November 2015 Vol. 70 No. 11


NASSCO Standard Bearers: Michael Burkhard

Michael Burkhard (seated on right): Celebrating the agreement between NASSCO and the WRc that set the stage for PACP.

In 2016, NASSCO will celebrate its 40th year of setting standards
for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As we look forward, we also look back to those who have made significant contributions and have impacted the continued acceptance and use of trenchless technologies. This is the 10th installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders.

This month, the many industry contributions of Michael Burkhard, president of Reline America, are highlighted. Burkhard became executive director of NASSCO during a critical period for the association when it was struggling to survive. He played a pivotal role in creating the financially healthy and thriving leading industry association that NASSCO is today.

by Sheila Joy and Lisa H. Burkhard

Mike Burkhard would say that he was simply in the right place at the right time.

Born in Fairmont, WV, his formative years were spent running barefoot in the magnificent Allegany Mountains during long summers, freely picking offerings from nature’s bounty on trees, vines and neighbor’s gardens and eating whatever his Uncle Ambrose managed to shoot for dinner in the wilds outside the back door.

When Mike was a young teenager, Mike’s father moved the family to the suburbs of Washington, DC. He and his five sisters had to adjust to life in a crowded suburban block with 100 other children, as did Uncle Ambrose who was found one morning, rifle in hand, taking aim at a neighbor’s oak tree, ready to provide a squirrel for that night’s stew as those children played childhood games in the yards and sidewalks beneath.

The Washington Suburban

Sanitary Commission (WSSC), Mike’s first serious job after high school and the army (being drafted during the Vietnam War and serving stateside testing ordinance at the Dugway Proving Ground), materialized during the early stages of the I/I trenchless industry. A year after working in WSSC’s I/I program under the tutelage of Dr. Al Machis, a brilliant Civil Engineering Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, head of the operations bureau which included the research division, Mike was promoted to project manager in the research division over the I/I program. Dr. Machis had taught Mike how to approach research from a project management mindset. This lesson has stood the test of time and a career spanning four decades.

Fifteen years at WSSC, which serves a large demographic area that covers Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, a part of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, allowed Mike to see first-hand the emerging technologies of the day including pipe bursting, grouting, spray-on products and a variety of lining products. Mike developed a pilot research program to validate these technologies and was deeply involved in partnership with the Water Research Council (WRc), which at the time was the research center for all 10 water authorities in England.

Decades ago, England was instrumental in the development of many trenchless technologies as a result of a study which determined England would bankrupt if all faulty lines in the country had to be dug up and replaced, thus birthing the modern trenchless industry. Mike’s role at WSSC led him to visit the WRc in order to bring some of those technologies to the United States. WRc continues to be instrumental in the development of new technologies and was the first organization to introduce the Insituform process. Mike, as project manager, was witness to the first Insituform installation stateside – in Beltsville, MD, on Halloween night in 1979. That relined pipe is still in the ground today.

During his 15 years at WSSC, Mike participated in the initial introduction into the United States of the new technologies of pipe bursting, Darby, Ribloc, Insituform and Inliner.

Learning activities

Mike’s tenure at WSSC, eventually as rehabilitation manager, included presentation of his first paper in 1976, “The Find It-Fix It Program,” an industry recognized presentation with co-authors Otto Milgram of Elson T. Killam Association and Michael Bonk, WSSC Research Division Manager, Trent Ralston and Ken Guthrie of Cues Inc. as well as Harold Kosova of Video
Pipe Grouting.

He was a participant in the first nationwide multi-paper presentation on the I/I program and trenchless technology in North America which was sponsored by the USEPA, directed by Lam Lin, in the early 1980s. Participants in presenting this paper, “Systems Approach to I/I in Trenchless Rehabilitation,” included Trent Ralston (now of TRB Inc.), Guthrie of Cues, and Kosova of Video Pipe Grouting.

Dr. George McAlpine and Mike co-founded the Pipe Rehabilitation Council (PRc) in 1996 which, according to industry CIPP expert Ed Kampbell, was “a group formed to make sure research created was not biased towards any one commercial entity.”

Prior to leaving the WSSC in 1989, Mike was WSSC’s representative to the 1985 ISTT No Dig Convention in London. Subsequent to leaving WSSC, Mike gained experience in the industry working with U-Liner Systems where he was charged with marketing and patent strategy, and expanded his knowledge base when he decided to branch out on his own as a consultant to companies looking to grow both domestically and internationally. One of his clients was Pleasants Excavation where he met Don Pleasants who would later become an important business partner. Mike also encountered many organizations that were in dire financial straits and worked to bring them from bankruptcy to financial health, primarily by helping them focus and introduce new technologies.

There was a brief point of time when Mike left the underground infrastructure industry to devote time to help Circle Urban Ministries, a holistic ministry that served the poor in inner-city areas of Chicago with a medical clinic, counseling, education and other basic needs for the underserved residents. As director of economic development, he helped the Ministry develop a business module to introduce people reentering society (from addiction or incarceration) into the work force. Mike fondly treasures those people and goals.

NASSCO resuscitation

NASSCO came knocking on Mike’s door in 1999. “I believe my early work with WRc, as well as turning businesses around, and my involvement with the non-profit world helped prepare me for my role at NASSCO,” Mike said.

NASSCO president at the time was Jerry Botts asked Mike to assist NASSCO to recover from financial difficulties. Says Mike, “If it’s a volatile situation, I am energized, especially when it comes to fighting for standards and what’s right for our industry. I held my nose and jumped in, pulling out my technical knowledge, understanding of non-profit organizations and experience in turning around bankrupt organizations.”

It is at NASSCO that Mike solidified his passion that a healthy, growing industry needs competing companies and products, partnered with municipalities, privatized consultants, engineers and manufacturers to join together as one united entity. To accomplish this goal, Mike wrote new by-laws to include not only contractors but municipalities and consulting engineers and manufacturers. Mike took NASSCO from the brink of bankruptcy to the vibrant organization that survives today.

Mike hired Heather Myers to work as support staff in the office. Mike relates, “I will never forget having to tell Heather, who at the time was fresh out of college and NASSCO’s first full-time paid employee, that after just one week, we didn‘t have money to pay her salary. I asked her to go home and wait for our call to come back. She handled it with amazing grace and maturity, especially for such a young career-oriented person. She went home and patiently waited until we were able to call her back to work, and she has been with NASSCO ever since. She has worked up the ranks to her current position as operations manager and, in my opinion, she continues to be the glue that holds NASSCO together. She is incredibly intelligent and has the right personality to keep peace within the organization.”

It was at that time that PACP was getting its start. Rod Thornhill, president of White Rock Consultants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas, approached Mike with about his strong belief that the rehabilitation industry needed an assessment training program to mirror the European model. Mike knew where to find the help and soon brought WRc and NASSCO together to begin the formation of PACP.

“Rod was adamant that the focus needed to be clearly set on benefiting the industry, not just
the potential gain PACP would offer NASSCO.
Now, with PACP the national standard for pipeline assessment, it’s clear that when you raise the industry up with solid standards, everyone
benefits in many ways,” says Mike.


Mike also helped NASSCO establish new divisions such as ICGA (International Chemical Grouting Association), IPBA (International Pipe Bursting Association) and the video division for CCTV Manufacturer’ Associates.

The association also paid taxes for the first time. It took three years working with accounting firms and the IRS, plus making significant changes such as instituting a fee structure for advertising in the NASSCO Times and expanding the membership base beyond contractors, to get the organization back on its feet. “Not everyone appreciated the changes we implemented, but I believe that today, most would agree the changes have made a substantial difference for NASSCO and our industry,” Mike said.

When NASSCO regained solid financial footing, Irv Gemora approached Mike to talk about NASSCO’s next phase. Mike says, “I told Irv I was ready to try something new and asked him to take over the helm. The time was right and Irv agreed. I left and reconnected with Don Pleasants.”

Mike continued, “Together, Don and I reached out to the German market to bring UV technology to the United States. Reline America Inc. is the result and has been manufacturing UV lining and equipment since 2006.”

Mike continued, “Today I am once again involved with NASSCO and look forward to helping set standards to take us to the next 40 years. I have seen NASSCO grow from a contractor-only organization that was nearly bankrupt to an industry leader who benefits from the experience and knowledge of many member types including manufacturing, municipal and engineering. As long as NASSCO stays focused on what is best for the industry, especially for municipalities, we will all win.”

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