In Oregon, It’s Time to Update Our Certification Program

‘We are professionals! Professionals want to learn, to apply that knowledge and to better themselves.’

In Oregon, It’s Time to Update Our Certification Program

Trent Clinkscales

In States Snapshot, we visit with a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. This time, we learn about a member of the Oregon Onsite Wastewater Association.

Trent Clinkscales - owner

Business: Clinkscales Portable Toilets & Septic Service, Molalla, Oregon

Age: 49

Years in the industry: 28

Association involvement: 

I serve in the pumper seat in the Oregon Onsite Wastewater Association (O2WA) and have served seven years on the board. I’m currently the president. I was president in 2013 as well.

Benefits of belonging to the association: 

Education is a big benefit. Installers and operations and maintenance providers in Oregon are required to pursue continuing education credits. O2WA hosts two conferences each year: a two-day conference in the spring and a one-day conference in the fall. We offer scholarships for our members and their families. We are also a NOWRA - National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association affiliate.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: 

We have a very dedicated board with many great ideas. The challenge becomes getting all these ideas put into motion as a volunteer organization. Right now we’re trying to update the certification class. For Oregon we have to have a certification program for installers and for maintenance operators, and the class has become pretty stale. It hasn’t had a serious overhaul in a long time. We don’t have any paid staff to push these projects through. We entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality two years ago, and we just finally signed a contract with the contractor who is going to update the class.

Our crew includes: 

Lorry Clinkscales (my wife) and Tessa Shankle handle the office work. Charlie Bennett is our septic driver. Nick Clifford, Arron Adams and Ad Paquin are portable toilet route drivers.

Typical day on the job: 

I arrive to work shortly before the crew, usually about 7:45 a.m. I help them with questions about their routes or jobs for the day. I handle any problems with trucks, overflow septic jobs, or where Bennett, who has been doing septic for a couple years, needs my expertise. I help Lorry Clinkscales and Shankle with developing quotes. I deliver and pick up luxury restroom trailers. I also make parts runs and usually go to the bank and post office. Essentially, I’m a jack-of-all-trades and fill in where needed.

The job I’ll never forget: 

While not a septic job, the one I’ll never forget is helping a portable restroom operator with the solar eclipse event in Madras, Oregon, last year. It was nuts. My wife and I went and took our small septic truck (1999 International 4900 with a Lely Tank & Waste Solutions 1,700-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump). We were going to take two trucks, but right before we left, one of them broke down. The crowds were amazingly gracious while we struggled to keep up with the demand for clean restrooms. One lady handmade a card with an eclipse design using yellow and black construction paper. She wrote a note about how grateful she was for our service. I wrote her a thank-you note and have (the card) hanging on my wall. The eclipse itself was awe-inspiring; it was just amazing.

My favorite piece of equipment: 

I love my drain cameras. I just bought a new one — a RIDGID CS6xPak, but we’ve had a Spartan Tool Sparvision 200 for six or seven years. I had been talking about getting one for a long time. But there was one project where I’d gone out to locate a drainline and was convinced the septic tank was under a deck. I was positive. I had the contractor come out and tear the deck boards off and we were digging 3 or 4 feet deep. It took several days. One day we were over near some trees to “take a break,” and we noticed a depression in the ground that looked like maybe it was the tank. And, sure enough, a quick probe stab and 6 inches into the ground there was the tank — about 45 feet away from the deck. Hours of labor were lost and I had to pay to replace the deck. So, it was time to get a camera. It gives us the ability to know exactly what’s going on inside the pipe. Or when we’re locating a septic tank, it’s just so easy to send the camera down there. You can see all the way (providing the pipe isn’t plugged) to the tank so I know definitely I’m at the septic tank. Or I know exactly that the pipe is broken in this spot.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: 

It was an existing system evaluation where the drainfield was on the other side of a deep ravine. In order to get the camera and locating equipment to the site, we strapped everything on my all-terrain vehicle (2006 Yamaha Grizzly 700) and drove down and back up the steep slope. Although the homeowners rode their motorcycles back there, there wasn’t a trail big enough for the four-wheeler so they had to clear a path for us. It was steep going down and steep going back up the other side to where the drainfield was. But it worked out really well. It saved a lot of trips back and forth, up and down the draw.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: 

“Can’t you just dump that on my field?” No, I really like my license and reputation intact!

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: 

This is a hot topic on the O2WA board right now. We would like to see either a tiered certification program on both the installation side and operations and maintenance, or we have even talked about an apprenticeship-style program. Right now for the O&Ms, and even on the installer side, the certification is just a blanket certification allowing you to install or operate any system out there. Well, it’s one thing to operate a residential system versus going to a big commercial site that’s got high-strength waste and that sort of thing.

So, you get guys who are brand-new and don’t really have any experience on some of this stuff and they’re in over their heads. What we’re seeing is that these guys are failing. The systems are not performing the way they’re supposed to. That’s why we’re talking about either an apprenticeship program where these guys get the skills they need by learning from somebody else or a tiered system where there’s that next step of classes they have to take and pass before they can go on to operate or install the bigger systems.

And for pumpers, you only have to buy your license and get a bond and you’re a pumper — but you may not know anything. That’s the way it was when my dad started the company back in the early 1980s. We should be better than that now. Our association wants to get a lobbyist involved so we can get the laws changed.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: 

A contractor friend told me years ago to make sure to “get paid!” Seriously. As an industry we often undervalue ourselves. We serve an important role in protecting the environment and people’s health. We need to be compensated accordingly.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: 

Hopefully be retired and travelling with Lorry Clinkscales!

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: 

I feel that with organizations like the O2WA, NOWRA, National Association of Wastewater Technicians, Portable Sanitation Association International, etc., professionalism is increasing. There is still a long way to go, but collectively we are making progress. Ideas like tiered certifications and apprenticeships come with great opposition from some folks who would rather keep the status quo. We must keep striving to become better than that. We are professionals! Professionals want to learn, to apply that knowledge and to better themselves. 


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