Cleaning Canada’s Pipes

Canadian firm takes a leading role in the battle against I&I and the repair and rehabilitation of municipal wastewater systems.

Cleaning Canada’s Pipes

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Running a cleaning, inspection and rehabilitation company that serves all of Canada’s frequently frozen landscape presents some significant challenges, from harsh weather to hiring the right people.

Stephen Mercer has taken an aggressive approach with Empipe Solutions. In less than 10 years, the employee base has grown to 29 and the service area has stretched across the entire country.

The Hannon, Ontario-based company started out with CCTV and flushing, and now offers a full menu of services. As their capabilities and customer base grew, Mercer and his wife, Jelena, began pursuing business 3,000 miles away in Calgary, which they saw as a productive move because of the region’s oil industry. By 2012, they relocated two of their Ontario employees to open their second office in Alberta. The game was officially on.

Stephen Mercer had a substantial background in sewer and wastewater, having worked in Eastern Canada first as a laborer, and moving up through the ranks over 18 years to become a general superintendent for a major firm.

When he saw the larger contractors struggling to find qualified subcontractors, he decided he could start his own company. He got the money together and purchased a 1994 Vactor 2100, an Aries Industries camera system, and with two employees on board, positioned Empipe to become an important player.

The company currently has two crews working in the Calgary office, and six to seven out of their Hannon facility, where they have 15,000 square feet of office and shop space.

Line up

Mercer says manhole rehabilitation is one of the company’s primary focuses, as I&I is a major concern across the country. Eastern Canada is currently dealing with I&I issues more aggressively, and manhole-to-manhole rehabilitation programs are well established.

Water gets into the systems because of leaking joints and manholes in need of repair. Mercer says analysis shows 40 percent of infiltration comes through the manhole, 40 percent from the mainline and 20 percent through the laterals.

“If we can stop the need to treat groundwater and eliminate it from the systems, we will no longer have these costs at the treatment plants. In our metropolitan areas this is the thing that is holding us back as far as development is concerned.”

Their six CCTV vans are GMC 3500 cube vans with cameras from Aries Industries. They use both Pathfinder or Badger transporter systems from Aries for inspecting pipe from 5 to 70 inches in diameter, and the Aries LETS lateral launch system capable of launches in 6- to 36-inch lines. They use Hathorn mini cameras for pipes from 2 to 8 inches in diameter.

The Empipe team trusts Industrial Technology Group’s Helix MH and Chamber inspection systems with 3-D imaging for inspections of manholes, vaults and other underground chambers.

And for quick pipe surveys, they opt for an Envirosight quickview zoom camera.

They have five Vactors and two Vacall combination trucks, and where truck access is not feasible, they use a remote easement machine from Sewer Equipment.

Formadrain is the system of choice for rehabilitating 2- to 48-inch mainlines and lateral connections. “When we do lateral or mainline spot repairs, they are steam cured,” Mercer says.

“Once we inflate and install a repair we then utilize the units to create steam to have a controlled and predictable cure time.

“In our area there are always different ground conditions — cold groundwater or cold ground in our harsh winter weather. Steam gives a predictable cure. We know that within an hour, the line has gone hard. Steam is about consistency.”

For other projects, Empipe technicians turn to the Sprayroq system.

“Sprayroq is a polymer liner that is used in clarifiers, wet wells, manholes, culverts or larger pipe. It is sprayed onto the surface with a hand-held gun that mixes the components prior to application. Basically this creates a cured-in-place pipe.”

In 2015, Empipe was awarded Project of the Year by Sprayroq for a project they completed on the Hunter Street Bridge in Peterborough, Ontario. The project included sealing 14 catch basins on the bridge structure.

“We received the recognition because of our remote spray gun actuator we built in-house,” Mercer says. “The catch basins were 8 to 10 feet deep and only 2 feet square. We could not get a man into the chambers. Our lead Sprayroq technician Dan Henderson didn’t see this as a problem and quickly fabricated a mount for the gun that would allow him to remotely actuate the trigger from above ground. It took some time to adapt to the remote actuator but it did the job.”

Mercer pointed to another project in the city of Hamilton, where Empipe served as a subcontractor for a firm that was hired to rehabilitate an arch-shaped pipe. The 100-year-old brick sewer was about 300 feet long with a flat bottom. In order for the liner to be structural, the bottom would have to be round.

“We had metal curves fabricated and lagged into place on each corner of the flat bottom,” Mercer says. “Once the metalwork was complete, we pumped cement grout into the void area between our metal plates and the existing brick pipe. Once everything was cured, the liner was installed. The finished product was structurally sound for a CIPP liner.”

Game on

Operating with offices 3,000 miles apart presents obvious challenges.

“The major complication we have with our two offices so far apart is the logistics of repairing equipment,” Mercer says. “We had to buy redundant equipment that basically sits on the shelf until we need it.

The main company shop and warehouse is in Hannon. “We are able to rebuild our tractors and also do some basic camera repair in Hannon.”

Maintenance supervisor Ian Eckersley keeps the vac trucks running back at the Hannon shop. In early winter the trucks are winterized and parked, since the company doesn’t hydroexcavate in winter. They can do basic flushing and sewer cleaning in winter, and when spring returns the trucks will be back in full action.

“Ian is the guy who gets things moving and on to the big jobs. He gets all the equipment on pallets and loaded up in trucks and away they go,” says Mercer. “With our kind of operation you need someone who can organize, and when things come back from a job, it all goes into a pile and Ian puts it all back. Hoses are where they belong. Same with pumps and other pieces of equipment.”

Because large pieces of equipment typically stay on a job site for long periods of time, they don’t put a lot of miles on the combo trucks, but the hours mount up. Because of the vast areas they cover and the demand on equipment, Mercer has a policy of returning a combo truck after two years and replacing it with a new vehicle. This is important, as they have to have equipment they can bank on to perform. He notes that these trucks are very complex machines and expensive to repair.

“We basically operate with new equipment all the time,” he says. “With the CCTV trucks they last much longer and still provide good service.”

Team tactics

Mercer says requiring his technicians to travel for work cuts into his pool of potential employees by at least 70 percent.

“We cover Canada,” he says. “We might have a job that is a two-hour drive from base, but our technicians will work Monday through Friday, and be home on the weekend.”

For away jobs, equipment is taken to the site and stays until the job is complete, while they use support vehicles to travel back and forth.

Technicians are generally cross-trained, but when it gets into lining, including Sprayroq, they need specific training and experience.

“Our technicians receive extensive training and a yearly refresher, including fall protection, first aid/CPR, lockout/tagout, confined space rescue, flusher/vacuum equipment operation and safety for cleaner operators. And of course PACP, LACP, MACP for CCTV operators.”

One of their more challenging cleaning jobs was located 950 miles from Hannon at the Saint John Port Authority in New Brunswick, Canada. The city is located on the Bay of Fundy, which has some of the highest tides in the world. In this case they were a subcontractor to a firm that would do relining.

“This was a 1,000-foot-long, 80-inch pipe that terminated in the harbor,” Mercer says. “The pipe was suffering from corrosion due to salt water and had several areas where it had rotted away. It originally had a tar coating designed to protect it. This coating was disbonding in many places, so we completed man entry to remove the affected areas.”

The crew of five had to work according to the tides, which meant it would be approximately seven hours of cleaning time, and then eight hours off, and then seven hours of cleaning time again, and they had to keep this rotation pace up and successfully complete the cleaning in six days. The relining was done by another company. To add to the challenge, they were working in winter.

“At the conclusion of this my men and equipment were due for a well-deserved rest.”


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