July 4, 1976 — a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary took place, commemorating the birth of the most powerful nation in existence. The bicentennial swept through the United States, with parades, fireworks and mega-events (and patriotic merchandise) everywhere.
However, for one trenchless organization, July 4, 1976, also marks a birth. The National Association of Sewer Service Companies — today known simply as NASSCO — was given life through the initiative of a handful of men who wanted to give a voice to grouting, pipe relining, sewer cleaning and CCTV contractors, as well as to set the standard for work and inspection. That group included Ray Bahr Jr., Bill Thompson, Will Naylor and Jim Monaghan.
From that initial discussion on that summer day between a small group of underground construction professionals has emerged a strong, influential and leading trenchless association that boasts a membership of more than 550 from the four corners of North America, as well as beyond the borders. NASSCO weathered some tough financial years that threatened to shutter the organization before it had the chance to leave its enduring mark on the trenchless industry, but those days now seem like a mere blip in its history.
NASSCO’s influence on the trenchless industry comes from the development of its assessment and certification programs that cover pipelines, laterals, manholes and inspector training. The gold standard is its Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP), which was launched in 2002, as well as its Inspector Training and Certification Program (ITCP), which began in 2007. The trenchless industry is better and stronger due to these programs.
“NASSCO’s overall goal when we started 40 years ago is the same today,” says NASSCO executive director Ted DeBoda, who came aboard in 2010. “We set the standard for assessment, maintenance and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure to ensure the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless technologies. The emphasis then, as it is now, was on education, government relations, industry standards, health/safety and membership/finance.”
Through the efforts of DeBoda and his two predecessors, Mike Burkhard and Irv Gemora, and strong leadership from the board of directors, NASSCO has expanded its educational and training reach through its development of standards, specification guidelines, technical tips and training videos. NASSCO’s reach has also been expanded by getting involved when issues affecting the industry arise, such as when OSHA proposed confined space entry changes and requiring explosion-proof cameras for all sewer work.
However, beyond the programs that have been created to make the trenchless industry better, NASSCO has also given its members a voice that goes far beyond being a sounding board. “It is important for contractors to have a voice in the development of new technologies and the use of existing technologies,” DeBoda says. “You look at other organizations and they are really focused on municipalities and engineers. These are important, but you also need to have that perspective of contractors, who are the primary member base of NASSCO. These NASSCO members are not only doing the work, but also developing the new technologies. When new technologies are created, someone needs to get the word out to engineers and municipalities that these technologies are available, and where and how they are best applied.
“NASSCO is about making sure that the contractor’s perspective is clearly understood to keep trenchless technologies successful,” DeBoda continues. “A standard specification really needs to take into account the people who are doing the work, and what they should be expected to do to produce the best possible results.”
While created as an organization for North American rehab contractors, today NASSCO’s membership includes manufacturers/suppliers, engineers, municipalities, and others from around the world. NASSCO’s PACP and ITCP programs have been translated into Spanish, with training classes being performed in Colombia and other Spanish speaking locations like Puerto Rico. PACP has also been translated into French to accommodate the French-Canadian market. The organization has established three scholarship programs to help those who wish to join the industry or further their careers, as well as partnerships with several education institutions.
The Early Years
While the overall organizational objectives were laid out early on, NASSCO struggled to establish its place within the trenchless rehabilitation market. Grouting was its primary industry in those days, with cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) becoming a growing component. When Avanti battled the EPA over shipping acrylamide grout, NASSCO joined the fight by galvanizing the grouting community to help support the acceptance of grouting technology. At the time (1990), the EPA had proposed a ban on acrylamide grout because it deemed it to be a hazardous chemical. Over the course of the 12-year fight, the EPA relented and the proposed ban was eventually lifted in 2002.
During this time, NASSCO experienced significant financial issues. The organization had great objectives but its economic viability was threatened due to a long-term tax issue. Burkhard had recently retired from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and was hired by the NASSCO board as its executive director with the directive of extricating the organization from its dire financial situation, which threatened to shut down NASSCO.
“Mike appreciated the challenge, jumped right in and worked to solve that problem,” DeBoda says. “It took three years to get us back on our feet.”
While resolving the organization’s financial issues, Burkhard also concentrated on two critical areas: increasing and expanding membership, and creating what would become its signature program, PACP. He used a relationship with the Water Research Centre (WRc) that he developed during his tenure at WSSC to adapt the United Kingdom’s inspection protocol system for use in North America. He also brought in Rod Thornhill, who was an advocate for pipeline assessment standards, to chair the PACP Committee and lead the charge of bringing PACP to North America with the help of WRc.
“There were a lot of differences to work through to make the protocols appropriate for North America,” DeBoda says, noting the use of different materials, such as Orangeburg pipe, in the United States at the time, which was not used in the United Kingdom, as well as the issue of hydrogen sulfide degradation, which is not an issue in the United Kingdom because of their cooler climate.
“[PACP] was badly needed nationwide,” Burkhard says. “It allowed for the development of local and national efforts to quantify the deterioration of the aging sewer system. The original goal was to follow PACP with other feeder programs to assist in the further analysis and development of follow-up programs that would lead the utility in creating short- and long-term, cost-effective measures for the resolution of pipeline deterioration. The program also created another revenue stream and broadened the NASSCO membership base.”
What was developed was a game-changer for municipalities across North America. PACP provides a standardized protocol for data collection for underground infrastructure. Instead of every city creating its own codes and definitions to document its pipes, they can use PACP as a universal protocol so that everyone’s definitions and codes are the same.
“PACP has revolutionized the CCTV industry,” DeBoda says. “It provides a standard review mechanism for engineers who are looking for rehabilitation recommendations. PACP provides methods to figure out how pipes are really deteriorating. With different standards, you can’t do that. Now we can study this data, establish intelligent benchmarks, and develop rehabilitation techniques based on standardized information. None of that would have happened without a standard like PACP.”
But it was a hard sell early on, as cities were skeptical and acceptance was slow. When Burkhard left NASSCO in 2002, Gemora took over as executive director and provided the marketing expertise and strategy to gain PACP’s acceptance. DeBoda says Gemora reached out to municipalities and the engineering community and set up programs for them to attend and learn about PACP. “Irv was the right person at the right time,” he says. “I happened to be one of the people within the engineering community that Irv called to gain acceptance, and after I was personally PACP-certified in 2002, I brought PACP into New Castle County, Delaware.”
How successful has PACP been? A check of the numbers shows that in its first year in 2002, 405 people were PACP trained. Fast forward to 2015, and nearly 3,000 people were trained, and to date we have trained almost 25,000 users. PACP 7.0 was released in 2015.
Extensions of the PACP program were similar protocols for manholes and laterals, called MACP (2005) and LACP (2010), respectively.
As PACP grew, so did NASSCO, allowing the organization to reinvest in itself and the industry by developing more programs over the years. One such program was developed by past NASSCO president and technical director, Gerry Muenchmeyer, which focuses on inspector training for CIPP. Introduced in 2007, the Inspector Training and Certification Program (ITCP) initially focused on CIPP, and now includes manhole rehabilitation, which was introduced in 2013. NASSCO is currently exploring the idea of expanding that training to other rehab methods in the future.
Like many industry organizations, NASSCO prides itself in the efforts of its various committees, which produce much needed information for the trenchless industry on new and existing technologies, products, issues and trends.
NASSCO committees cover the gamut of trenchless topics, such as manholes, pressure pipe, laterals and CIPP. In recent years, at the urging of DeBoda, NASSCO partnered with several industry associations on issues that crossover, thereby saving each other time and effort on duplicating efforts. Among the associations NASSCO has joined forces with are Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute (UESI, formerly ASCE Pipelines), Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education (CUIRE) and the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC).
“We’re all here to strengthen the industry,” DeBoda says. “We’re all in this industry together and it doesn’t make sense to work separately on issues where we have parallel objectives.”
Another area that NASSCO remains committed to seems so simple but is necessary for its future success. In 2011, NASSCO and its board of directors established a strategic plan to lay out the mission and vision for years to come. DeBoda says this is imperative to the organization’s future.
“We said we had to get organized. We have our mission and a long list of great things we can accomplish. We just needed to narrow our focus on those areas of quality, training and technical resources,” he says.
Part of that strategic plan calls for expanding the ITCP program to include chemical grouting and other technologies, as well as expanding its industrial advocacy and growth through more association alliances when applicable. “We want to make sure we continue our pattern of excellence,” DeBoda says. “I know that sounds like a trite statement but we want to make sure that what we are doing is very good, and the only way to do that is for us to carefully select our goals for the next three to five years, keep working together in a non-competitive environment, and hold each other accountable to our objectives.”
Today, NASSCO continues to grow and expand its reach, looking for ways that will have a positive impact on the rehabilitation industry. Burkhard, Gemora and DeBoda have each left their imprint on the last 40 years.
“NASSCO, built upon the vision of its pioneers, has become the vibrant organization of today, far exceeding the goals and scope of the early years to include all facets of our industry,” Burkhard says.
“The growth of NASSCO has been extremely satisfying to me and I take pride in having been a part of it,” Gemora says.
“The NASSCO mission has not changed in 40 years,” DeBoda says. “The determination and commitment that industry professionals have exhibited since that July 4 in 1976, have held strong to guide NASSCO through government mandates, financial challenges, and ever-changing shifts and developments in technology. Thanks to the members who have generously contributed their time, knowledge and resources over the past 40 years to do what is best for our industry. I trust our mission will continue to stay strong for many years to come.”