Best Crew for the Job

Pinellas County Utilities adapts to tight fiscal times by relying more on in-house maintenance crews and focusing contracting on specialized services

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The General Maintenance Department of Pinellas County (Fla.) Utilities serves a county with the state’s highest population density, at about 3,300 residents per square mile.

Maintaining that area’s water and sewer systems is a challenge in the best of times, and budget constraints brought on by a declining economy make it tougher still.

But department director Alan Bollenbacher and his team have adapted, putting in place a rigorous sewer inspection and maintenance cycle that relies more than ever on in-house employees and equipment.

The county’s cost studies to date have shown that in-house teams can do routine, scheduled work more cost-effectively than outside contractors. So the department invests in up-to-date equipment to provide those services and reserves contractors for more specialized projects and for help during peak workloads.

The approach is serving the department well as it takes care of two separate sewer systems, one newer and one older, on a cycle of regular cleaning and inspection, the vast majority of it performed in-house. One case in point: in re-cent years, SSO frequency has been cut from about 20 per year to 10.

Increasingly, the county relies on technology to map its infrastructure, track maintenance pro-gress, and even generate work orders for the maintenance crews.

Tight quarters

Pinellas County, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, has within its 280 square miles a population of 930,000, larger than that of Wyoming, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota or Vermont. It includes the major metropolitan areas of Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, the county seat. The county’s name comes from the Spanish Punta Piñal — Piney Point.

Like much of Florida, the county faces limited potable water resources and, being on the Gulf, must deal with intrusion of salt-water into aquifers. Not surprisingly, the county has an extensive water reclamation system (see sidebar) in addition to providing drinking water and sewer service.

The underground and related sewer infrastructure includes 1,148 miles of sewer mains, 300 lift stations and 350 air release valves. The water system includes 2,000 miles of water mains and about 34,000 backflow preventers, and the reclaimed water system has 438 miles of piping. All that infrastructure keeps General Maintenance busy.

The water infrastructure is relatively new, averaging, by Bollenbacher’s estimate, about 30 years in age. The department has completed a campaign to replace galvanized piping, which had been the source of most leaks and repair issues. So now, water system maintenance is largely routine.

Doing more in-house

General Maintenance works in concert with the operations depart-ment, which takes care of essentially all electrical and mechanical equipment in the system and directs the Pinellas County Utilities fats, oils and grease (FOG) control initiatives.

Florida’s economy is healthier than in many states, but PCU has had to adapt to budget reductions. “We’d been splitting about 50/50 on contract work versus in-house,” says Bollenbacher. “The last time we did a price study, we found we could save on costs by doing a lot more of the routine work ourselves.”

The next task may be to move the cleaning of the system’s largest pipes, up to 42 inches, in-house. As of late summer, Bollenbacher’s department was doing a cost comparison on in-house versus contract maintenance of those lines.

“We were working on a six-year maintenance cycle,” Bollenbacher says. “Due to budget cuts that came with the downturn, we’re extending that out to about eight or nine years, and we’re probably looking at doing 90 percent of that work in-house.”

Anderson Mitchell heads inspec-tion operations, overseeing crew chiefs Chad Madonia, Darrell Miller and Robert Driemel. “We’re just about into our fourth year on this process, and we’re gaining some history,” says Madonia. “After we complete this first cycle, we’ll have a better idea how to target different areas. Some areas may require a 10-year cycle, others a 5-year cycle. So when we say eight to nine years, that’s more or less an average.”

Along the way, the department has downsized certain portions of its fleet. For example, instead of having one trackhoe that reaches extra deep, one extra-large dump truck, or other equipment used only occasionally for specialized jobs, it’s more economical to contract for or rent that equipment as needed.

Two systems

Pinellas County has seen substantial growth. Between 1970 and 2008, the population increased by 80 percent, though projections show that stabilizing in the next decade. As metropolitan areas merged, the county found itself with two totally separate sewer systems, each with its own wastewater treatment plant.

“The southern system is the older part, with infrastructure close to 60 years old,” says Bollenbacher. “The northern part is newer, and we don’t have as many repairs up there. It was engineered and laid out differently, and it’s a lot more efficient.”

The sewer cleaning and inspec-tion fleet includes one Vactor truck and four Aquatech (Hi-Vac Corp.) combination trucks; three CUES camera vans running Granite XP survey software and OZII and OZIII cameras; two Harben trailer-mounted jetters; and one walk-behind off-road jetting machine used for cleaning on backyard easements. A fourth camera van supports cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) lining operations.

Sewer cleaning and inspection crews work in coordination so that lines are cleaned by a combination unit and then inspected minutes later. Typically, a crew consists of two team members on a combination truck and two in a TV van.

“The cleaning team is out ahead of us, inspecting the manholes and jetting the lines, and we’re following through with the TV camera,” says Madonia.

One benefit of close coordination is that if the TV crew sees a deposit or other obstacle in a cleaned pipe, they can easily call the cleaning truck to come back and jet the line again. Another is that TV crews are always seeing freshly cleaned lines in which they can easily spot defects.

Priorities for cleaning and in-spection are determined by factors such as lift station pump run times, history of stoppages, proximity to wetlands or other potential sources of inflow and infil-tration (I&I), and problem areas such as sections with many foodservice establishments known as hotspots for grease.

Seeking efficiency

The maintenance crews have become highly efficient, according to Garry Dennis, department repair and maintenance manager. “We’re on track to clean about 60,000 feet per month,” he says. “The most we’ve cleaned in a month was 84,000 feet. That was in March. It was 31 days, nothing broke down, and everybody was at work.”

New equipment helps keep efficiency levels up. The department replaces equipment on roughly a five-year cycle and designates the newest vehicles for the highest production. Smart deployment also ensures high equipment utilization. For example, two of the three combination trucks focus full-time on routine line cleaning. The third splits time between routine cleaning and first-response calls for sanitary sewer overflows and other events.

The Vactor and Aquatech cleaning trucks each have design differences that are beneficial in certain situations. For example, Madonia notes that the rear-mounted hose reel on the Aqua-tech trucks provides a quieter work environment and enables better communication for crews working in concert with TV inspection.

The Vactor trucks, on the other hand, have front-mounted hose reels with their own set of advantages. “If you’re on a busy street, because the back of the truck is facing traffic, now you’ve got the crew in front, and that makes the truck itself an additional safety barrier,” says Dennis. “So both designs have their place, and it’s nice to have that choice.”

For inspections, PCU uses NASSCO’s PACP defect codes. “It’s becoming the industry standard, so it helps in dealing with our contractors when everyone’s talking the same language,” Bollenbacher says. Inspection data is stored on hard drives and downloaded to a central server daily.

Fixing problem areas

Where possible, PCU uses CIPP lining for repair. Shorter segments, generally 40 feet or less, are done in-house with Perma-Liner technology. Longer manhole-to-manhole runs, up to 400 feet, are turned over to the engineering department for contracting.

“Probably 70 percent of repairs are open-trench, because most of them involve just one small piece, for a belly or crack in a pipe, or for root intrusion,” says Dennis. Manhole repairs are contracted out for lining with SpectraShield polymer resin.

Crews attack root intrusion with the combination trucks, using nozzles that include a chain flail from Shamrock Pipe Tools and a root saw from Cloverleaf Tool.

Another maintenance initiative is the pigging of sewer forcemains. Pigging scours the interior pipe surfaces and reduces flow resistance. It’s a specialized service that the department delegates to contractors.

PCU is also systematically re-placing old and badly degraded air release valves at lift stations and at high points in the system with new stainless steel and brass units. The replacements have the effects of reducing head pressure, shortening pump run times, and increasing energy efficiency and service life.

Day to day

Regular scheduling and work orders are handled by the Maximo system from IBM. It incorporates information about blockages, I&I, SSO history, component age, man-hours of labor, equipment cost and other data.

PCU has had a geographic information system (GIS) in place for about 20 years. “We’ve got our assets pretty well mapped,” says Bollenbacher. “We started with the water side. Next we’ll move to the sewer system. We’re using survey-grade GPS equipment and locking in all that field data.”

Even though the budget has decreased, judicious choices on in-house versus contracted work have allowed PCU to accomplish its mission. The condition of the older southern half of the system is gradually catching up to the newer northern half as deteriorated pipe is repaired or replaced. That reduces service calls and maintenance requirements and keeps customers happy.

“We’re trying to be really proactive about things,” says Bollenbacher, “and I think we’re finally seeing the payoff.”


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