January 2023 Vol. 78 No. 1

Editor's Log

Editor’s Log: More of The Same

Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief 

(UI) — In this issue of the new Underground Infrastructure magazine, we’ve connected with some of the best experts, prognosticators and writers in the markets we serve to obtain a reasonable grasp as to what 2023 will look like in financial, construction and rehabilitation terms. Indeed, there is so much material, we’ll continue the insight and analysis in our February issue. 

For much of the industry, 2023 will mirror 2022. Fiber construction and non-stop deployment of 5G systems will keep the pedal to the metal for that market. It’s a rare situation where private business has been driving the financing for this massive build-out for several years, yet government money has further enhanced it. 

The now-famous Infrastructure Bill guaranteed more than $50 billion to bring fiber to rural and underserved areas, as well. That means more cross-country installations like we saw in the late ‘90s – but this time with a purpose and plan. 

Connecting remote suburbs and scattered small towns is, and will continue to be, a common site across America for the next several years. As I’ve pointed out before, this funding/build-out is reminiscent of the movement to bring electricity to small towns, farms and ranches in the Depression era 1930s. 

Electricity – just like fiber has been – was deemed too expensive to cost-justify in rural areas. But the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 provided low-cost, long-term financing that eventually turned the light switch on. One good thing the COVID Pandemic taught the world was that working from home is practical and efficient if you have the right communications access. 

Unfortunately for oil and gas pipelines, President Biden’s continued forced movement to an unprepared and frequently unstainable alternative energy market will hinder energy pipeline work in 2023. Trying to keep pipeline construction either in intrastate mode or within energy-friendly states has allowed several essential projects to move forward. But until the political climate changes, there is a good chance the U.S. will return to the risky days of a net oil importer from sometimes dangerous sources. 

However, gas distribution, repair and replacement continue to drive strong markets as cast iron pipe replacement programs are in full stride with multi-year programs. 

Power generation has also jumped to the forefront of underground work. Daniel Shumate, FMI’s managing director for Capital Advisors, relates that power distribution spending will also grow 26 percent over five years to repair existing infrastructure and to prepare for a more distributed generating environment. 

The South and West Regions of the United States are anticipated to have the greatest growth due to population trends and renewable generation concentration. Also, weather extremes in recent years are forcing electric utilities to toss out their common “overhead-is-cheaper” approach and start looking at the big picture. The facts are clear that a transition to underground for power lines provides far better reliability, longevity and reduced life-cycle costs. 

All this and we haven’t event discussed sewer and water. The Infrastructure Bill provides federal spending of more than $100 billion over the next five years via bolstering state revolving funds, accelerating pipeline replacement, improving storage and resilience infrastructure for droughts, and addressing emerging contaminants (PFAS). Our annual Sewer & Water Municipal survey in the February issue will provide more insight. 

Further, the EPA is pursuing an aggressive approach, especially with older cities, to bring those population centers into compliance with federal standards. Thus, consent decrees are accelerating, especially in cities struggling with sanitary sewer overflows. Many metro areas – and even smaller cities – are working feverously to escape the wrath of the EPA and modernize their sewer and water systems to meet demand. 

Remembering Irv 

The underground infrastructure industry lost another amazing alumnus in early December when Irvin Gemora passed away. It seems like that has been happening all too much these days with industry stalwarts, but perhaps I’m just more sensitive as I, too, grow older. 

Regardless, Irvin (or Irv, as he much preferred) was a man of remarkable vision with the ability to motivate and communicate. Irv became a good friend in the mid-1990s and was one of the people who persuaded me that the then “good-old-boy-club” reputation of NASSCO was changing, and its mission deserved our interest and support. He was absolutely correct and in fact, became a major driver of the NASSCO evolution into the top force in the sewer rehabilitation market today. 

There are always moments in time that are considered critical. In my mind, 2002 was one of those moments. Then NASSCO Executive Director Michael Burkhard had done an amazing job of getting NASSCO back on its financial feet and had even come up with the concept for the Pipeline Assessment & Certification Program (PACP). But Mike’s interests lay elsewhere, which opened the door for Irv to step in as executive director. 

NASSCO was on the brink of greatness. But a clear vision of what the future could be, sense of direction, careful planning and a strong force of will would be necessary. Irv was the perfect man for the job. Through his leadership, NASSCO built the PACP program into the industry standard that it is today and opened countless other opportunities for NASSCO to become a mighty industry force. UI 



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