Advancing Confidently into the Future
Clearsite Industrial’s one-year anniversary backed by 30 years of leadership
Clearsite Industrial (Clearsite) may be celebrating its one-year anniversary, but it’s no newcomer to the game. With offices in the eastern United States and headquartered in Plainsboro, New Jersey, Clearsite is a company of vacuum excavation innovators. Its leaders are nationally recognized subject matter experts and early adopters of the technology, which, although can be traced back over the last 30 years, is still relatively new in the United States.
With a large fleet and seasoned operators, Clearsite is focused on serving utilities, commercial contractors, nuclear facilities, transportation and rail, and the oil and gas industry up and down the East Coast. It has a robust commitment to its clients, which formally reads: “Clearsite is committed to providing clients with the best service at a competitive price. We make this commitment through our experience, extensive training and fulfilling our objective of attracting and retaining the most qualified personnel in the industry. Our dedication is to build lasting relationships with all our clients, to be part of the process until completion.”
Clearsite’s services include utility locating, air excavation, potholing, slot trenching and tunneling, and utility pole and piling holes. Its operators can also complete service pits, anode installation and gas service installation, address water main breaks and complete fiber optic trenching, among other skills.
It’s an ambitious list of capabilities for a new company, and with good reason: Steve D’Angelo, Clearsite’s Vice President, is considered a subject matter expert in the world of vacuum excavations.
Born in Philadelphia to an Italian American family with its own foundation and excavation business, Steve has extensive “boots on the ground” experience. “Some of my earliest memories are of construction sites,” he says. “What separates me in the industry is that I have done the work myself. I have experience, from foundations, underpinning, piles and caissons, to utility construction. I know what it feels like to work in the cold, in the rain and in the heat. And, it’s also the reason I paid so much attention to this technology when I first encountered it.”
Steve didn’t disclose what he was doing in Canada when he first noticed the burgeoning hydro excavation market in the early 2000s, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that his first introduction to the technology started him on a new path away from the family business. “I knew I wanted to build my own legacy, and I was trying to identify my own path forward,” Steve says. “At the time, vacuum excavations were relatively new to the United States, but they were very popular in Canada. The oil and gas industry used vacuum trucks on every site. In fact, its provincial law in Canada that you’re not even allowed to put a backhoe in the ground without a hydrovac truck on-site.”
Needless to say, Steve was intrigued. “I had a lot of comfort in seeing how successful it was in Canada, and how the market and agencies not only accepted the technology, but demanded that it be used,” he says. “I was incredibly excited by the ‘unknown’ of growing the technology on the East Coast, and leading the American hydrovac market. It was a no-brainer.”
New and Old
The history of air excavation can be traced to the Californian Gold Rush. Miners (or ’49ers, depending on who you ask) would use steam pump-pressurized water to dig out hillsides to collect gold and other minerals (this was eventually renamed hydraulic mining). In the 1970s and 1980s, construction companies would overhaul vacuum trucks and sewer cleaners to make machines with the precision, power and capabilities they needed for high-risk projects. However, modern vacuum excavators didn’t come into their own until the early 1990s. The industry began growing steadily in the late 1990s as several equipment manufacturers were entering the market with both truck- and trailer-mounted equipment to fit a growing demand for hydro excavation in various locations across North America.
And while the industry was growing, so was Steve’s business empire. Clearsite is the third company in this field he has worked with. He began his vacuum excavation career with a largely recognized leader in the industry in 2005, then moved to Allstate Power Vac (now ACV Enviro) developing the company’s vacuum excavation division from scratch into a multimillion-dollar business east of the Mississippi. From there, Steve started Clearsite in partnership with Lou Galasso, who is the company’s President and Owner. All team members at the new company were focused on spreading the gospel of vacuum excavations in the United States.
“When I decided to invest in this technology, I had to overcome a couple of challenges,” Steve says. “First, no one thought that it could be used in the winter. That is inaccurate. We heat our water to 150 degrees and excavate almost any soil type in the dead of winter, and we work closely with engineering firms to show them the benefits of this technology.” Steve mentions he has worked with utility owners, contractors and industrial facilities managers over the past 15 years, demonstrating the value and safety of vacuum excavation. But myths about the effectiveness—or lack thereof—inherent in the technology still abound. “Yeah, I still hear myths that I thought were long gone,” Steve says.
He points out that many improvements have been made to the technology in the last 20 years. “But I’d hear clients say that it wasn’t as productive as a backhoe,” he says with a laugh. “If you’re looking for bulk excavation, that’s not what we do. That’s not why you would use a vacuum excavator. Our specialty is working in challenging excavations where keeping the integrity of the underground infrastructure is paramount. We compare ourselves to hand digging. And believe me, we are much, much more productive than a person with a shovel.”
It’s Not a Shovel
Typically, the process begins by loosening soil with a high-pressure air or water source and the soil is immediately suctioned away by an incredibly powerful vacuum. This is why the technology is minimally invasive and typically doesn’t damage the surrounding soil or features. Vacuum excavators can also dig deep holes with small diameters, so they’re ideal for digging narrow trenches.
“Hydro or air excavations can go down as deep as the native soil, meaning that we work primarily through backfill. But both are used in different instances,” Steve says. “Vacuum excavation is considered a best practice for safely finding and seeing underground utilities where hand digging may be required, like in a basement or near utilities.”
Both options are used primarily when surgical precision is needed. “The clients that use us most know that we can safely and effectively excavate areas where others can’t,” Steve says. “Our positive displacement blowers can vacuum up to 500 feet away from the trucks. We have both eight-inch and six-inch hoses and can use a solid pipe to go inside a building or basement. On an open site, we can excavate about a 30-foot radius right from the truck. There’s nowhere we can’t go.”
A key differentiator for Clearsite is its team’s relationships with clients. “I don’t want to name names, but let’s just say we have great relationships with almost all of the large utilities on the East Coast,” Steve says. “I grew up in an old-school Italian construction company. Words like honesty and integrity mean something. And, we believe in transparency. It’s been a conscious decision to be wholly transparent in our pricing and our project goals.”
Transparency is also a key theme throughout the company’s website, including its innovative “Get an Estimate” form. “That form tells the client exactly what they will be charged. There are no hidden charges, no environmental fees, no fuel surcharges or anything like that,” Steve explains.
“Maybe it’s because I come from the old-school way of thinking, but I really believe that good client relationships are key to long-term success,” he adds. “We’ve had many situations where we’ve worked with clients who call and ask a lot of questions. In some cases, hydrovac or air excavation isn’t the best solution. And when that happens, we are honest. We’re not looking to retire off one job; we want relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Speaking of relationships, the leaders of Clearsite also have great relationships with their staff, according to Steve. “We value and respect every employee,” he shares. “We empower each one to be part of the process in every aspect. They are our most valued assets, and without their dedication and hard work we would not be where we are.”
So, what is the future for Clearsite Industrial? “I only see growth,” Steve says. “There are cities and counties that haven’t adopted this technology, but that won’t stop us. I think it’s going to be more common for utility owners to specify that a vacuum excavator is a requirement on their projects. The technology and industry have grown tremendously for the last five years, and we’re not even done innovating yet.”