FARGO - Chuck Asplin says he's filling a void in the concrete repair business that has left ugly marks on sidewalks, steps and driveways for most of the last century.
The Fargo contractor has patented a process known as sandjacking, which is done by lifting concrete and filling the space with sand. Asplin said that allows him to make long-lasting and less costly repairs.
"I think anybody who sees what it can do is impressed with it," said Al Weigel, Fargo's public works director. "Like with any new process, it's a matter of trying to get people to use it. Everybody seems to be stuck in their old ways."
Concrete that has settled or cracked typically is repaired through mudjacking, an 80-year-old process in which a soil mixture is pumped into holes drilled into the pavement. The force of the mud raises the concrete into its original position, and the holes are covered with cement.
Asplin said sandjacking is different because it separates the lifting and filling rather than combining the two.
"They lift, but they don't fill. I will fill first, lift it up, and then I'll fill again," Asplin said. "Therein lies the beauty of this system."
Asplin, 57, has received approval on seven patents, most recently for a high pressure pump. He and a licensee in Minneapolis are the only sandjackers in the country, Asplin said.
Lane Azure, a mudjacker from Devils Lake, said he sees little difference between the two techniques.
"He can patent all he wants to. Mudjackers use the same process," Azure said. "He just adds another step or two or three to mudjacking. We just haven't taken the time and money to patent our ideas."
Kevin Gorder, an engineer with the state Transportation Department's Fargo office, would not say if he thinks one process is better than the other. But he said there's a future for sandjacking.
"I think we will be doing a lot of it here," Gorder said. "The mudjackers think their process is better, and Chuck think his process is better. The competition makes everybody better."
The costs between the two are comparable, Gorder said.
Mike Dirk, the carpentry supervisor at North Dakota State University, said he likes sandjacking because the concrete looks new and not repaired. Asplin has repaired mostly sidewalks at NDSU.
"You wouldn't even know that he's been there, other than the sidewalk is where it's supposed to be," Dirk said. "It works."
Asplin recently repaired concrete on a Clay County bridge that had settled more than 2 inches, said David Overbo, an engineer for the Minnesota county. It was causing sugar beet trucks to lose much of their load, making the road slippery and dangerous.
"It looks really good now," Overbo said. "I talked to one of the guys who lives right there, and he said it has made a big difference."
Sandjacking is a "technically sound" process and offers a two-year guarantee, Overbo said.
Asplin believes sandjacking eventually will replace mudjacking as the favored technique for concrete repair.
"In a way, mudjackers are my best advertising because I fix a lot of their work," Asplin said. "On the other hand, people are distrustful of my kind of repair. That's a stigma that I have to overcome."