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Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works: Finding the Perfect Fit with Pipe Bursting in North Dakota

Brent Basaraba is a self-made man. A founding member if Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works, LLC., Wilton, ND, it’s been hard work, perseverance and dedication that has taken him from the farm to the construction site to successful trenchless pipe bursting contractor. Now he’d argue that much of his success is a result of his wife and managing partner Julie, his family and his deep rooted faith. And, after just a few minutes talking with him, it becomes apparent that that is equally true. 

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Basaraba’s first bursting project for the City of Bismarck, ND included replacing 8,000 feet of 8-inch cast iron water main to 10-inch Certa-Lok® restrained joint PVC using a Grundoburst 800G static pipe bursting system.

Basaraba said, “I grew up farming and I still do. I had an uncle that was an excavator. So, from the time I was 13 or 14 years old, and didn’t have something to do on the on the farm, if I wanted to make some cash, I’d go help my uncle. Later in life I got a job at the local power plant and I thought that would be the dream job. But it didn’t ever sit well with me. I’d been there about 6 years and one day my supervisor told me, ‘Guys like you typically start their own company.’ So, he planted that seed. About a year later I took out whatever retirement I had and bought my uncle out and started an excavating company. This was in about 2000, my first year in business with my wife.”

Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works focused on basements and septic systems in the beginning.  Later it was new developments, rural water and commercial projects, all open cut work. But after a decade and half of construction work, a hard look at the market and how the company was doing prompted Basaraba to reevaluate the path he was on.

He said, “I started looking where we were at and where things were going.  We were doing things in 2016 for 2003 prices. That’s where the market was at. But I wanted to get a head a little bit. So, I was at a crossroads. I tried selling some equipment at auctions, but I had a reserve on them so they wouldn’t bring anywhere near what I wanted. And I prayed for wisdom and it was impressed on me to look into pipe bursting. I had heard of pipe bursting, but it was never something I wanted to do. But there was an opportunity there and through some effort, we secured a bid with a prime contractor. And there we were, we were bursting”

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Over several pipe bursting projects, Basaraba has used restrained joint PVC, fusible PVC and poly. One the benefits of static pipe bursting is the method’s ability to use a variety of product pipes.

A phone call to pipe bursting specialist Dave Holcomb at trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, Ill and Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works was on its way into the world of trenchless construction.

Pipe Bursting for Better or Worse 

Basaraba started bursting with static pipe bursting equipment. He told one of his employees, Kacey Stein, to call TT Technologies and inquire about purchasing a pipe bursting system. Kacey did just that and spoke to Holcomb. According to Basaraba, Holcomb tried to dissuade Stein for purchasing the equipment. To which Stein, replied, “You don’t know my boss!”

Basaraba laughed, “Well, I’m tenacious and I’m just going to make it work. I’d rather go down swinging then never to have tried!”

Holcomb explained the rest of the story.  He said, “Since they were just starting out in pipe bursting, I suggested renting a machine first rather than buying a new one. Renting is a great option for contractors just getting into trenchless. A small investment up front can help them get into the industry. So, we gave him some rental numbers and they got the job. He picked up on the process really quickly and they’ve done a lot of bursting work. Brent is a really smart guy. He’s become a success story by working hard, very hard. And I really admire him.”

So, with a rented pipe bursting system, Basaraba and his crew began their first pipe bursting project with the City of Bismarck, ND.

First Burst, But Not the Last!

The city of Bismarck’s water distribution system serves over 22,900 customers. Those customers receive their water through a 375-mile network of pipes. Water transmission and distribution pipes range in size from 6- to 42-inches in diameter. According to Basaraba, the city is about 3 years into a 10-year pipe bursting plan for the replacement of water mains. 

Basaraba’s first burst came as part of a street reconstruction project where the city just wanted to do overlays, so the trenchless bursting was a good choice. It included bursting and replacing 8,000 feet of 8-inch cast iron water main to 10-inch Certa-Lok® restrained joint PVC.

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Brent Basaraba

Holcomb said, “Static pipe bursting is very versatile. The fact that you can install fusible pipes, along with restrained joint pipe materials with this method makes it applicable to a wide range of projects. Special adapters and tooling facilitate those different product pipes. Pipes like restrained joint ductile iron pipe, restrained joint PVC pipe, and fPVC pipe, among others are viable with static bursting. Basaraba has installed several types of pipes over the last few years with their Grundoburst 800G.”

Basaraba said, “We used Certa-Lok® restrained joint PVC on that first project. The second project we decided to go with fusible PVC. The pipe supplier did the initial fusing for us. But I decided to send a few guys, including my son Andy, to school for fusing. My son bought a fusing machine and now provides that service, at a competitive price, for us. This past year we tried poly. It was less money this year because of the issues with resin. But I really prefer to use fusible PVC.”

Basaraba’s crew was able complete the bursting project successfully, while still providing conventional open cut construction services. That has changed since then. Basaraba said, “We don’t do any open cut work anymore.  All we do is trenchless. I sold all my big excavators. It may not be as exciting as having a lot of big iron running around, but boy it sure pays the bills a lot better. It’s nice to have a little money left at the end of the year instead of a lot of year left at the end of the money.”

A Complete Trenchless Contractor

Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works employs 24 people at the height of the construction season, however, the company does have year round staff to do snow removal and water main repair in the winter.  The contractor works with a local company to address jobsite safety. The company assists with items such as trench safety and equipment operation safety.  Basaraba’s crews also have weekly toolbox meetings to address more immediate safety practices like gloves, hard hats, hydration, working in the elements, etc.

Supplying accurate bids is critical to Basaraba’s success. He said, “At the beginning of each project, after the job goes out for bid, that’s when we walk it. We try to work out any issues that we might encounter. Restoration is bid in a lump sum, so we try to keep those costs under control. Otherwise we do everything except asphalt and concrete repair and tree replacement.”  

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Basaraba crews try to complete 800 feet of bursting per week, start to finish. Since starting pipe bursting work, Basaraba’s Excavating and Dirt Works now focuses almost exclusively on trenchless.

The construction season starts late and ends early in North Dakota. According to Basaraba, their season starts the minute the temporary water services don’t freeze and lasts to the moment the temporary water starts to freeze. Temporary water services typically consist of a 2-inch main with ¾-inch services to the homes. For commercial properties, it is often a 2-inch service to ensure all the needs of the property are met.

Basaraba said, “We try to stay a week ahead on installing the temporary services. That’s rather time consuming, while the bursting is typically the quickest part of the project. For bursting, it takes on average about 5 and a half hours to burst 500 feet. Our goal is to complete, start to finish, 800 feet per week, and that varies. But if we can get a couple blocks in a shot, 750 to 800 feet, we like to do that. A lot depends on where the connections are and the layout of the jobsite. Some weeks are better. It’s in constant motion.”

Basaraba is now expanding his trenchless offerings. After renting a pipe bursting system from TT Technologies for the first few years, Basaraba bought a Grundoburst 800G static pipe bursting system in 2020.  Since then, the contractor has added a Grundopit pit launched directional drill that they use to replace lead service lines. And while the contractor continues push forward, he knows that he wouldn’t have reached this point without support.

He said, “I have to give credit to my wife. When I’m out spending money and buying pipe bursting machines, she’s the one trying to juggle the figures. My wife Julie and son Andy and his wife Lynn are involved in the company. I’ve taken them down a lot of different paths and had my fair share of failures and crash and burns. And when I said we were going to start pipe bursting, they were pretty skeptical. But I think we finally hit pretty close to a homerun! And I really do attribute this to God’s leading provenance because I don’t think we would have been here without it. I’m not a smart enough man to figure this all out without his guidance in my life.”

Holcomb said, “That just goes to show what a quality person Brent Basaraba is. I think that says it all.”