Sewer Maintenance Can Be A Messy Business

A&H EquipmentIt’s common knowledge that failing to maintain your city’s sewer system can be disastrous to the local water supply. But, when Tripp Amick, A&H Equipment owner, asked a politician why they weren’t spending money to update their sewer infrastructure, the politician responded, “No one was ever elected because of a sewer.”

It’s true. Sewers aren’t at the top of anyone’s political agenda and a city only has so much in their budget to spread around. So, how much should they invest for sewer maintenance?

That isn’t an easy answer, but one can assume that it should be more than what several older cities invested during the last century. Amick tells of 82 communities in Pennsylvania that were informed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the early 2000s that they needed to bring their sewage infrastructure up-to-date to stop raw sewage from flowing into the rivers and bays. But PA wasn’t alone, many of our older cities had failed to maintain their sewers: New York, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and San Francisco to name a few.

“Some of these sewers were from the 1800s and little had been done to bring them up-to-date,” said Amick. “The EPA brought the problem to the area’s attention, but it’s also something that cities across the country can gain from.”

The problem was so prevalent, that the EPA even developed a Wastewater Collection System Toolbox to help communities find cost-effective ways to manage their antiquated sewer systems, and it’s a problem that continues today.

As a result of the EPA cracking down on overflow issues, Amick reports that his sewer maintenance equipment business has exploded over the last 10 years. “We provide just about every piece of equipment you need to maintain or inspect your sewers,” Amick says. “When we became the distributor for Envirosight 12 years ago, they had about 5 percent of the market share here in Pennsylvania, now it’s about 80 percent in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.”

Amick says that if you can play a video game, then you can run an Envirosight pipe inspection crawler. “It’s really a lot of fun. The high-quality crawler is innovative, very reliable, and has unmatched productivity. Whether you are a municipality or a contractor, you want to be able to do something better, faster, and more thoroughly.”

In October, the EPA urged municipalities to look at integrating their planning processes to include “sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improves water quality, as well as supports other quality of life attributes.”

“Vactor is working with chassis manufacturers to develop alternative fuel options to support EPA regulations on air quality and reduce emissions,” said Amick.

Amick also see’s an increase in interest in “Soft“ or “hydroexcavation” because of the growth of the Marcellus Shale industry, which contains natural gas reserves. “The Vactor HXX HydroExcavators work great when digging in the area of the wells because hydroexcavation does little or no damage to buried pipes. Every couple of years, you hear about a house blowing up because a backhoe hit a pipe that no one knew about. The HXX prevents that.”

Amick touts the advances made by Vactor’s engineering team. “The HXX HydroExcavator now has a thermal water tank which retains heated water temperature longer, making it less likely to freeze in the winter. With the thermal tank, it’s lighter than a standard stainless steel tank, so it’s more fuel efficient, and it only takes about 30 minutes to heat the water, instead of the typical two and a half hours.” The new Poly tank uses less than a third of the fuel required in steel tanks.

A&H is also a distributor for Harben, which makes rotary piston pump sewer jetters. “The great thing about Harben’s pump is that it has such high pressure, up to 4000 psi, and if it freezes, you just have to let it thaw out. Then you can go back out again, saving you a lot of time and money,” said Amick.

Another way sewer maintenance can be messy is lack of safety. “Much of this equipment is potentially dangerous, but common sense will keep you from getting hurt,” says Amick. “Fortunately, we rarely see accidents among our customers. But, you always hear about guys who become too comfortable with their equipment and take a short cut. Not following those basic safety rules of operation can result in egregious and life-threatening accidents.”

And, sometimes, things just go awry. With more than 30 years in the business, Amick has a few funny stories of things that just went wrong. “We were running the sewer cleaner and a resident had a blocked vent,” said Amick. “We managed to put 50 gallons of water through her toilet, making a huge mess for us to clean up.”

Amick has another story of when they were using the sewer cleaner and it kept going and going and all of a sudden it took a left-hand turn and was banging against a resident’s floor drain. “She came running out of the house,” laughs Amick. “It was quite a sight.”

Although the sewer maintenance business can be messy, it has been a pipe dream for A&H, which originated with Amick’s dad in 1963. A&H began in the sweeper and refuse business, but expanded their product lines over the years to include a wide variety of high-quality upper-tier lines, such as sweepers, A&H Bodies, sewer maintenance, snow and ice control, airport products, and refuse and recycling. A&H started out with the simple philosophy of treating people they way they wanted to be treated. The philosophy continues today and has helped A&H grow to three locations and 23 employees in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

One of those employees, Territory Manager Jim Alhborn, just received the Envirosight MVP Franchise Award at the Pumper and Cleaner Show in Indianapolis. The MVP Franchise Award is awarded to an individual who has demonstrated not just superior sales achievements, but also a deep knowledge of the equipment, it’s uses, capabilities and the needs and requirements of the clients who use them. There are currently only five other people in the world who have received it.

For more information on A&H Equipment, log on to or call 1-800-753-7566.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

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