Paul Scott

Trenchless Pioneers: Paul Scott

Paul Scott

Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is an engineering practice to locate existing underground utilities with a high degree of accuracy and comprehensiveness. Around since 1981, SUE has aided countless state and local departments of transportation, design consultants and utility companies tracking these subsurface utilities, saving millions of dollars on their projects.

One individual — Paul Scott — was critical in introducing and promoting this-then emerging technology while he worked for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Learning about how the technology worked and benefited project-utility conflicts, costs and delays from SUE pioneering company So-Deep, Scott became a respected SUE advocate over the course of the next 30 years.

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SUE was brought to his attention by his then bosses, Jim Overton and Jerry Poston, telling him that the Virginia DOT was using something that reduced damage to underground utilities. They soon met with So-Deep’s SUE guru Jim Anspach, who laid out exactly what SUE was, does and will do — and they quickly recognized its nationwide value.

“We didn’t understand much of what they told us, at least I didn’t, but we understood enough to know, as Jerry [Poston] told us, ‘SUE was going to revolutionize the way utilities were handled on highway projects.’ He was right. But there was lots of work that needed to be done before SUE evolved to that point,” remembers Scott.

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And he readily accepted the challenge to get SUE in front of those DOTs and local governments. Scott was tasked with heading up FHWA’s promotional efforts that took place throughout the 1990s. This job included crafting memos for field offices stressing SUE’s benefits and encouraging them to promote it to state DOTs, as well developing needed papers, brochures and handbooks detailing SUE and making presentations at workshops, conferences and meetings. He also advocated for much-need funding for SUE-related activities, such as development and distribution of research reports and videos and conducting workshops at more than 20 state DOTS. He also facilitated projects to demonstrate the value of SUE in Oregon, Wyoming and Puerto Rico.

Early on, So-Deep was the only SUE provider throughout most of the 1980s but other companies soon joined this discipline. Still, the number of DOTs using SUE by the early 1990s, were few. “The only state departments of transportation we were aware of in 1991 that were using SUE were Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Other providers and other state DOTs soon began to appear and the race was on,” Scott says.

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After 35 years, Scott retired from FHWA in 2003, and began working with Nick Zembillas at T2 Utility Engineering Services (then known as TBE Group). Scott worked for T2 for 17 years, continuing his role as SUE promoter and advocate. Over that time, the SUE landscape drastically changed.

“Today, there are hundreds of engineering companies providing SUE services in the United States alone,” Scott says. “In addition, Lawrence Arcand has led the spread of SUE throughout Canada and Nick [Zembillas] has introduced SUE to Canada, Great Britain, France, China, Australia and Ecuador. You can Google ‘subsurface utility engineering’ and spend the day reading the results. SUE must have created thousands of jobs around the world and the savings are unimaginable. Consider the savings from avoiding utility relocations alone.”

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Scott is humble about his contributions to the SUE sector, giving far more credit to other SUE experts and leaders. But his role can’t be discounted. “When I first got involved, there were only a few SUE providers and only a handful of state and local transportation departments using SUE. The challenge was to get the word out to all the states,” he says. “I became pretty well known in my small circle of the world as an advocate for those involved with utilities on highway rights of way and for SUE. Even so, others did more.”

Scott fully retired in 2020 at age 81 but is still promoting SUE, regularly creating LinkedIn posts to highlight SUE’s history. He marvels at how far SUE has come and how utility owners have embraced this game-changing practice. “The market for SUE at locations where excavation is taking place has nowhere near been reached,” says Scott. “Even many of the state DOTs are not using it. It’s a gamble they take to save some money … there is still a big market for SUE and I expect seeing it expand even more than it already has.”

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Sharon M. Bueno is the editor of Trenchless Technology.

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