July 8, 2015Of the provinces across Canada, British Columbia, holds the distinction of being the only one served by its own chapter of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT).
How did this come to be, when so many other chapters cover multiple provinces? How does the chapter thrive by covering a province with a total population that is lower than that of the Greater Toronto metropolitan area?
The story of the North American Society for Trenchless Technology British Columbia (NASTT-BC) chapter traces its roots to 1997 and the NASTT No-Dig Show in Seattle. That is the year that NASTT chartered its Northwest Chapter, covering Alberta, British Columbia and Washington State.
According to David O’Sullivan, president of PW Trenchless Construction Inci., and past chair of NASTT-BC, one of the first things that the trenchless experts in British Columbia did was offer WRc training to CCTV operators. This was before NASSCO handled the training process in North American.
“We got most of the cities to buy into that and request that their CCTV operators be certified. It was very lucrative for us, and B.C. was pushing ahead very well with $50,000 to $60,000 in the bank after two to three years,” says O’Sullivan, one of the founding board members of the NASTT Northwest Chapter.
This proved to be a turning point for the British Columbia membership, one that led to the organization’s structure today.
Seeds of a Chapter
“We could see at that point that this large (Northwest) area was not working as one chapter. There is no way people would go from Alberta to British Columbia for a ‘lunch-and-learn’ and they are not coming up from Washington either,” O’Sullivan reflects. “Maybe they would come from Seattle because it’s a two-hour drive, but the border seemed to be a problem.”
With some pushback from membership elsewhere in the Northwest Chapter, the British Columbia contingent took those funds and branched off to form Trenchless Technology B.C. as a standalone trenchless society focused on the industry in its home province. This, O’Sullivan explains, also solved the issue of paying increased membership fees to a national body when competing organizations like the American Water Works Association (AWWA) offered a local or a national option.
Members stayed active and continued to promote the trenchless industry throughout the province, and in 2003, O’Sullivan met with Mark Wallbom, then NASTT chair, and began discussions about bringing TT-BC into the NASTT fold. In those talks, it was determined that NASTT-BC could maintain its local membership level and cover just the province.
“In 2004, we got the BC chapter, and we are the only chapter that represents one province or one state,” O’Sullivan says. The chapter was officially chartered at the 2005 NASTT No-Dig Show. “We are the only chapter to have local members ,and we have about 500, while we only have 20 NASTT members.”
Unfortunately, the economy slowed and some people left the trenchless industry and with it so did active involvement in NASTT-BC, but like the economy, about five years ago the organization saw a resurgence with younger and more active members willing to fill board seats to move the group forward.
“There was still a good reason to have the group, but no one was pushing the agenda,” says Karl Mueller, P. Eng. with Kerr Wood Leidal. Mueller served as NASTT-BC chair from 2011-2012. “The agenda (now) is to have a vibrant group, but the main agenda is education and getting people aware of the trenchless message. We need to make them aware that trenchless is a construction option to everyone out there in the province.”
O’Sullivan and Mueller along with board members like current chairperson Kieran Field, of Opus DaytonKnight Consultants Ltd., and Harry Dickinson, of Kamloops Augering & Boring Ltd., are working to educate young engineers and technicians about trenchless options. This includes a shift away from lunch-and-learn events to daylong focused seminars, actively guest lecturing at universities and colleges and using funds from chapter events and dues to create the NASTT-BC scholarship with Camosun College’s School of Trades and Technology in Victoria.
“We decided we would do one locally so that we could educate students in university and college that when constructing municipal infrastructure there are other options than digging a hole in the ground to rehabilitate or install a new pipe,” Mueller says of the scholarship. “When you educate the students at school, when they get jobs at municipalities and engineering firms, they will bring these fresh ideas to their place of work and change things from the ground up.”
Dickinson adds that when applying for the scholarship, the applicant must write an essay about trenchless and that involves trenchless industry research the applicant might otherwise not conduct. It helps them to realize there is a whole subsection of civil engineering dedicated to trenchless and all of the options it offers.
Offering up his own life example, Dickinson grew up about 90 miles south of Kamloops, but it was not until he was at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) that he realized Kamloops Augering and Boring — and the trenchless industry — existed. It was through periodicals, like Trenchless Technology, that he learned about trenchless. Dickinson had a lightbulb moment and reached out to Monte Bachand, founder of Kamloops Augering, to pursue a career in the trenchless industry.
In the past, his involvement was limited to attending lunch-and-learn events and the occasional article for the annual Y-Dig the chapter’s magazine. Dickinson became more actively involved when The Crossing Co. acquired Kamloops. The Crossing Co., Dickinson explains, places a high priority on promoting the company and the trenchless industry as a whole, and he was afforded the time to become more involved with the chapter.
“It is a good opportunity to promote trenchless and help with the good practices side of things. Kamloops is one of the largest trenchless contractors here in Western Canada, and the majority of its work is done here in B.C.,” Dickinson says. “I wanted to be able to provide our expertise and reaching out to the owners and other people to have candid conversations with what is happening in the industry. This allows us to have a frank conversation where we are not under contract and it’s not adversarial. If they are more aware with what we are dealing with, they can put out a better tender.”
In addition to putting out better tenders that include specific trenchless work, Dickinson hopes that by reaching out to contractors and owners more will join NASTT-BC or at the least provide stories for Y-Dig.
The problem the trenchless community in British Columbia faces relates to its size. Unlike Ontario, where more people are exposed, with many larger cities, larger utilities and its close ties to U.S. cities on the Great Lakes, British Columbia’s trenchless professionals are centered in the Mainland/Southwest region.
Mueller points out that there are three large geographic centres where NASTT-BC focuses its energy. The Mainland/Southwest region that includes Metro Vancouver; the Vancouver Island/Coast region that includes the capital city of Victoria and the Thompson-Okanagan region that includes Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon.
“We have many small cities wrapped up in one greater body, so each municipality can’t put one big project together to bid to get a big contractor to start bringing in all of the typical trenchless services to town,” Mueller says.
For example, there are people who know about and use cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) relining, but there are few that use CIPP for pressure pipe applications. The one or two projects that have taken place involved contractors from other provinces or Washington State. For the municipality or the utility owner, this means the use of the technology is not cost-effective.
“I think, through NASTT-BC, if we did more of these road shows or day-long seminars promoting what trenchless is, it would get to the owners, the municipalities and to the designers and engineers to understand the work better and then there would be more trenchless work,” Dickinson says. “We can help them with their designs, or how to troubleshoot it to make it a good design. I find that a lot of times when something goes out to tender it’s just basically a line on a drawing and they are leaving it to the contractor to figure out.”
Dickinson further explains that the designers know they can’t, for example, open cut the railroad tracks so the project must be done trenchless. What they are not aware of is which method is best-suited for that application. Alternatively, maybe the designer will specify HDD, which is well known in British Columbia due to the oil and gas work, but that method is not feasible for the project.
The scholarship, guest lecturing and the seminars are some of the ways NASTT-BC is looking to expand the trenchless industry in British Columbia.
Another aspect for growth in trenchless is the acceptance of the Carbon Protocol. As reported in the April 2015 issue of Trenchless Technology Canada, the municipal governments of Greater Vancouver accepted the protocol, which creates a way for those using trenchless methods to receive a carbon credit. NASTT-BC developed the protocol — an extension of the NASTT-BC Carbon Calculator — because in 2012, all of the municipalities in the province agreed to become carbon neutral in day-to-day operations.
Based on that, O’Sullivan says municipalities are looking for ways to obtain carbon credits to offset the province’s tax on carbon emissions. The protocol is in the process of gaining approval from the provincial government, which will put in place the documentation and approval process for trenchless carbon credits across the province.
Potential for Growth
O’Sullivan believes the acceptance of the protocol will increase the use of trenchless as it did in Vancouver, which now mandates trenchless be reviewed as an option for all projects. He also says that as municipalities increase focus on underground infrastructure as an asset, trenchless will increase.
“Legislation in both the United States and across Canada has forced local governments to start recognizing that these assets exist and start putting values on them,” O’Sullivan says. “Based on my quick calculations, just in the lower mainland of British Columbia the greater Vancouver area has about $50 billion water, storm and sewer pipes. If you assume a life span of 100 years, that means we need to do $500 million of rehab every year. We are doing about $150 million a year right now. Like the rest of North America, we are falling behind.”
He adds that in addition to the Carbon Protocol, the decreased cost of completing a trenchless project — whether it is rehabilitation or new installation —compared to open-cut will help municipalities in the province get closer to that $500 million figure.
For Dickinson, the greatest growth potential for trenchless projects is in large diameter culvert replacement. Noting the recently completed Port Mann Bridge project, in which Kamloops Augering and Boring installed a 3-m culvert under the newly expanded highway.
The 3-m culvert required pipe ramming underneath the highway, which allowed the aboveground construction to continue undisturbed and without any diversions.
“I see this (72-in. and larger culverts) as being on the cusp of becoming a more viable option,” Dickinson says, adding, that in the past a project might specify three smaller culverts running parallel to each other.
Mueller predicts that within the next 10 years, lateral rehabilitation will see a surge in the province as municipalities work to eliminate areas of inflow and infiltration. They know where the problems are on the public side, Mueller says, and they are now realizing that there is a problem on the private property side, as well.
Municipalities that have, or are starting, lateral rehab projects include, on Vancouver Island, the City of Victoria, The Capital Regional District and Nanaimo; in the Okanagan, Vernon and Kelowna; and in the Lower Mainland, New Westminster.
“I am quite excited, and there are a lot of opportunities out there,” Mueller says. “We haven’t been this busy for almost 10 years.”
Another project, which will expose municipalities and utility owners to the world of trenchless, is the upcoming Trenchless Technology Road Show, Nov. 17-19, in Richmond (Vancouver). The show is a partnership between NASTT-BC, the Centre for Advancement of Trenchless Technologies (CATT) and Benjamin Media Inc., Trenchless Technology Canada’s parent company.
Though this is not the first Road Show in British Columbia, Mueller says it is the first that involves a partnership with CATT. Mueller, along with his fellow board members, are excited about the event. It also speaks to a growth in the industry, which Mueller sees as being on the upswing with many projects planned for this summer and next summer that specify or can benefit from trenchless methods.