Overlooked – Again

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | October 2010 Vol. 65 No. 10

When President Obama came out with his “bold” vision for renewing and expanding infrastructure in America, it was much lauded by the White House as a plan that combines a long-term vision for the country’s infrastructure future with new investments.

While it may have been a “long-term vision” it was also very much a “tunnel vision” approach. The plan focused solely on surface and air transportation – absolutely no mention of underground infrastructure.

No one gave the plan much chance of passing this year – not with an election looming Nov. 2. But the fact that the president would propose such an infrastructure concept without even a mention of underground was an egregious slap in the face to our industry.

I suspect much of the reason underground was omitted is that we’re viewed as inconsequential in regards to the election and long-term goals of the current administration. President Obama works very hard to hone the image of a “green” and environmentally friendly administration. To completely ignore a major problem area of the nation’s infrastructure that impacts the health of millions of citizens every day makes one question his true devotion to the nation’s health and environmental future.

Pointing the finger
When the disastrous natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, in mid-September killed eight people, the pipeline’s owner, PG&E, came under immediate scrutiny for failing to replace the pipe even though the company received approval in 2007 to spend $5 million of ratepayer money to replace a high-risk section of the 30-inch pipeline.

But now, federal investigators are examining whether pipebursting work on a sewer near the pipeline two years ago played a role in the explosion and fire. Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the inquiry, has said that one of the issues being examined is whether that sewer work may have caused damage to the pipe. After the sewer work was completed, PG&E inspected its gas line and found no problems.

Most local officials don’t believe the pipebursting project had any effect on the pipeline; rather corrosion and delays in repairs to the pipe are the primary factors. But as the investigation unfolds, there are those that would love to point the finger of blame elsewhere and the sewer contractor and city of San Bruno seem likely targets. Let’s hope the federal investigators quickly dismiss any connection. The pipebursting market, a key stalwart of the rehabilitation industry, does not need such an unjustified black eye.