The Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association (GTSWCA) has seen a lot of change over the past six decades such as increased project hurdles and a heightened emphasis on safety.
The GTSWCA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Claudio Vinelli, president of the association, has been on the board for six years and has been a member for 31. He is also the president of Memme Construction, which has been a member of the GTSWCA since the company was founded 50 years ago.
"My father-in-law (Antonio Nativio), who started the business in 1967, I asked him the other day how has the industry changed over the past 50 years and his quick answer was it’s a lot safer for the employees and things get done a lot more efficiently," said Vinelli, who took over the family business in 1994.
The two biggest changes Vinelli has seen are more paperwork, dealing with all the ministries, which is a lot more stringent than it used to be.
"First and foremost safety is a culture now for our members," said Vinelli, adding they have been working with municipalities to make the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program the consistent health and safety standard across Ontario.
"There’s also a lot more paperwork than there used to be. For example, if there were high water levels 30 years ago when I first started and we had to dewater a site it would be a matter of just calling the dewatering people and a week later you would be back to work. Now it takes six months to a year to get a permit to dewater a site."
Incorporated Oct. 16, 1957, the GTSWCA was initially called the Metropolitan Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association until 1998.
"We had a number of pioneers that got together and saw the need for a communal voice for the industry," explained Giovanni Cautillo, executive director of the GTSWCA.
"When it comes down to advancing the cause, the association has been on the forefront since day one. We were one of the first that were accredited for labour relations. Instead of having a number of individual contractors that would negotiate with unions, we came together as a body and a single voice in order to advocate on behalf of the industry."
The association represents contractor associations as well as manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and companies associated with the sewer and watermain industry.
"We have 90 contractors but 170 members," said Cautillo. "They see an advantage to be in the know, to be linked to a group that advocates and meets with municipalities on a regular basis. That’s something that has not only advanced and progressed but has developed into sound working relationships. We’re trying to remove obstacles and barriers that would impede the progress of work."
Over the years, the industry as a whole has progressed and contractors have had to keep up with the changes.
"We’re putting in bigger pipe, the projects are getting more complex so the contractors have had to respond to that," said Cautillo. "It’s no longer where you’re digging a hole and there’s nothing there and putting pipe in. We’ve got issues with locates and other infrastructure. Logistically you have to know what you’re doing. There’s a lot of work involved in pre-engineering even before you put a shovel in the ground."
Technology — especially tunnelling, micro tunnelling and directional drilling — has come a long way since 1957 Cautillo noted.
The first excavators were steam shovels used with buckets and pulleys.
"In our infancy we were digging things with a pick and shovel to now being able to excavate with some of the most advanced technology. Now the excavators are basically like playing a video game," he explained. "They’re computers, they’re accurate, when the operators get into one of these cabs it’s like flying a plane."
Pipes have also evolved and workers are now replacing pipe in the city of Toronto that is 160 years old.
"They’re older than Canada," Cautillo noted. "We have samples here of pipe that they first put in, in essence it was just a hollowed out tree or log and now we’re into a concrete pipe system that is a closed, pressurized system."
Vince Bellissimo, president of Timbel Ltd., has been a member of the GTSWCA since the late 1980s, a director since 1994 and served as president from 1998 to 1999.
"Our association, although it is an accredited negotiating body for our unionized members, it’s morphed into more of a business-like approach tackling industry-wide issues with our partners — municipalities, regional governments and other bodies which call projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that deal with sewer, water and wastewater management," explained Bellissimo.
"I think we harbour relationships which foster growth from both our industry and infrastructure in the GTA knowing that moneys in infrastructure are well spent because they bring back a greater return for not just our industry but for all the industries in general."