A Quietly Loud Summer

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | August 2014, Vol. 69, No. 8

The serene sounds of summer are being played out across the country as the weather heats up. Or not.

Last winter’s record cold and storms continue to impact the summer for much of the nation as the Polar Vortex sends yet another cool front deep into the countryside. But temperatures are typically at high heat levels right now so the further south one journeys the more people welcome relief brought by cooler temperatures.

In many ways, it’s been a quiet summer. This is the optimal construction season for most of the country and work is in full swing. Virtually all aspects of underground construction and rehabilitation niches are hitting their peak work cycles. But beyond the routine, issues continue to develop, regulations are being formulated, lingering winter weather problems wreak havoc and politically posturing before November elections continue unabated.

The incredible prolonged cold from winter lowered the freeze line in many states to levels reminiscent of Canada. As thaws occurred, pipes creaked, cracked, leaked and burst. As heat waves roll in with summer, ground swells. The radical and atypical cold/hot conditions have put a strain on old pipes to the point of failure.

Ordinarily, that’s good news for contractors and engineers as it provides always appreciated extra work. But for municipalities, it is a disaster. Most perpetually struggle with funding existing projects let alone additional demands and emergency repairs created by the weather. City resources have been stretched thin for decades for a plethora of reasons (good and bad) – and that was before the recession.

Public monies remain elusive despite almost crisis status in many areas. It is, therefore, no surprise that spending from private sources and utilities are providing the growth niches for underground work. Coming out of the recession, those types of entities tend to be flush with capital investment funds coupled with customer needs to fulfill.

Winter really impacted all markets. Even work on energy pipelines was delayed in some areas, particularly the Bakken and Marcellus regions, where lingering winter storms delayed projects. Pipeliners in Canada may be used to working during the winter in permafrost areas, but not in the United States.