March 2021 Vol. 76 No. 3

Editor's Log

Editor's Log: Winter's End

By Robert Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

Greetings from the frozen tundra formerly known as Texas. At least that felt like our condition when a 100-year winter storm recently overwhelmed the state and many others across the nation in mid-February. In Houston and much of the state, we experienced record cold, ice, snow, power outages, water shortages – all in one nasty storm. 

My trials and tribulations during this unique and ghastly event were many, but still we’re better off than most. The storm reached southeast Texas on Sunday and by 1 a.m. Monday, we lost power. It was 35 hours later before we got a 45-minute taste of power. Then it was a rolling blackout cycle of on for an hour, off for 4 or 5 hours until power came on permanently in the wee hours of Wednesday. 

Apparently, cell towers/phone service was tied to the main electric grid, because every time power was off, so was cell service. We even put our dog in a sweater (and he hates that). I hadn’t lit my fireplace in 20 years – thank goodness it still worked. No lights, no internet, no cell, no television or streaming entertainment, no radio. I resorted to reading by flashlight. It prompted me to recall those stories of Abe Lincoln reading and learning by fire and candlelight – wow, he must have had great eyes. 

When power did return, albeit briefly, on Tuesday, we turned on the water and instantly had a waterfall in our kitchen, breakfast room and laundry room, leading to the total collapse of most of the ceilings in those areas. Obviously, we were back to no water. I never thought I would be using our pool as toilet-fill water, but at least we had it available. 

Insurance assigned a clean-up company for our plight, but we still haven’t heard from them as of this writing – everybody was in the same situation, so it may be summer before they get around to our house. Luckily, we had friends who are remodeling contractors and they were able to send a couple of their workers to clean up the wet, dirty mess of ceiling sheetrock and insulation. 

Next, they got one of the plumbers they work with to bump us up in the queue. He replaced three split pipes successfully and as of 3 p.m. on a Thursday, we finally had both warmth and water. Of course, it took through the weekend before the “boil-water notice” was lifted. 

It’s amazing what the restoration of a few creature comforts can do to lift spirits. All we’ve heard for the past few months, especially on the pandemic front, is doom and gloom. But there is every reason to be optimistic about the physical health of our nation and economic health of the underground infrastructure. 

In the weekend of recovery after the frigid week, I got a chance to read (this time with adequate light) and catch up on news. My spirits soared even further when renowned and informed epidemiologists and researchers from places like Johns Hopkins, Stanford and Harvard were claiming the facts clearly show that the United States will probably achieve the fabled “herd immunity” by late April. Even the outgoing head of the Food and Drug Administration, on a Sunday morning network news program, largely supported a late spring herd immunity probability. And I just read another report that said Israel, which granted is a lot further along in vaccinations than the rest of the world, may hit herd immunity in March. 

As this long winter comes to a welcome close, we should all be reassured about the health of the underground construction and rehabilitation economy, as well. There are markets still thriving and gearing up for a strong construction season such as telecom, electric and gas distribution. 

Further, we just completed our annual municipal sewer/water survey and found that city personnel were overall feeling much better about 2021 than most expected. Infrastructure expert Daniel Shumate, managing director of FMI Capital Advisors, shared this encouraging perspective: “… investment in our nation’s infrastructure would be a valuable contribution from the Biden administration. There is positive momentum on that front and the impact that it would have on the underground space for utility relocates, new build and restoration is significant!” 

While energy pipelines have a major uphill battle in 2021, due to a litany of challenges, that market is improving as oil and gas reserves continue to dwindle. It’s looking like a lot of pipeline companies are turning their focus to intrastate projects that have been put off for too long – not necessarily massive projects, but more of them and with much less opposition. 

Again, Dan Shumate agreed and added that “because of the limitations on new builds (permits), the emphasis on maintenance and repair of midstream infrastructure has become a major theme for the energy delivery companies (Enbridge, etc.).” All of which points to work for pipeline contractors. 

When one considers the overall impacts of COVID-19, in many ways it seems like we’ve had a year-long pandemic winter. But there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. We know now it’s not an oncoming car or train. Rather, it’s the light of a new spring day.

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