‘We’re Always Busy, No Matter What’

Modern excavators, new technology can make the job easier for installers and pumpers, better for homeowners and businesses that utilize decentralized wastewater

‘We’re Always Busy, No Matter What’

Paul Mumford Jr., co-owner with father, Paul Mumford Sr.

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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 Rhode Island Independent Contractors and Associates.

Paul Mumford Jr., co-owner with father, Paul Mumford Sr.

Business: Mumford Services, North Kingstown, Rhode Island  

Age: 36

Years in the industry: I’ve been in the industry 20 years, but for the company and my dad, it’s been 45 years.

Association involvement: I’ve been in the Rhode Island Independent Contractors and Associates for about 15 years. I sit on the board of directors.

Benefits of belonging to the association: 
Education is a big benefit and staying informed about new regulations and things that may be coming down the pipeline. It offers training, which is key to getting some of the licenses. And, most important, it’s the networking and talking to other individuals in or around the industry.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: 
It’s very difficult to get members now. The younger crowd just isn’t there. It’s very easy now to get answers to questions, whereas years ago you didn’t have the internet so if you had questions, you had to make phone calls. You’d call some of the members or the president or someone who was in the loop around the state Department of Environmental Management to get answers. Now you can just go on the DEM website and find out basically any information on laws and ordinances. Even for some licenses where we need continuing education, years ago you needed these organizations for that. You’d go on weekends and nights to sit in on classes, and now we just take them online while we’re sitting on our couch. You print the form and mail it in with your license application, and that’s the end of it. We do advertise and have annual events to try to recruit people. We send out monthly mailers. And if you’re going to get an equipment operator license, which is very difficult, we offer weekend classes on that before you take the actual test.

Our crew includes: 
Family makes up a lot of it: myself; my father; my mother, Toni; my wife, Andrea, who runs the office; and my brother-in-law, Herbie Myers. Then we have about 10 drivers and laborers.

Typical day on the job: 
I usually arrive about 6:30 a.m. to make sure everybody shows up and gets out of the yard. Then I go and install septic systems.

The job I’ll never forget: 
An installation job in Narragansett that had no access for trucks. We had access for one machine, which we ran across a beach from another property, but other than that, we did everything with cranes and blower trucks — the type of trucks that can blow material, like sand and mulch, through a pipe. The crane was mounted on a large tri-axle truck that sat up on the main road all day. The crane operator took the tank and equipment off trucks sitting in the road and lowered them over a wall down into the main property, which sat about 15 feet below the road right on the beach, and then everything was carried by hand. We had to use fiberglass material — a fiberglass tank, an AdvanTex (Orenco Systems) unit. That made for a tough job, very labor intensive.

My favorite piece of equipment: 
I like the excavators. We’ve got four of them — a Kubota K008, Bobcat E35, Caterpillar 308 and Caterpillar 312. Having 360-degree versatility and being able to do that over what we used to do with a backhoe has really helped the industry. They’ve made things a lot quicker, safer. You can dig crushed stone out of a truck, spin 180 degrees and put it in the hole. The backhoes just don’t have that capability.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: 
We did a project in North Kingstown where we had a very high water table. We actually had to install drains to keep track of the tank. We set the tank and when we came back the next day, the tank was completely submerged underwater. We installed two big French drains on the side just to lower the water table so we could find the tank again. Because of that, we were supposed to put in a pump chamber and pump up a hill to a drainfield, but the DEM did not let us put the pump chamber in because they were afraid of flotation, so we had to put a pump unit inside the septic tank.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: 
After we’ve put in a new septic system, I’ve had people say, “So now I pump this, what — every 20 years?” And you have to educate them on that. And we get a lot of questions asking us if we can retrieve jewelry that’s gone down drains. Every week you get some sort of question that makes you sit there and roll your eyes.

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: 
Most of our septic people and excavators are Class I designers, which means we can do anything residential six bedrooms or less. We can’t do commercial or industrial and, most important, we can’t design any alternative technology denitrification systems. I think if we as Class I could do that, it would really be a big thing. At the present time, if we want to use any of that technology, the homeowners have to get civil engineers involved to do the permit and design, then we do the installation. But with the very good economy, the civil engineers are stretched to the limits on new construction and big projects, so trying to get them to do those little jobs takes a long time. If we could do it, like we do all the conventionals, it would speed it up and you would see more of that technology used. The cost of that stuff has come down, and we can do them quicker than the conventionals now. I think there are a lot of sites where we could design and use the technology and it would be just as cost effective as some of these large mound systems or large septic systems. But since we can’t, we end up designing very large conventional systems. We have tried to get that changed, but it’s never gained any traction with the state.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: 
“Run cash-positive, debt-free.” Here in the Northeast, you’re very busy and things are really going well in the warmer summer months, but then you start getting into winter and things really slow down. You probably do 50% to 70% less business, but you still have all the same trucks and payments. So if you can run debt-free and have the trucks paid for, it makes those four months of winter a lot easier.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: 
Probably be in some sort of construction. I like running the machines and driving the big trucks, so I’d probably be doing some sort of trade like that. I’m not the type of guy to sit inside a building for eight or 10 hours a day. It’s bad enough when I’ve got to do it for two or three hours designing a septic on the computer.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: 
Around here it’s a very booming, growing industry. We don’t have any sewer systems, really, unless you get into the inner cities. Most of these new homes and even the repairs are now getting these alternative systems requiring a lot of maintenance and upkeep. It’s a recession-proof industry. We’re always busy no matter what; it’s just we get paid a little better when the economy is doing well. 


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