With a Texas drawl that has almost obliterated his broader Nebraska notes, Robbie Hass talks about his company, Borco LP, and how he and his employees deliver creative solutions to customers’ underground construction issues.
“Our main forte is boring and tunneling for trenchless construction,” he says, “using innovative, cost-effective, and versatile methods and tools.”
It’s sometimes called “non-destructive excavation.” By taking the “trench” out of the equation, crews are given access to areas beneath buildings, roads and other existing infrastructure or natural obstacles. Borco’s underground solutions are the means for providing customers’ crews and equipment with a subsurface area where they can work safely, effectively, and unimpeded.
Borco’s trenchless construction services include dry and wet boring, pipe ramming, guided boring, hand and machine tunneling, microtunneling and directional drilling, plus all the cross-variations and adjustments that Borco has developed and will apply as each situation demands.
“Over the years, we’ve developed our own methods and perfected specialized techniques in-house, even building a lot of our own auger equipment to meet our needs. Everything we build we use ourselves, though we’re now in the process of patenting a few of the pieces we developed, mostly for the vacuum and clean-up equipment.”
A Quarter Century of Innovation and Change
Hass is CEO of the family business. He laughs as he clarified, “Today, anyways. I could be the trash man tomorrow, I do so many different things.” And then he gets a little more serious. “I’d rather be out more. I sit in the office too much.”
Hass’s father came to Texas more than twenty-five years ago to start a branch of his Nebraska-based engineering company. The elder Hass started “dabbling in boring” and soon, the engineering company has become something entirely different. Robbie took over in 1998, “and that’s when we started getting into all this other stuff,” he says – “other stuff” meaning a degree of innovation and development that keeps changing the look of the business.
The economy of the last few years has had Borco’s revenues all over the map, with the downturn coupled as it was with successive disasters. Hass says they are turning a lot to disaster recovery and environmental clean-up using the company’s vacuum trucks.
“Diversification was one of my strategies years ago. Then, if something slows down, we can push the other aspect. Hydro-excavation and our vacuum capabilities go hand-in-hand already; [and] with our trench shoring services, we are a full-services turnkey contractor providing solutions and services for all types of underground construction.”
Meanwhile, Hass is working other angles to keep the business successful. “We’re changing our business plan, coming up with new and better ways to streamline everything. By using the vacuum trucks more for our own work and for other industries, we can eliminate more of the manual labor and work faster. We had pretty significant layoffs toward the end of 2009, but have hired back maybe a third because of the BP spill in Louisiana.” Borco currently has about fifty-five employees.
“We can do $12 million to $15 million a year in revenues when there are hurricanes,” he admits. “The oil spill might help us this year.” For that, we hit the beach running, doing just pretty much everything from beach cleanup to sucking our marshes to off-loading boats at dockside.”
Finding Solutions to Tough Problems
Some of the jobs Borco takes on address seemingly insurmountable challenges, such as the Houston Medical Center project, for which Borco successfully provided a secure underground work area for construction crews.
“That was a job nobody wanted to do because of the medical district’s space limitations,” he recalls. The area was covered with buildings above ground and filled with sewers and utilities below ground, so there was almost no room to work on the surface or underneath. Borco’s solution was to hydro-excavate a twenty-foot by twenty-foot by sixty-foot-deep shaft avoiding the utilities, using a mere twenty-two-foot by twenty-two-foot area on the surface.
“We did the whole job with vacuum trucks, coming up with our own little tunnel machine and incorporating the vacuum into it. Soldier piles and lagging shored the hole to protect the workers and allow them to get in there with their equipment and do their work.”
Borco made two shafts and tunnels, including tunneling 200 feet beneath the street to Methodist Hospital, where they put in a six-foot by six-foot tunnel electric duct bank. No hospital utilities or structures were affected, and the project was completed successfully. The $2 million job took Borco two months, working ‘round the clock, seven days a week.
With so little elbow room, what happens with the spoil from a twenty-foot by twenty-foot by sixty-foot hole? “That’s the problem!” Hass says with feeling. “We used a lot of vacuum boxes. We trucked it off to a staging area, then spread it out to dry.” They were able to use some of it to refill the shafts. “We’re also working with alternative methods to deal with the slops and slurries, to come up with ways to dry it out quicker, to separate the water from the soil.”
Even if he sits in his office more than he likes, Hass’s brain is turning over the issues and challenges his industry faces, pondering new ways to bring solutions to his business and to his customers.
Destin – Thousands of people have sent BP ideas for cleaning-up the oil in the water or on the beach. Earlier this year, Kevin Costner backed an ocean-water oil skimmer, 15-years in the making. Now, actor Stephen Baldwin visited Walton County to show-off his beach cleaning machine.
Stephen Baldwin, youngest of the 4 Baldwin brothers, is playing another role these days. He’s put his Tinseltown career on hold to bring attention to the Gulf Coast recovery efforts.
“This is just the next phase for me in my personal experience of using my celebrity to make a difference and shine some light on situations that need to have change, and need to be corrected, and help create awareness to find solutions” says the celebrity activist.
Out of that comes the Thunder Response Group, an environmental clean-up organization spearheaded by Baldwin to address the fact that the crisis is not over.
Even though the leaking well has been capped, millions of gallons of oil are still in the gulf and remains a constant threat to the coastline.
Baldwin says he couldn’t sit back and watch the tragedy unfold without helping.
“It bums me out that you have potentially layers of tar balls under the sand already that will come up and get exposed through the natural process of currents and the wind, so we’d like to make a difference in that reality.”
With a new line of defense: Sand skimming.
Baldwin pitched his three tier vacuum system to Walton County leaders Monday hoping to gain their approval and implement the technology.
The service won’t cost the taxpayers a dime.
“It would be at no cost to the county. BP would incur all costs of having it over there. The county won’t be responsible for any of this; it would be a cost to BP. It would be our responsibility to work with BP to get them to sign off and pay this” says Blake Cody with the Thunder Response Group.
The skimming systems have not yet been approved by DEP or the EPA but Thunder Response Group members anticipate the green light in the coming weeks.
This is one of many of Baldwin’s Gulf Coast recovery projects.
He’s currently producing a documentary titled “A Will to Drill,” which will explore the events leading up to the Deep Horizon oil spill.