Miami-Dade Water & Sewer Stretches Tax Dollars

In a challenging economy, where budgets are restrictive and revenues are stagnant or declining, many municipalities still face the real and potentially costly problem of infrastructure rehabilitation. After all, just because the economy is in a slowdown, corrosion is not. In this situation, some municipalities are choosing to adjust their capabilities to stay ahead of the corrosion curve and deal with these issues to avoid the higher cost of replacement.

In fact, many municipalities have adopted the strategy of maintaining in-house crews for responding to infrastructure emergencies and performing general maintenance. Often, these service crews perform a wide range of functions, including the rehab of manholes, pump stations, wet-wells, plant structures and other key infrastructure. It is an approach that not only retains local employment, but also stretches tax dollars.

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That is what compelled Miami-Dade Water & Sewer (MDWS) to consider the “Do It Yourself” (DIY) approach. “It would be nice to have a contractor take care of everything,” said Rod Lovett, chief of the MDWSD Sewerage Collection Division. “It would make my job a lot easier. However, with bids, contractor fees, engineering and specs to consider, the costs add up quickly. Then there’s the waiting, which sometimes runs beyond the rehab window.”

Lovett makes a crucial point. By the time the structure is inspected, results are reported, the project is engineered, publicly announced, awarded, supervised and installed, too much time has passed. This allows the structure to deteriorate further, which may require replacement later. However, if local governments took the DIY route, trained employees could be in place with the necessary stocked materials; jobs that typically take months or years could be done readily in-house

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Miami-Dade County has built an in-house rehabilitation program over the last couple of decades. “The DIY approach eliminates crew downtimes and bid/award procedures, lowers costs typically associated with third-party vendors and promotes greater understanding of the products and installations,” Lovett said.

In-House Protective Coating

The cost-effectiveness of protective coatings is well established. The appropriate protective coating with the right preparation and application extends the service life of all substrates subjected to hydrogen sulfide. Furthermore, it is accepted that maintaining a coating system is much more economical than replacing structures.

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In order to avoid replacement costs and further enhance the benefits of doing it yourself, Miami-Dade decided to add protective coatings to its existing in-house manhole program In compliance with MDWS standards, Lovett incorporated a protective coatings system for his manhole division. “At MDWS, we only use proven and tested products. Approved coating products must demonstrate moisture tolerance, bondability and chemical resistance to hydrogen sulfide,” he said. “We also look for products that are forgiving and have no VOCs.”

“There are many protective coatings approved by MDWS for different applications, but specifically for in-house manholes, we are using Epoxytec Uroflex and CPP. These products allow us to apply the coatings without complicated preparation or expensive equipment. We believe the in-house coatings program maximizes our rehabilitation capacity,” Lovett said. “These products have proven themselves to be effective in our high hydrogen sulfide plant structures and manholes for many years.”

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Mike Caputi, spokesman for Epoxytec, said, “We have developed products with the maintenance applicator in mind. Because our products are forgiving, adhesive and easy to apply with no VOCs, they are specifically designed for the Do-It-Yourselfer.”

Clearly, there are larger and more complicated rehab and replacement jobs that should be outsourced through a qualified contractor, and of course, many projects are awarded to them. Sometimes though, it is cost-effective to apply the protective coating in-house after the contractor has completed the more complicated portion of the work. In addition, by applying the coating in-house, the owner can select a higher quality coating and still save money.

“Here at MDWS we have more than 60,000 manholes, many of which are aging and in need of rehabilitation. After working closely with the inspection department, we then determine which manholes can be rehabbed in-house and which ones need to be contracted out,” Lovett said.

Of course, starting or expanding an in-house program is not for every municipality. The municipality must have the desire to build a program and enough rehabilitation demand to keep a crew active.

The Do-It-Yourself program can be a viable alternative to the bid/award process for some rehabilitation scenarios. Municipalities with tight budgets should at least consider starting an in-house program because, in the end, a simple in-house project can be another cost-saving tool in the tool box.
Dr. Elena Ubals is a NACE-certified corrosion consultant, based in Miami.

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