Today’s economy has proven to be challenging for many. Revenues are limited and budgets are restrictive; however, many municipalities still have to confront the real troubles of infrastructure rehabilitation.

Let’s face it, although revenues slow down, corrosion does not. Many municipalities are adjusting their capabilities to proactively address corrosion during budget restraints to stay ahead of the high cost of replacement.

Municipalities of all sizes oftentimes utilize in-house personnel to respond to infrastructure emergencies or oversee the similar operations. Some municipalities diversify the capacities of their in-house crews in order to efficiently produce a wide range of functions, which at times can include repair of manholes, pump stations, plant structures and other key infrastructure. Having a diversely skilled crew not only creates and retains local employment, but also stretches municipal budgets.

When the City of Plant City, Fla., realized that for simple resurfacing and protecting manholes, doing the work in-house could stretch its budget; city officials were drawn to the idea of launching a committed in-house manhole rehabilitation program.

“A contractor could take care of everything, but we were already in the field inspecting and grouting leaks and wanted to look into lining our manholes as well,” says Plant City, Fla., inflow-and-infiltration foreman Wayman Kingsley. “My job would be easier with a contractor, but with the same budget, we thought we could get many more manholes completed just doing it ourselves.

“We still need contractors for more cumbersome projects involving pumps, replacement, etc; but when it’s just resurfacing and coating, we can do it ourselves.” Kingsley adds. “It was important to take the project at our own pace, and we weren’t looking to complicate the mission with bids, conflicting contractor time schedules, engineering expenses — those costs could add pretty fast.”

Kingsley’s point is well noted. Delays in inspecting structures, engineering a system to address them, make a public announcement, manage the award and possible protests, oversee the contractor in the field and wait for the installation to take place, could prove timely and may be interruptive to the daily city priorities, which constantly change. Bid processes could take weeks, months or years and meanwhile, the structures continue to deteriorate. However, if local governments streamlined a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach, trained employees could mobilize at their convenience and utilized stocked material to rehab a structure themselves in a matter of hours, rather than in months or years.

The City of Plant City has successfully built a small in-house rehabilitation program over the last few years, gaining knowledge about its installations and stretching the tax dollar to get more done with the same budget than if contracted out.

“The DIY method gives us more control of our time, lowers cost incurred by third-party vendors and creates a skill and greater understanding of what’s in our systems and how we can deal with it for the long haul,” Kingsley explains.

In-house Protective Coatings

The long-term cost-savings of preventive maintenance and trenchless rehab methods are well-known. The right protective system with the correct installation techniques extends the maintenance cycles of vulnerable concrete and steel wastewater infrastructure, especially when exposed to hydrogen sulfide. Avoiding replacement costs by protecting and sealing manholes with sewer grade protective coatings was a plan that Plant City decided to implement as an addition to their field maintenance program. Kingsley utilizes a coating system that is specifically designed for DIY-type municipal crews.

“We tested four different coating systems and although performance was imperative, an equally important criterion was to find a system that could be easy applied and fit our capabilities,” he says. “We needed a product that was safe with no solvents or fumes. It had to have great bondability and tolerance to the surface and moisture. It had to have superior chemical resistance to hydrogen sulfide, yet at that same time, it needed to be applied easily with simple mobility and not require heavy or complicated equipment.”  

Kingsley further explains, “For manhole environments and simplicity, we found that Epoxytec Uroflex and CPP were best suited for Doing-It-Yourself. Epoxytec provided all the training necessary to get us up and running. We are able to apply the materials oftentimes with just a roller or trowel. Sometimes we use the Epoxytec EZ-Spray system, which is just simply a small cartridge gun that is fully disposable and self-mixing. Some of our manholes just require six to eight cartridges to line the entire thing, which equals to $330 to $440 worth of material that is designed to seal and protect the manhole for many years.”

Epoxytec spokesperson Mike Caputi states, “We have developed a product line with all size municipalities in mind that want to undertake some rehab projects in-house — this is our specialty. We wanted to create products that are forgiving, safe with no VOCs and simple to use.”  

Launching an in-house rehabilitative program is not always required, nor is it for every municipality.

Sometimes, a rehab program could be limited or modified, in which a contractor is used for a portion or a more difficult part of the project (for example, rebuilding a manhole bench, resetting a seal or chemical grouting, etc.) and then the municipality may follow-up with simply coating themselves afterward to save cost.

Wastewater infrastructure rehabilitation is so dynamic at times, but for simple resurfacing and coating one viable alternative is a DIY program. Many municipalities like the City of Plant City are realizing that tax money and budgets can be stretched, and once the “know-how” is in place, the DIY approach adds another solution for maintenance crews and budget cutting.

Dr. Elena Ubals is a NACE certified corrosion consultant, based in Miami.

How to Start a Do-It-Yourself

Program for Manhole Rehabilitation:

Determine if your human resources are sufficient to mobilize into a project.

What are your expectations, capabilities and at what rate do you want to achieve your goals?
Consult with a product manufacturer that specializes in training and provides the proper know-how to meet your goals.

Identify the structure, get trained and use the simple products designed for in-house projects.

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