Gerhard “Gerry” MuenchmeyerGerhard “Gerry” Muenchmeyer says he has spent his entire professional career in the sewer. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The emergence of trenchless technology along the way made his journey through our country’s underground infrastructure just a whole lot more fun and interesting—just like the man himself.

Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Muenchmeyer has worn many hats as he has weaved his way through the trenchless world: business development, sales and marketing, public speaker, engineering and project management, contracting and technical trainer. He has worked for engineering firms, municipalities (all levels of management), manufacturers, contractors and associations.

“I’ve literally been in the sewer industry since the beginning of my career. I tell people that sewage has been my bread and butter for the last 50-plus years,” he says.

Muenchmeyer helped to bring the insitu process to North America when trenchless technology was in its infancy, using it on a sewer pipe project in Freeport, N.Y., in the early 1980s, prompting him to team with friends to create Insituform of New England. His enthusiasm for trenchless rehabilitation goes beyond the technology itself and encompasses how it’s used and educating those who use it or should be using it.

He sees trenchless technology as the sewer industry’s rock star — taking a relatively boring industry (his words) and making it exciting, innovative and groundbreaking. He has tirelessly spent the last 30-plus years as an advocate and recruiter for the trenchless industry, trying to reach as many avenues as possible.

His affiliations with wastewater’s and trenchless’ leading associations, such as NASSCO, NASTT and WEF, as well as ASCE and the National Society for Professionals Engineers, give him a diverse network to share trenchless’ message and push the industry forward.

For all of these attributes, Gerry Muenchmeyer — NASSCO technical director and industry consultant — has been named the 2014 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year.

“Gerry’s long list of contributions to the industry more than qualifies him for this honor, as it underscores the positive relationships Gerry has cultivated in associations such as NASSCO, NASTT, WEF, and many others,” says NASSCO executive director Ted DeBoda, who has worked closely with Muenchmeyer over the last several years.  “This industry has grown exponentially because of visionaries like Gerry who continue to make a difference and ensure the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless technologies.”

When told of his recognition, Muenchmeyer was speechless — a response those who know him would cause to chuckle. But this honor truly touched him.

“I am truly honored,” he simply said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in this industry. I love this industry. It’s something very, very special to be recognized for having spent time in the industry… Being selected as the Trenchless Technology Person of the Year was totally unexpected and is a great honor. The industry has been good to my family and I suspect our family involvement will continue for generations to come.”

Sewer Roots

Muenchmeyer’s career begins and ends in sewers. While he was studying engineering in college at night, during the day, he was already working for the City of New York in its sewer department, first in Queens and then in lower Manhattan. Initially focused on mechanical engineering, it was his work in the sewer department that steered him into studying civil engineering. He was doing drafting work, investigations and development of preliminary designs for the city.

He acquired his professional engineering registration and was registered in eight states, including Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine. He is currently actively registered in Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine. He left the municipal side, turning to private industry and joined the consulting firm of Bowe Albertson and Walsh in New York.

While his early work was in sewers, Muenchmeyer didn’t learn of the new technology called trenchless technology until the early 1980s when he joined Baldwin and Cornelius Engineers in Freeport, N.Y., and as its chief engineer, faced a challenging project involving pipeline failures and deterioration issues.

“I sought an alternative for replacing a portion of the Village of Freeport’s sewer system that was located between piers along the water, using a non-excavation approach for replacement,” he recalls. “The village is a boating community. Excavation really wasn’t something we wanted to pursue.”

Muenchmeyer learned about the work that U.K.-based Water Research Council (WRc) was doing in the United Kingdom involving non-evasive technology to rehabilitate pipelines. He contacted WRc and was put in touch with an Insituform licensee contractor that covered New Jersey and New York to install the insitu product in Freeport’s corroded pipes.

“At that point, I had been in the sewer industry for about 20 years,” Muenchmeyer remembers. “Quite frankly, I thought it was one of the most boring industries to be in because nothing creative ever happened. Every time there was a sewer problem, a contractor would come in and dig it up and replace it. That was the technology of choice then. When I came upon trenchless technology, it was like ‘Wow!—this is going to revolutionize our industry!’ I embraced it. I wanted to see it and experience it.”

Muenchmeyer was captivated by the boundless limits the new technology offered to aging and deteriorating sewer systems. Eventually he left his firm and formed Insituform of New England with two contractor companies, bringing the cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) process to the New England area, based in Springfield, Mass. Over the next several years, the partners promoted and installed the CIPP process throughout New England.

Muenchmeyer returned to consulting work in 1985, joining the firm Bethel Duncan and Associates but then went back to the municipal side, becoming assistant commissioner of public works and city engineer for the City of Worchester, Mass., in 1986. Over the next 17 years, he became a sort of trenchless nomad, working with several leading trenchless companies as the use of trenchless technology became more widely accepted and its development expanded and evolved.

He returned to Insituform to help further its CIPP technology and later worked for Miller Pipeline, which brought him aboard to bring to market a full-strength PVC folded pipe technology originally developed in Japan. He joined K.R. Swerdfeger Construction in 2000, developing its trenchless technology division, which included pipe lining, pipe bursting, pipe ramming, and manhole rehabilitation for the western part of the United States. Raven Lining Systems was his next stop, becoming its national marketing director and using his technical expertise to further develop its manhole rehabilitation market.

And then he was ready to retire in 2005, ready to take it easy. But a funny thing happened on his way into retirement: It didn’t take. “After about a year into retirement, I started doing some work with Reline America to help launch its ultra-violet light [CIPP] technology from Germany and at the same time I formed Muenchmeyer Associates,” he says.

Being able to see the sewer and trenchless industries from all sides through the diversity of his career is what Muenchmeyer says makes him successful. “My goal in life has been to learn as much about all different aspects of the industry as possible,” he says. “My career has given me a lot of diversity. When someone asks me a question about pipe bursting, sliplining or CIPP, I probably have been there and have experienced it, so I can usually provide an answer with some technical experience and background.”

NASSCO

It was also during his “retirement” that he became president of NASSCO and that spurred him to rejoin the trenchless community full force, turning his focus to developing high-quality industry training, particularly for inspectors. “After spending the year with NASSCO, I realized that something was missing in the industry. We did not have any provisions or mechanism for knowledge transfer from people who were retiring from the industry. They were taking their many, many years of knowledge — upward of 30 years in many cases— and they would be gone,” Muenchmeyer says. “I said that we needed to develop programs that enable us to transfer that knowledge to others. That’s how the NASSCO training programs were born.”

He remained with NASSCO after his president’s term ended, as a consultant, retaining the title of technical director. His attention now turned to developing the training programs that would grow into a key facet of NASSCO. Building off the success of NASSCO’s Pipeline Assessment & Certification Program (PACP), Muenchmeyer wanted to now include an Inspector Training & Certification Program (ITCP) series, addressing a serious issue within the industry.

“The ITCP programs have been developed from a field perspective to give the field inspector tools and a better understanding of what needs to be inspected in the field,” he explains. “Engineers also attend these programs to better understand the installation process and requirements.”

His passion for training the next generation of trenchless professionals comes through in his voice as he discusses its importance. “Each of the technologies has improved over the last 30 years. We now have pipe bursting, folded pipe technologies, grout in place technologies — just a myriad of choices,” he says. “The only ingredient I felt needed some additional support was the actual installation of these technologies — my whole penchant for developing inspector training programs. This industry has developed with very little or no inspection or standards over the years.

“My mission in life is to continue promoting standard specifications for the industry, standard installation requirements and standard inspection requirements for all technologies. I think about this all the time.”

Perspective on Trenchless

During Muenchmeyer’s 30-plus years in the trenchless industry, he has had a front-row seat to some of the extraordinary advancements that have influenced how trenchless applications are used. As our underground infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate, these technologies are critical to their re-use for generations to come, he says.

“When you look at the infrastructure in our country, whether it’s water or sewer, particular that in the [Northeast] where it can be upward of 200 years old, there really is no mechanism for addressing it in a reasonably cost-effective manner,” Muenchmeyer says. “What intrigues me about trenchless technology is the opportunities. There is opportunity to use this technology only to the limit of your imagination.”

Muenchmeyer says trenchless’ evolution came at just the right time — as the infrastructure is reaching a precarious level of deterioration. “What intrigued me the most was that it was applicable in so many different areas and can adapt to almost anything,” he says. “Thirty years ago the infrastructure was really not failing as badly as it is today. Having a little hindsight, the timing for the trenchless industry for our society was perfect. We were able to develop  technology that was more cost-effective, did the job and renewed and replaced pipelines for the next 50 to 100 years at a substantially lower cost, with less disruption and less inconvenience to the public. Now that we have reached a point where a lot of this infrastructure is failing, these technologies are fully vetted, fully accepted and are providing a big benefit for our society.

Muenchmeyer is excited to see what the future holds for the trenchless industry as North America struggles to address its infrastructure in the coming years — trenchless will play a crucial role in that fight. “The infrastructure is not magically going to get better. It’s going to continue to deteriorate. As it continues to deteriorate, we either become a Third World country with sewage running in the streets or we fix our sewer system. We will be fixing our system for the next several generations. I don’t see where we have completed a fraction of the work that needs to be completed. This effort will be ongoing for years.”

Family Affair

Not only has Muenchmeyer traveled along his trenchless journey, so has his family, which has not only come along for the ride but have been full-fledged participants. His son Clayton has been involved in the trenchless industry for more than 20 years, first starting out with his father in New England and is now focused on  a variety of technologies with Heitkamp BauHolding Group. His daughter Nicole’s husband, Will Markey, also started with Gerry many years ago and is now also at Heitkamp, managing a number of projects.

Gerhard “Gerry” Muenchmeyer's CorvetteBut it is his wife of nearly 49 years Patti who has been along for the longest ride. A fixture at industry tradeshows for more than 30 years, Patti Muenchmeyer has become as much part of her husband’s success as anyone. “When I started Insituform of New England, my wife was the only one I had to go with me to tradeshows. She would work our booth. We were a team in terms of developing and promoting the industry. She is the support person for me in the industry for the last 30 years,” Muenchmeyer says, adding of his long-term relationship with trenchless and his marriage, “I have a loyalty to my wife and to the trenchless industry.”

And loyalty to his hobby of collecting and restoring classic cars, such as his 1957 Chevy Corvette and 1957 Chevy Bel Air, among others.

He adds, “It’s hard to [retire].  I tried to retire almost 10 years ago and I’m still going fast and furious. It’s a wonderful, infectious industry.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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