Last Word: DCA Showcases HDD on National Mall

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Dave WisniewskiThe Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) recently conducted a Washington Fly-In to visit with federal agencies on the topic of horizontal directional drilling (HDD). While educating federal policymakers about the HDD process, the equipment and fluids used, and the many benefits that come with an HDD project is always a good idea, nothing is more educational than seeing HDD in action first hand. On June 5, members of DCA’s Government Relations Committee and HDD Committee conducted a demonstration of HDD on the Washington Mall, where a range of interested stakeholders were able to witness the HDD process up close and personal.

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Ensuring Fresh Water at National Monuments

The project is daunting one, where the National Park Service (NPS) is replacing and rehabilitating the existing potable water system on the National Mall. They are now into the second phase of the project, which includes replacing water lines around the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, John Paul Jones Memorial, and the athletic fields behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

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This includes multiple main line pipe runs ranging from 8- to 12- and 1- to 2- service lines to reconnect existing connections to water fountains and comfort stations. There are also several new fire hydrants being installed on the Mall as well once the new main lines have been installed.

Midwest Mole told us that the ground conditions are very inconsistent throughout the Mall which has caused numerous challenges in installing the pipes. HDD was the method of choice because of its ability to limit disruptions, allowing countless tourists to enjoy their visit to the Nation’s Capital without being disrupted by construction activities.

The NPS replacement work is being conducted by Midwest Mole, a trenchless contractor based out of Greenfield, IN. The contractor works on infrastructure projects throughout the country installing new or replacing existing water, sewer, electric, telecommunications, or gas lines.

Variety of Stakeholders Represented

Well in advance of the demonstration, DCA staff reached out to audiences on Capitol Hill, as well as several industry and labor organizations to invite them to the demonstration. On the day of the demo, we were pleased to see a strong showing of some 30 individuals attend. Because Vermeer has a long history in the Great State of Iowa, I was very pleased to see several representatives from the offices of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) come see Vermeer equipment working to make the National Mall a more enjoyable place by helping to provide clean and safe drinking water for countless visitors from around the world.

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In addition, staff representing lawmakers from Indiana and Kentucky made it out to see HDD in action. It was rewarding to see players on Capitol Hill come out to see their constituents at work.

Other participants included representatives from the American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, National Utility Contractors Association, and Energy and Equipment Infrastructure Alliance. As always, our good friends from the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) joined us for the demonstration and brought several representatives.

DCA was particularly pleased to see the “BlueGreen Alliance” (BGA) in attendance. BGA is made up of several American labor unions and some of the most influential environmental organizations who work collectively “to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a stronger, fairer economy.” Understanding that BGA represents both labor and environmental advocates, and that any reference to “directional drilling” tends to send green groups into a tizzy, educating that side of the BGA is toward the top of our priority list.

BGA representatives were impressed to see how non-invasive HDD is to the local environment and learned that HDD employs tens of thousands of workers engaged in underground utility installation in gas, oil, water, sewer, fiber and power markets across the country.

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Attendees were introduced to the equipment, from the drilling rig to the bore head and all related transmitters, receivers, magnetic guidance systems and drilling fluids needed to make HDD happen. The role Bentonite and how it is used in the process was explained as attendees watched the process happen in real time, beginning at the entry point. The crowd walked several hundred yards and regrouped at the exit point by the Washington Monument, where attendees witnessed the drill head exit the bore, along with the slurry that provides the necessary lubrication during the process.

You can talk about the many benefits of HDD until you’re blue in the face, but demonstrating the practice live and in-person is priceless. They say “seeing is believing,” and DCA’s last Fly-in allowed a range of stakeholders the opportunity to see it for themselves.

Special thanks for the generous hospitality of the fine people at Midwest Mole for hosting this important event.

Dave Wisniewski is vice president, utility and environmental commercialization at Vermeer.

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