HISTORY OF SUBSURFACE UTILITY ENGINEERING Post-55 – Looking Back (1990–1994, Part 1)

Before moving on to the 2000s, let’s continue looking back to some more of the early history of Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE).  For the last two weeks we have looked at the SUE history from 1981 thru 1989.  This week we will look at the 1990-1994 years. 

SUE History from1990 thru 1994, Part 1 

(1) Bob Stevens, a former nuclear officer for the U.S. Navy, and Garon Stutzman, So-Deep’s owner and CEO, kicked off the 1990s with a major accomplishment – Utility Quality Levels. They were discussing nuclear safety concepts and recognized parallels with utility issues. Four utility quality levels were subsequently developed and defined — Quality Level D (utility records research), Quality Level C (visible surface features), Quality Level B (geophysical methods), and Quality Level A (exposed subsurface utilities). 

(2) The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began promoting Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) in 1991, shortly after Jim Overton and Jerry Poston recognized its nationwide value.  With Paul Scott spearheading the promotional efforts, the FHWA aggressively promoted SUE throughout the 1990s by: (a) sending memos to field offices stressing the benefits of SUE and encouraging Division Administrators and their staff engineers to promote SUE with State DOT counterparts, which they did; (b) developing and distributing various forms of literature to FHWA and State DOT offices (papers, flyers, brochures, handbooks, etc.); (c) preparing numerous papers for conferences and publications; (d) making numerous presentations at workshops, conferences, meetings, etc.; (e) obtaining funds for many SUE-related activities, including development and distribution of research reports and videotapes; (f) conducting workshops at approximately 20 State departments of transportation; and (g) facilitating projects to demonstrate the value of SUE in Oregon, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico.

(3) Another highlight of the 1990-1994 time period, for me at least, was the emergence of a new SUE provider — Tampa Bay Engineering (TBE). Nick Zembillas introduced the Florida DOT to SUE in 1991. Soon thereafter, he left FDOT, bought a vac truck, and joined the Tampa Bay Engineering company where he started a SUE division. After providing SUE in Florida for a few years, Nick and TBE virtually exploded upon the national scene in 1993. He was everywhere, visiting other states, attending and helping fund conferences, doing all the things So-Deep had been doing for many years. Both Nick and Jim Anspach told me recently that they promoted SUE in every state in the United States during the 1990s.

Bob Clemens sent me this week’s picture. He is the big guy in the middle of the picture. Very few people have done as much as Bob over the years to advance the SUE profession. I like this picture because it depicts some young men that saw the value of SUE and wanted to become a part of it. 

More from the 1990-1994 era next week.