Municipal Forums Provide Vital Info, Communication Role For Cities

For a dozen years, Municipal Forums sponsored by the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech University have been bringing vital information about the various trenchless technologies to municipal and public works officials. The forums are also attended by consultants, contractors, suppliers and other interested parties.

As they are now organized, the one-day forums are held on a regional basis. Topics covered vary and change as necessary to cover new technologies and timely issues. Seven forums were held in the first half of 2010 with others planned through the end of the year, said Jadranka Simicevic, TTC research engineer and forums coordinator.

“The TTC municipal forums,” said Simicevic, “enable municipalities to educate many of their employees about trenchless technologies — from basics to current developments and new technologies. The regional format is especially valuable in times when many agencies have freezes on travel and are unable to send employees to national conferences.”

Forum participants also have the opportunity to earn continuing education credits at some of the forums. At certain forums, PDH certificates can be issued at no extra charge, and at all forums CE certificates can be issued for a small fee.

Recent sessions have included: design, installation and UV-cure of CIPP liners; fold-and-form liners; pipe jacking; sliplining; spray lining; potable water pressure pipe rehabilitation; spiral-wound liners; large-diameter pipe rehabilitation; microtunneling; pipebursting; horizontal directional drilling; pilot tubing; grouted liners; manhole rehabilitation; different pipe materials; pipe inspection and assessment; asset management; locating of buried utilities; contracting problems; and impact of consent decrees on municipalities.

Forum development
Municipal participants help select topics of forums they will attend. Well ahead of each forum, potential participants are invited to suggest topics of interest. Minutes of previous forums are reviewed to identify topic suggestions. Presenters at previous forums also suggest ideas and many potential presenters for each upcoming session are asked for recommendations. The goal is for each forum program to contain presentations that are timely and of interest to those attending.

In some forums in the past, Simicevic said, municipal members have chosen a specific focus for the meeting and invited industry speakers to present their products or expertise on the chosen topics.

“In most forums,” she added, “a mix of various topics works well so people with different interests and working in different departments can find useful presentations.”

Forum sessions are conducted by recognized industry experts including consultants, representatives of manufacturers, public works personnel and others who have knowledge and experience with design issues, field application of trenchless methods, regulations, asset management and other specialties.

Presentations at the forums are required to be accurate and non-biased, avoiding sales messages, said Simicevic. Presentations must be submitted to the TTC for review well in advance of the forum date, and each presentation is vetted by the TTC to ensure appropriate technical content and minimal branding.

The one-day meeting schedule running typically from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., allows most participants to travel to the meeting and return home on the same day. Field demonstrations of selected technologies also can be part of the program and are occasionally scheduled.

Simicevic said forums generally follow a standard format: there is a morning session with technology or case history presentations and an afternoon discussion session to which only the municipal participants are invited. The afternoon discussions allow the municipal participants to exchange ideas, discuss mutual problems and form networks of support for issues related to underground asset management.

“The combination of technology updates and the chance to compare notes with peers in other municipalities seems to work well,” said Simicevic. “People that come say that they like it a lot.”

Attendance at forums varies from 30 to 70, depending on location. Since 1999, 108 forums have been held in 17 regions. Simicevic estimates more 3,000 people have participated since the forums were initiated.

Cost to attend a session for municipal employees varies from $35 to $45, depending on location, approximately double that for non-municipal employees. Presenters help offset costs of presentations and demonstrations.

TTC Administrative Director Dr. Robert McKim believes the forum series has had a significant positive impact on the advancement of trenchless technology in North America.

“The forums,” he explained, “have allowed municipalities to economically and objectively educate their engineering and operations staff about trenchless technology. Great care is taken by the TTC to ensure the presentations are technically sound, relevant to each forum audience and without a strong ‘sales’ slant. When municipalities accurately understand the capabilities of trenchless technologies, they will realize it reduces the costs and negative impacts of rehabilitating and maintaining underground piping systems. This in turn reduces taxes, improves the quality of life, and strengthens the financial stability of municipalities.”

McKim added that the forums would not be possible without the terrific work of Simicevic.

“It takes the combined effort of a number of great people to maintain this series of events and Jadranka (Simicevic) is the driving force that pulls it all together,” he said.

TTC Municipal Forums, (218) 257-2744, (

How Forums Evolved
The development of the TTC Municipal Forums in many ways parallels the history of the trenchless industry in North America, believes TTC administrative Director Dr. Robert McKim.

“The idea for the forums came from the TTC Industry Advisory Board (IAB) not long after Dr. Ray Sterling came to the center as director in 1995,” said McKim. “At that time there were few established avenues beyond national level conferences for information about trenchless technology to reach the municipalities that owned the projects that could benefit from trenchless construction. Often these end users had to depend on sales information for news of available technological developments and how and where to use them.”

The end result, McKim continued, was that municipal engineers were making major decisions concerning the repair and maintenance of their piping systems based on sometimes biased information of companies trying to sell their technologies.

“The situation was further impacted by the fact that the industry itself was still learning which technologies were appropriate for specific situations,” said McKim.

At the urging of the TTC Industrial Advisory Board, composed of public works, industry and consultant representatives and with the assistance the Gulf Coast Trenchless Association (GCTA) and others in the industry, the TTC worked to find the best format to provide a suitable format for unbiased education presentations about trenchless technology so that municipalities could make informed decisions.

Organizational discussions were held within the IAB during 1996 and 1997. The first actual forum was held in 1998 in conjunction with the Underground Construction Technology Conference in Houston as part of the first international trenchless research colloquium, a gathering of international academic researchers in the field. Additional forums were held in other major cities with the idea that participants could be drawn from a wide area around each city. However, this concept proved to be impractical, complicated by travel time and costs.

Ultimately the forum series was adjusted to provide forums in more narrowly-focused regions centered around large urban areas and drawing from those municipalities in that region. This allowed municipal participants to attend the meeting without overnight travel and with low or no travel costs.

Dr. Ray Sterling, who retired as TTC director last year, remains involved in the forum program and continues to serve as an occasional moderator. Joe Barsoom, Parsons Brinkerhoff, chairperson of the IAB since 2003, served as forums director from 2005 to 2009.

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