J.F. Brennan – Setting the Sustainability Standard



Nestled on the banks of the Mississippi in scenic La Crosse, Wisconsin, J.F. Brennan Company, Inc., has earned its nationwide reputation as a premier marine construction firm by setting the standard for sustainability on inland waterways work since 1919.

Led by the family’s fourth generation, J.F. Brennan is ever-expanding to perform a broader spectrum of work, ranging from environmental services, marine construction and harbor management to dam construction and railroad work. The company focuses on providing quality services to both public and private owners of civil infrastructure. The innovative marine contractor is famed for tackling difficult marine projects, like water remediation and habitat restoration, with highly efficient machines and unique operating techniques that ensure long-term environmental, economic and cultural benefits.

“What sets us apart from the competition,” says Mark Binsfeld, vice president of business development, “is that we are very innovative in everything that we do.  We take on very difficult, challenging projects, and we’re very good at coming up with new ideas and innovative tools to perform projects more efficiently and more safely, to reach the lofty goals that our clients expect from us.”  

Brennan is involved in some 350 projects annually—split 50/50 between the private and public sectors—that stretch from coast to coast, range in size from $200,000 to several million dollars, and typically run between three to six months in duration. As a testament to the quality and efficiency of their operations, 30% to 40% of their work is repeat business.

Brennan’s fleet of approximately 400 machines is comprised of cranes, excavators, dump trucks, wheel loaders, towboats and dredges. Cat® machines comprise approximately 30% of the fleet.

“Our union operators by far prefer Cat equipment,” notes Ken Peterson, vice president, asset manager. “They like the power. They like the controls. They like the reliability.”

Equipment fleet

Machines custom-built for work on the water are an essential component to Brennan’s environmental commitment. Caterpillar OEM Solutions supplies the machines, and the network of dependable Cat® dealers supports the environmentally friendly fleet. For example, custom-built amphibious excavators use a Cat 324E upper structure with a boom/stick total reach of 55 feet at ground level and a 1.57 cu. yd. bucket. It’s mounted on custom-built 35 ft. long, six-foot high, six-foot wide, low ground pressure tracks that are hollow pontoons so the machine will float in open water. They tread so lightly they can actually go where a person can’t walk, and are able to work with minimal disturbance to sensitive wetlands. Low ground pressure (LGP) dozers team with the excavators and amphibious dump trucks to work efficiently in sensitive areas such as saltwater marshes.

Innovative new OEM equipment such as hydraulic dredges powered by Cat marine engines and amphibious excavators, enables Brennan to economically clean up some of these areas that have been heavily contaminated over the years, but inaccessible to conventional machines.

Underscoring Brennan’s commendable commitment to environmentally friendly machines, Brennan uses polyalkalene glycol (PAG), a special synthetic glycol fluid that replaces hydraulic fluid, in their entire fleet of marine machines and has done so for the past 10 years. PAG is water soluble, biodegradable and has better “fish-kill” numbers than ester-based oil, making it far more environmentally friendly than oil and ensuring that in the unlikely event of a fluid leak or spill, it is easily cleaned up with minimal environmental impact. Importantly, the Cat machines require no modification to operate using PAG.  

Rewarding results

“Brennan performs a lot of environmental cleanups, and early in my career, we were dredging some pretty contaminated sediment on one of the coasts,” recalls Smith. “I remember meeting some of the local residents, who were older gentlemen, and they said they hadn’t seen salmon spawning in this river since they were kids. And I remember towards the end of that project, when we were finishing up one day, we started seeing salmon spawning all along the dredges. And I knew right then, the type of work that we are doing is making a difference and is truly making the world a cleaner place.”

Dealer support 

“Caterpillar helps us overcome our challenges with two great strengths—their service and their reliability,” notes Smith. “Most of our projects run 24 hours a day, five to six days a week and we demand those projects run 100% of the time. We have a lot of special equipment on site, so we carry a lot of spare parts to keep that equipment running. But we also know our Cat equipment is going to be reliable; and if it does break down, help and parts are only a phone call away.” 

“Cat parts and service are by far the standard. And that’s what I hold everybody else up against,” says Peterson. “The infrastructure of Cat parts delivery is unmatched by anybody else in the country, any dealer or manufacturer. If you order a part, it will be there in a very short time, no matter where you are in the country,” says Peterson. 

In recent years, Brennan has branched out geographically. “That’s the other aspect of Cat parts and service—when you roll into another Cat dealer’s territory, you can expect the same parts and service that you have in your own territory. We find a very consistent level of performance and quality from all the Cat dealerships we work with,” says Peterson.

A consistent level of high-quality performance, with an emphasis on safety, has helped Brennan be a successful environmental steward of the Mississippi and other waterways.


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