This summer I answered a mass e-mailing regarding a need for a civil engineer to serve as a mentor to the Tulsa University Student chapter of Engineer’s Without Borders (EWB). Against my natural tendency to approach all things cautiously, I jumped in with both feet. Soon I found myself traveling to the southern half of the globe to a remote community in Bolivia with a group of electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering students. Also accompanying the students were a chemical engineering professor from TU and a professional surveyor.
Several from the group had traveled to the village before and brought the basic technologies of proper sanitation via “eco-latrines” and solar heated shower systems. The main goal of the current project was to determine the feasibility of implementing a pressure reducing device in the Piqueria – Cotani water system; one of the two systems known for excessively high pressures (200 PSI). In short, the answer was “no thanks.” The group learned from the President of the Water Board that they were satisfied with their system despite the issues it caused and desired no changes. Rather than quit there, the group did an excellent job of redirecting their efforts and was capable of accomplishing an even larger task than originally anticipated. By finding the right persons with the paper maps and head knowledge, we were able to map out the larger, older, and more distressed Cotani – Alto System.
Whereas the Piqueria – Cotani system suffers from high pressures, the Cotani – Alto suffers from extreme pressure fluctuations due to large demands. During our stay for the week we routinely witnessed low pressures and flows. While the pressure gauges available were not able to register below 10 PSI, our observations confirmed negative/vacuum pressures at times. A pressure gauge on the hydrant outside our building swung from zero pressure (there was no available flow when installed) to 75 PSI in a matter of minutes. It soon bounced down to 50 PSI and a few minutes later dropped to 25 PSI. Based on our observations at the water tank, I am confident there was water available at the source; it just could not reach us through the small diameter waterlines. When we mapped the system and realized the school, our site and a dozen other homes shared a 3/4 inch water line, the problem was quite clear.
The trip was a success not just because the group was able to map out the system. I count the “real world” experience provided to the students and myself as a much bigger success. As expected, we encountered people in severe poverty and worked long days in a relatively harsh environment. But what I found to be surprisingly true--whether here in the States or across the globe--an engineer’s biggest challenge is often working with the people we encounter. The obvious example came from the President of the Piqueria system. Not only did he politely refuse any assistance on his system, he was also not willing to provide full assistance to us unless it was beneficial to the people he represented. We desired to just make copies of the maps and reports he had available for the Piqueria system. While quite cordial, his demand was for the group to donate more solar showers to the people in his system. These documents could have been beneficial references for both systems; however, the group wisely declined the deal. While EWB does financially invest in communities, their goal is to provide the technologies and education so that communities can support themselves. “Teach them to fish” as the old adage goes.
It is important to note that aside from this example and a few other shy or suspicious persons, I did find the people very accepting and helpful. The children were especially interactive. One young girl served as a translator to her grand-parents who only spoke their native tongue. A teenage boy was teaching me the right way to throw a wind-up top and we had a large group of kids joining in to play hacky-sack. Yet, even Dionicio, an older gentleman and who had all the knowledge of the system, joined in for a game of hacky-sack one night!
The challenge for our group today is back to pure engineering. We need to find a solution through water modeling to combat these extreme pressure fluctuations. Adding to the challenge is that we are limited by the resources available to the Cotani people; their manpower, financial resources, and the materials available in their remote location. The need is high. It is important to recognize that the lack of water at times is not just a nuisance but is also a significant health risk. The negative pressures in the system can allow contaminated water to infiltrate or syphon back into the system. The people boil the drinking water, but cooking, cleaning, and bathing in contaminated water all increase the risk for waterborne disease and illnesses.
I believe we have an excellent team that is up to the task. I saw dedication and sacrifice from the students. Marcos from Engineers in Action was a major asset. Dionicio and the residents in the Cotani-Alto system are hopeful and seem willing to do what they can to come together and solve this problem. It was a refreshing pleasure and honor to get to work on a true “third world problem” for people who appreciate the help of their engineer. I look forward to the chance to return and maybe find myself in a ditch laying waterlines alongside Dionicio and the others who call Cotani their home.
In the January, 2013 Engineering Blog, I discussed the first three of the less common issues that concern the land owner in an eminent domain (condemnation) proceeding. The three most common issues are access, surface water drainage and remainder site impact
. The less common issues are increased noise levels, relocation of utilities, remainder property left as a non-conforming use property, property severance, construction activity damage to remainder, visibility & view, and lighting. We will discuss the last four of the less common issues in this blog.
In some instances, the taking of property leaves the land owner with severed property. This most generally occurs when the taking is for a new alignment of a roadway. However, I have also seen property severance in a raw water easement taken by a larger city. In these instances the land owner is left with property on both sides of the land that was taken by the condemning agency. In agricultural uses this could severely interfere with the land owner's agricultural operation. Most of the instances involve either cattle or dairy operations. Dairy or beef cattle have to be transported from one side of the taking to the other. This can adversely impact the value of the remainder property. In some instances, the condemning authority has provided beef or dairy cattle crossings under the roadway to reduce the impact on the remainder property.
Construction activity such as rock blasting, embankment compaction and pile driving can adversely affect the remainder property. Improvements located close to construction activity can be damaged by these activities. I have seen potable water wells damaged, foundations of structures compromised, and personal property damaged from blasting of solid rock. While this type of activity occurs after the land has been taken by the condemning authority, the parties would be well served to consider if any of these activities will be a part of the construction in an eminent domain proceeding.
In instances where view or visibility is important to the land owner, the effect of the facilities that are to be constructed on the land taken by the condemning authority should be considered. In commercial use property, the visibility of the property is often of great concern to the land owner. Lack of visibility can adversely affect the value of the remainder property. In residential use property the view from the remainder can be adversely impacted by the facilities constructed on the property taken. Both view and visibility should be considered by the parties in eminent domain cases.
Lighting in transportation projects can impact the remaining property. Lighting of the roadway or lights from automobiles or trains can disrupt the normal enjoyment of ones property, especially in residential use property. Lighting on or from the facilities constructed on the land taken by the condemning authority should be a consideration by the parties in eminent domain proceedings.
The condemning authorities and the land owners in eminent domain proceedings would be well served in considering both the most common and less common issues that impact the value of remaining property in an eminent domain proceeding where the land owner is left with remainder property.
As I contemplate semi-retirement, I find myself looking back over a career of 40 years in land surveying and civil engineering. Things have changed tremendously since I graduated from the University of Missouri – Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology). I still have my slide rule from my college days, although I haven’t used it since I graduated. HP had introduced the first scientific calculator during my junior or senior year which, if I remember correctly, cost $495.00. Today I can by a calculator that would compare with the old HP for about $15.95.
I could list many tremendous advances in technology over my career but I would like to address what I consider some changes in my chosen profession that cause me serious concern. These changes have affected the business world in general and professional engineering and surveying has not escaped unscathed by these changes. I am referring to the decline in business ethics. Things such as honesty, integrity and being responsible for one’s own actions seem to be slipping away in our modern business society.
While I am convinced that the engineering and surveying professions are held in higher esteem than some other professions, I have observed a gradual decline in the area of ethics in our profession. Don’t take me wrong, there are still many professional engineers and surveyors who hold themselves to high ethical standards. I have been privileged to know several of them during my career. However, I would encourage the profession in general to insist that more emphases be placed on ethics in our universities where new engineers and surveyors are being trained.
In conclusion, I want to thank all my fellow employees, clients, competitors and business partners for a wonderfully fulfilling career. Engineers and surveyors continue to improve the life style of the world though their technical expertise. Let us do our best to improve the life style of the world though our example of ethical conduct while practicing these wonderful careers of engineering and surveying.
Here at TSE we provide a variety of land survey services including American Land Title Association or ALTA surveys. For the purpose of this post I will be making the assumption that you are an attorney, banker, developer, realtor or title industry professional who is already familiar with ALTA surveys and the ALTA standards
. So what’s with the blog title? What’s there to love or hate about a land survey?
Good question! Ask a land surveyor why they love to perform ALTA surveys and you will get an answer that centers around its complexity, about how highly detailed the surveys are and how they love to work against short deadlines. Ask a land surveyor why they hate to perform ALTA surveys and you will get an answer that centers around its complexity, about how highly detailed the surveys are and how they hate to work against short deadlines. That’s right, as with all things in life, the very nature of something that causes one person to “love” it also makes another person “hate” it. So what’s the point? Would you go to a barber who hates to cut hair? Of course not, so why would you select a surveyor who doesn’t enjoy the challenge of an ALTA survey? Life experience has taught me that no matter what type of product or service you need its worth seeking out the person who enjoys making or performing that service. Selecting a surveyor who enjoys their work will make your life easier and help insure quality service for you and your client.
So when selecting a surveyor for your next ALTA survey take the time to ask a few questions. You can keep it simple by asking for a brief description of the last ALTA survey that the firm performed. Trust me, it won't take long to find out if your surveyor is a lover or a hater!
Let's face it, ALTA surveys can be confusing for all parties involved. As a part of the continuing education required for maintaining my professional land survey license, I occasionally have the opportunity to attend a seminar that is focused on ALTA surveys. These seminars give me the opportunity to stay up to date with the latest revision of the ALTA standards and I always learn something that helps me provide a better survey for my clients. I would encourage anyone who is involved with ALTA surveys to seek out training specific to these standards. The American Land Title Association has historically offered webinars that offer an introduction to the standards and helps define the common elements of these surveys. Check out their website at alta.org
for more information.
Several clients may not see the benefit of including Resident Inspection Services in the cost of Civil Engineering Services. You already have to figure out how to cover the basic engineering fees for the survey and design. Where are you going to come up with that money? I know it may be difficult to swallow that cost of paying someone to sit there for the entire project and watch people work. Many clients think, "Heck, anyone can do that. I can save a ton of money and just do it myself." I, however, happen to disagree.
Most underground utility projects have the same process when they are installed by excavation. Dig a trench for utility along the proposed corridor to whatever depth is shown on the plans, backfill and compact, smooth a few of the rough edges, throw some seed and mulch down and walk away. What actually happened in the ground while they put that in? Did any of the utilities receive the proper bedding? Is it deep enough in the ground to last? Did anything get put together correctly? That seems to be a common question several years down the road when things start falling apart.
So equipment is brought out to the location of the problem area and they start digging, slowly. Once the existing utility is uncovered, it is amazing what could be found down there. Materials may vary, depth may be half of what is required, components that were paid for were never installed, or nothing appears to be installed properly.
Anyone is perfectly capable of sitting around for an eight to twelve hour day and watch people work. It does take someone experienced and with some knowledge to be out there with the Contractor and ensure the project goes according to plan and the client is left with a project that will last. So think twice before dismissing the Resident Inspection Services of a civil engineer for your next project.
Shaun McConnaughey, EI
by Ryan Pierce, EIT
Disposal of non hazardous residuals from smaller water treatment plants (WTP) can be costly. In a time of budget cuts and staff downsizing, it can easily be overlooked and forgotten due to less frequently required disposal, resulting in unpermitted discharging of the residuals and costly fines.
In 2009, a small municipality hired Tri-State Engineering to perform a study of possible solutions and the long term costs of each solution for the WTP settling ponds. The ponds had not received maintenance since the late 90’s and were filled with filter backwash residuals to the point where the residuals were being bypassed to the receiving water body. The study examined the long term costs for the following options of disposing the non-hazardous residuals:
• Geotextile Tubes
• Sludge Truck Hauling to WWTP Drying Beds
• Roll-Off Container Style Filter
• Dredging Equipment
• Hiring a Contractor
• Water Plant Lift Station
For the purpose of the study, it was assumed that each possible solution would take 2 years to complete except for hiring a contractor. Each possible solution would last approximately 6 years until the action would need to be performed again. The study included all estimated present worth cost over an assumed 2 year span and a present worth cost if used for the next 20 years with an assumed interest rate of 4%.
Geotextile tubes are used for sludge dewatering and containment for both municipal water and wastewater treatment. The tubes would be placed on the WTP sludge pond dikes to assure that the tubes discharge back into the WTP sludge ponds. The study assumed the dikes allow 45' X 250' tubes and that the tubes can be filled 60% full with 40% solids. Once filled with 40% solids the tubes can be broken up and hauled to the nearest landfill. The total 2 year cost estimate for the tubes, transportation, and disposal of the sludge at a nearby landfill was $115,242. The total 20 year cost was $318,593.
SLUDGE TRUCK HAULING TO WWTP DRYING BEDS
Another solution was to use a sludge truck to haul the sludge to the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) sludge drying beds to blend with the WWTP sludge. Research quickly showed that 8+ trips/day from the WTP to the WTTP over a 2 year period was not a feasible option due to limited WTP staff resources.
ROLL-OFF CONTAINER STYLE FILTER
A roll-off container style filter was another option for sludge dewatering and containment. Assuming 2 containers would be purchased, the 2-year cost estimate for the containers, transportation, and disposal of the sludge at a nearby landfill was $122,737. However, unlike geotextile tubes the roll-off container could be used repeatedly until the filter media needs to be replaced. The total 20-year cost was $259,916.
If either the geotextile tubes or roll-off container filters are used to dewater the sludge, dredging equipment will be required. Due to the small size of the WTP sludge lagoons (about 31,000 cubic yards) it was important that the dredging equipment be smaller in size and easy to operate. However, the equipment must also have an auger head to help remove the sludge due to the severe vegetation in the lagoons. The total 2-year cost estimate for all equipment, manpower, maintenance and operation was $183,740. The total 20-year cost was $283,048.
HIRING A CONTRACTOR
A sludge removal contractor gave a quote of $340,648 for complete removal and disposal of the sludge. The total 20 year cost of hiring a contractor was $941,739.
WATERPLANT LIFT STATION
The final option considered was installing a lift station at the primary backwash basin and pumping the backwash to the nearest manhole with the required capacity. The study confirmed that the WWTP could treat the WTP backwash but that the design life of the WWTP would be reduced by 10% to 15%. The total construction cost of the lift station and pressure sewer to the nearest manhole was $195,000. However, the annual cost to treat an estimated 100,000 gallons/day of backwash at the current sewer rate of $2.12 per 1,000 gallons at the WWTP was $77,380. This made the 2 year cost estimate total $340,946. The total 20 year cost was $1,273,526.
The study found that there were 4 viable solutions to the WTP backwash ponds sludge removal. If the geotextile tubes or the roll-off containers are used they will have to include the cost of the dredging equipment. The following is a summary of the 2 year interim solution cost and 20 year projection if the same solution is used in the future: (SEE TABLE BELOW)
The dredging equipment with the roll-off container style filter appeared to be the least expensive solution over the next 20 years. The costs could also be greatly reduced if the City could find some nearby land to haul the sludge to for land application. However, the municipality did not consider their current system of operations at the WTP adequate to sustain the work that would be required.
If the cost of treating the backwash at the WWTP is ignored than the lift station is the least expensive solution with a total construction cost of $195,000. However, the additional flow of 100,000 gallons/day will rob the collection system of capacity and the cost of treating the backwash must be considered to some extent.
The municipality opted to put the project out to bid. The low bid was $248,600 and included permitting, sludge removal, and developing a plan for sludge disposal. The low bid from the contractor was less than all 4 of the 2-year solutions studied in the report. Yet, the 20-year cost for dredging equipment and roll-off container filters is still the least expensive solution. Both options should be considered in the future when the backwash ponds fill again with non hazardous residuals and during evaluations of the WTP system of operations.
When I was in 6th grade my parents began building their home. My dad was a fairly skilled Do-It-Yourselfer and did much of the work on his own over the course of the next several years. I have lots of many good memories working alongside him being the “go-fer” and getting to pound a few nails. There is one event though that seemed to oddly stick out in my memories. The home has a basement and Dad wanted to be sure the plumbing in the concrete floor was done right the first time so he called a local plumber. The plumber came out and put everything together one day. A few days later my parents got the bill—but for two days of work. I remember riding in the back of the car as my parents discussed the situation. My dad had learned from the plumber that the additional time was spent in the office doing the calculations and laying it out on paper. Mom in disgust let out an “Ugh.” However Dad without hesitation, responded “I wanted it done right the first time, that’s why I called an expert.” Dad recognized the value of his planning and preparation before coming onsite and installing the plumbing.
Funny how that story stuck with me, but it has helped define for me just what an engineer is—well before I had even heard of engineering. It was the first time I had considered that a person could get paid for “thinking”. In public works and construction, it is not uncommon for people to have a hard time recognizing the value of engineering. There is very little to show a client; typically a set of drawings that gets tossed in a drawer once the “real work”—the construction is complete. However, without proper planning, the construction is likely to be more difficult and lead to costly fixes and repairs.
Twenty-five years later the plumbing in the slab that the expert installed is still working just fine for my parents. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the plumbing upstairs that Dad did himself. Recently the two of us spent all day Saturday digging up and replacing some of the outside piping that had pulled apart. At least it made for another good memory of working with my dad—and a great reminder that the work I do during the week does have purpose and value.
Chris Cochran, PE
Vice President - Claremore Office
Previously, I discussed the three most common issues that concern the land owner in an eminent domain (condemnation) proceeding. Eminent domain proceedings involve the taking of private property by a public entity for public purposes.
Those three most common issues
- surface water drainage and
- remainder site impact.
The less common issues are increased noise levels, relocation of utilities, remainder property left as a non-conforming use property, property severance, construction activity damage to remainder, visibility & view, and lighting. This blog entry will discuss
- increased noise levels
- relocation of utilities and
- remainder property left as a non-conforming use property.
The vast majority of eminent domain cases involving taking of property for roads or streets require an environmental assessment. One of the issues addressed in these environmental assessments is increased noise levels experienced adjacent to the new or improved road or street. Some assessments recommend to local jurisdictions that they rezone property along the new or improved roadways to restrict the land use to non-residential or other uses not sensitive to increased noise levels. This restriction, in use, can have a dramatic impact on the value of the remainder property.
The relocation of utilities, which result in certain types of utilities being located closer to the improvements on the remainder property, can also impact the value of the remaining property. High pressure gas mains and water mains are sometimes relocated to within just a few feet of the foundations of remaining improvements. This increases the risk of damage to the improvements from the construction or future failure of these utilities. Moving above ground electric poles to within the fall distance of the poles next to improvements could also increase the risk of damage to the improvements. This can impact the value of the remainder property.
If the taking of property involves reducing the zoning setback requirements or the number of parking places, the remainder property may be left as a non-conforming use property. A non-conforming use property may be required to be brought back into zoning conformance under several instances. Most zoning jurisdictions require non-conforming use properties to be brought back into conformance when certain future improvements are made, when the structure is damaged by natural causes resulting in more than 50% damage to the structure, etc. Jurisdictions vary on their requirements, so an investigation of those requirements is necessary to determine the impact on the remainder property.
These are the first three of the less common issues. The remaining less common issues encountered in eminent domain cases will be discussed on the August 2013 Engineering Blog.
At TSE we continue to evaluate what sets us apart from our competitors. We often focus on our experienced hard working staff or look at how we can gain a competitive edge with innovative technology and software. But it seems every firm has their experts and innovations, sometimes making it a struggle to find a true definition of TSE. That is why I found it refreshing to hear the answer from one of our clients.
We have an "on-call" contract with a municipal client providing regular engineering services as directed by the City Manager or Public Works Director. We work closely with the city personnel thinking of ourselves as just another one of the staff in their engineering office. To illustrate, the City Manager along with the City Attorney asked me to prepare a report on a particular issue. I agreed and said I would head down to the engineering office to visit with the technician about preparing the exhibit for the report. The City Attorney smiled and said "that's what I like about you guys." I'm sure I looked a little puzzled when I asked what he meant. He went on to explain that he appreciated the way I looked first at utilizing the city staff rather than just doing it all myself. While I considered it second nature, he recognized our unique approach as a way to provide a more cost effective service.
If staff is able to put together the paperwork or do the background research we encourage that effort. Recently we have had several clients providing short training sessions on GIS data collection and TSE empowered them to do the field work. I believe it is this attitude and approach that builds the trust and long-term business relationships we enjoy with our clients. In this current culture, where up-selling and padding proposals have become expected from our competitors, it is refreshing to our clients to find an engineer who provides them just the right level of service.
There are three common issues that impact a private land owner's remainder property in condemnation cases. They are access, drainage and site impact. As an expert witness in over 100 eminent domain (condemnation) cases, I have dealt with all three of these issues. These cases primarily involve public entities such as departments of transportation (DOTS) taking private property for public use. I have served as an expert witness for both the condemning authority and the private land owner.
One of the three issues in eminent domain is access. Access is of utmost importance to the private land owner. Without access the value of the remainder property is severely impacted. Not only is access required, but the type of access is also critical. Many condemning authorities do not adequately consider the uses of the remainder property when providing for access to the remaining property. Many commercial uses of property require semi-trailer truck access for delivery of products essential to their business. Adequate width and turning radiuses of driveways must be provided to avoid the land owner claiming damage to their remainder property. The slope of the driveways for commercial property should not exceed 8% with 5% being preferable. Often times multiple accesses were available to the land owner before the condemnation of their property. If at all possible, the accesses provided after the condemnation should match the accesses that were available to the land owner before the condemnation. (Note: This is not always possible when access management practices are required for the safety of the traveling public.)
Another eminent domain issue is drainage. Drainage of storm water runoff can cause problems for the remainder property. Many times the DOTS collect sheet flow runoff and transport it from one side of the road to the other without considering the effect this will have on the downstream land owner. Proper consideration for erosion control measures should always be included in the design of the new improvements. Many times the DOTS do not provide adequate storm sewer facilities to accommodate receiving the storm water runoff from the remainder property. This is especially true when drainage ditches along the road or street are replaced with storm sewers. Adequate storm sewer inlets must be provided to accept the flow that was once transported by the ditches adjacent to the old road or street.
Site impact is also a critical issue in eminent domain. The impact of the taking on the use of the remainder site should always be considered. If the taking of property will impact the parking layout, the engineers from the condemning authority should always conduct discussions with the land owner about ways to lessen or mitigate the impact for parking. Relocation of accesses, re-arrangement of parking stalls, and compensation to replace lost parking may be necessary.
These are the three most common issues in eminent domain cases. To learn more about eminent domain and related issues contact Steve Lett, PE.