Port Arthur launched in-house pipe bursting crew in 2019; city hall updates how much has been done since

Published 12:40 am Thursday, April 13, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

City staff this week gave an update on a department created in 2019 through the funding from local industries in order to improve the city’s sewer system.

Hani Tohme spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on behalf of the Water Utilities Department regarding the in-house pipe bursting crew.

“In 2018, we decided to put a presentation together and bring all of the petrochemical industries to this room and explain to them the importance of having an in-house pipe bursting crew,” he said. “But we also told them that the city (did) not have the funds at the time because the utilities department was not able to pay some bills yet to pay for the equipment needed, although we can use the staff we already had.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With a combined $1.1 million from said industries, the city was able to create the crew and purchase the necessary equipment the following year.

The crew began with seven people, one of which had 30 years of experience. The remaining six had no experience.

Pipe bursting is a method of replacing existing pipe by bursting it with a tool that not only breaks apart the pipe but also pulls a new one into its place, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To date, the City of Port Arthur has replaced 6.1 miles of pipes.

“So you get a call. You have a citizen that cannot flush. We go investigate, and there is no pipe in the ground,” Tohme said while explaining the benefits of having an in-house crew. “So if we want to go and engineer, advertise, bid, award, and wait for construction; it will take a minimum of four months.

“But when we have this in-house pipe bursting crew, we can dispatch that crew from wherever they’re working today and…within days or weeks we can be on that site replacing pipe and not patching pipe that we have to go back and patch over and over and over again.”

The cost per foot has fluctuated by year from the highest at $250 in 2020 to a low of $112 in 2021. That price, Tohme said, includes materials as well as salaries, equipment maintenance, etc.

“It’s our people that make anything happen. Our staff is dedicated to this cause,” he said. “And the people who are doing pipe bursting, we always send them to the mission impossible type areas because, when they are there, that means in most cases there is no pipe in the ground.

“There’s a cavity going through and they’re going out there to eliminate that cavity and replace it with a pipe and make sure the citizens in the area have sanitary sewer services.”

The city occasionally outsources projects to contractors to increase productivity.

The current city crew has seven members.

“We’re saving a lot of money by doing this in-house,” Tohme said. “The seven people we have on this crew, five of them are Port Arthur citizens that live in Port Arthur and spend money in Port Arthur. And that’s a crew that doesn’t work much overtime either.”

Councilwoman Charlotte Moses complimented the department’s work.

“The change was coming in 2019 with that crew,” she said. “The change is here. It’s taking place, and it’s literally doing the work that it was intended to do. I think it’s a tremendous job that these guys have done. It’s hard work…and for us at the time we started it, no one was trained and had an idea of what they were supposed to be doing. And for us to get this kind of work done in three years, I really believe it’s unheard of.”