway 82 in the town of Northport, AL just north of Tuscaloosa. Eastern basically functioned as an oil field service company and did quite well. In the early 1990s, the bottom fell out of the coal bed methane work, and Eastern was eventually forced to reorganize and pursue other work. Thus began a two-decade period that has resulted in the development and transformation of the Eastern Division into a solid player covering a huge geographic region, and capable of large diameter pipeline spreads, with smaller crew projects including ROW restoration, integrity projects, and anomaly repairs.
By the early 1990s, Eastern had relocated to an office in Vance, Alabama, about twenty miles east of Tuscaloosa. They were still engaged in activities such as hauling water and drill pipe, along with assisting in the fracturing process for a client focused on exploration. They had also begun to build well-sites and small gathering systems.
The Eastern office then began to expand its capabilities. They did mostly maintenance work, small replacement jobs, and anomaly work, but not much mainline pipeline work. One of the first pipeline jobs that can be recalled was in Ooltewah, Tennessee.
Eastern’s two longest-tenured employees are Dale Duncan and Tammy Duke, who will celebrate eighteen and sixteen years, respectively, with Sunland later this year. Dale is currently the division’s Equipment Coordinator, and Tammy is the Office Manager. Dale credits the early success of the Eastern Office to being in the right place at the right time and capitalizing on work opportunities as they became available. “We had one filing cabinet with three drawers,” Tammy recalls. When she began at Eastern in November 1994, the office was about 800 square feet and located behind an Olive Garden restaurant.
Walter Ward joined Sunland in 1997, as Assistant Division Manager, the same year in which Eastern moved its office to a brick house adjacent to its current location. Walter was later promoted to Division Manager and states, “One of the first clients heavily pursued by Eastern was Southern Natural Gas (SNG) in Birmingham, Alabama.” By the 1997-1998 timeframe, Sunland had an alliance agreement in place with SNG. The principle types of projects completed included expansion and loop line projects, DOT projects, and anomaly replacements. Andre Soileau and Kyle Vidrine (currently Project Manager, Gulf Coast Division) were two key members of the SNG Alliance Team. They, along with James Daigle (currently Division Manager, Directional Drilling/Station Division) recall one of the more interesting and challenging projects that Sunland successfully completed during that timeframe. It was known as the “Drummond Coal Mine Project” and included a 24 inch and 30 inch relocation for SNG in 1998. This entailed two very difficult 2,800 ft. directional drills. The terrain was mountainous, and the rock was extremely hard. In the end, despite the critical deadline, difficult terrain, and surrounding mining operations, Sunland’s crew was able to successfully complete the project.
The Eastern office became a formally declared Sunland Division in the mid-1990s and later moved into its current office location of over 5,000 sq. ft. on Kauloosa Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL, in August 2000 and the success and growth over the years speaks for itself. The Eastern Division excels at projects including, but not limited to, the following: mainline construction/large diameter pipelines (completed 56 miles of 36-inch); loop-line construction; meter stations; class location change-outs; highway relocations; relocations for commercial/residential development; directional drills; PIP/integrity projects (make smart pig ready); anomaly repairs; and, right of way restoration.
Such work can and has been performed in numerous states from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast and into the Midwest/Appalachian regions of the U.S., including: Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Regarding terrain and soil conditions, the Eastern Division has no limitations. They are capable of handling all types including, marsh, sand, rock, hills, mountains, and/or congested areas.
When asked to summarize why the Eastern Division has been so successful, Walter Ward always begins with one word: PEOPLE. “The people we have here are absolutely phenomenal,” says Walter. He continues: “Over the years, it took awhile to assemble the right team, and I wish I could take credit. In the end, it has always been everyone working together to help each other, the open and sharing atmosphere.” In addition to the praise and recognition that Walter gives his Project Managers, Superintendents, Foremen, and crews, he is also quick to recognize those who support the work of the division safety, equipment, and administrative personnel. “We get a lot of compliments from our Superintendents and Field Clerks aimed at our office support staff,” Walter said, “and we also get great support from corporate.”
The attitude regarding sharing permeates to other Sunland Divisions, and the Eastern Division is “keen on working with other divisions and affiliates,” particularly the Gulf Coast Division, Rocky Mountain Division, Directional Drilling Division, and Foremost Pipeline Construction. Such sharing has been reciprocated and contributed to the overall success and prosperity of Sunland & Affiliates. Walter credits Sunland and Affiliates’ strategic planning initiative and time spent with other divisions as key elements that has led to such cooperation. When asked to reflect on their careers at Sunland, Tammy and Dale also pinpointed “people” as the key to Eastern’s success. “Just look at our excellent employee attendance,” Tammy said. “Our people are dedicated, love their jobs and have a wonderful work ethic.” Dale summarized as follows: “I have stayed with Sunland, because I felt that they would be here for the long haul, and boy, was I right! I feel that everyone here from the office personnel, support personnel and field personnel play an important role in the success of Sunland here and as a whole. Everyone is a link in the chain, and the links have to work together for the chain to be successful. The continued unselfishness and dedication to work as a team has been and is the key factor. I feel that we have the personnel in place to accomplish whatever we need to do to continue as one of the best pipeline contractors in the business.”