There’s a Volcano on our Project Site

Water is the life blood of any city, but its systems are not always pretty. So the two-million-gallon Forest Park Low Tank was embedded into the hillside to preserve the natural character of the area and leave unfettered views. However, this presented engineering challenges. Overcoming those challenges helped us win a 2017 Grand Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).

Wait—What’s Down There?

The subsurface conditions were quite unusual. Maps showed them as hard volcanic rock, but our geotechnical explorations discovered a new volcanic vent, as yet unmapped. Although of great interest to geologists, volcanic vents are rarely built on. A search of case histories did not find any information to guide the process. We embarked upon an exploration and laboratory testing program to determine if the 100-foot plus pile of cinders would support the tank. We determined that the cinders were fairly uniform across the area, resulting in uniform support for the tank. Our testing further determined the magnitude of loading the cinders could support. With this information we were able to design a foundation that did not require expensive subgrade improvements or pile foundations.

Our high-tech analyses confirmed a low-tech approach would work.

Burying Infrastructure to Preserve the Natural Beauty

In many places, water tanks are constructed within large cuts that many may view as eyesores and which permanently remove natural habitat. This has been accepted over decades as a necessary compromise to provide a robust water supply to our cities. However, this compromise does not need to be accepted. Much like the trend of burying power, communications, and other utilities that were once also overhead, the Forest Park Low Tank demonstrates that water infrastructure can be adapted similarly.

Making the Water Supply Safe

Water is a critical resource in any disaster that disrupts our infrastructure. It’s common knowledge that we cannot survive for more than three days without water. During any natural disaster, it is imperative that our water remain safe and accessible. We completed a site specific seismic hazard (SSSH) as part of our work, so the tank and appurtenant facilities will withstand the next “Big One.”

Defining Ingenuity

Sometimes ingenuity is not devising something new, but applying simple methods to solve a problem. We used performance-based results to guide changes in shoring design, and confirmed landslide mitigation approaches during construction. We avoided designing expensive foundation alternatives, installing bulletproof (and expensive) secant shoring walls, and over-analyzing slope stability prior to construction. And then we buried our best work.

The one thing to remember about this project is that we did not blow our top over an unexpected volcanic vent; instead, we persevered and worked with the design and construction teams to build a successful project…and then buried it out of “site.”Finished project

Towering Hills for Beauty and Strength

Governors Island

Photo: Timothy Schenk

A dozen years ago an American port representative was asked how his port was preparing for rising sea levels. “Well…we aren’t,” he answered, somewhat sheepishly, because he knew they should be. Back then, the public was skeptical of the controversial topic, and frankly many ports had too many other priorities. But now public officials see the situation in a new light. They are taking advantage of waterfront development projects to make property not only more resilient to climate change, but also more beautiful and beneficial to the public.

A perfect example is the 40-acre Governors Island Park and Public Space in New York. West 8, an urban design and landscape architecture firm, transformed the abandoned former military island into a green oasis with an extraordinary 360-degree experience of water and sky that has won numerous awards. Part of the makeover involved creating four tall, dramatic hills from twenty-five to seventy feet high. This meant overcoming a major challenge involving Governors Island history.

Governors Island Park and Public Space

Pumice, or lightweight fill (the light colored material) is placed on the water side of the tallest hill. Image courtesy of West 8

From Subway Dirt to Island

Back in 1637, when a Dutch man bought Governors Island for two ax heads, a string of beads, and some nails, the island was only about 72 acres. In 1901, somebody needed a place to discard the dirt from the excavation of New York’s Lexington Avenue subway line. What better place to put it than Governors Island? The dirt widened the island by 100 acres.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Now that the island had been sold back to the people of New York for one dollar, it was possible to take advantage of the island’s potential views, which meant building upwards. To create the new hills, West 8 needed to add 300,000 cubic yards of new fill—enough to fill 40 Goodyear blimps. The challenge was to keep that massive amount of dirt from pushing the island built on subway fill out into the harbor.

Hart Crowser worked with the lead civil engineer to make the hills strong yet light. Twenty-five percent of the new fill is from the demolition of structures and parking lots. This made it sustainable and strong. Pumice lightened the load. Some of the fill was wrapped in geotechnical matting, and the steepest slopes used wire baskets. This allowed hills as high as seventy to be built within twenty feet of the shoreline, and allowed for varying slopes and walkways, where the public can safety enjoy the park.

Governors Island reopened to the public on May 28.

Why an Earthquake Warning System Should Not Be a Priority In The Pacific Northwest

Earthquake_damage_Cadillac_Hotel,_2001_SmallerThe newest and hottest topics when it comes to disaster discussions in Oregon and Washington, as well as on the national level, are an earthquake warning system and earthquake prediction possibilities. They are the new obsession that has come on the heels of the New Yorker articles this summer. While we don’t object to advancing both of these methods to better warn of impending quakes and hopefully save lives, we do think that the discussion is premature, especially here in the northwest.

The first reason is that an earthquake warning system like that in Japan has to be implemented only with a comprehensive, aggressive, and continuous public education program. Without a full understanding of what you should do when your phone emits an ear piercing shriek warning of impending shaking, we risk even greater panic and possibly more casualties. Running out of buildings with unreinforced masonry or weak facades just before the shaking could put people at more risk of falling hazards outside of the buildings. It could also cause major traffic hazards as drivers try desperately to get across or get off bridges and overpasses. Unless we develop a much better awareness of what the public should do when they receive the warning, it may cause more problems than it solves.

But the real issue is that these technologies are acting as the bright shiny objects that are distracting all of us, from the public to the president, from the real issue: our infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades not only to prevent casualties, but also to encourage long term recovery.  We doubt 30 seconds of warning will seem as beneficial when the public doesn’t have wastewater for one to three years.  Further, a warning system that stops surgery or an elevator is not as important as making sure that the hospital or building itself is designed to withstand shaking. Especially in Oregon and Washington, all of our energy and funds need to be focused first on comprehensive and intelligent infrastructure improvements that increase our community resilience. And that needs to happen as quickly as possible. We implore you not to follow the flashing light! Urge our government to focus on the real issues, and encourage your colleagues and neighbors to personally prepare.

For more information contact Allison Pyrch at (360) 816-7398 or Allison.pyrch@hartcrowser.com

First Tsunami Safe Haven Building in the United States

Ocosta School Construction

The City of Westport stands sentry at the tip of a narrow peninsula between the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the protection of Grays Harbor. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 700-mile-long earthquake fault zone, lurks approximately 90 miles off the shore. Experts predict this submerged fault zone will release a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and unleash a tsunami that will hit the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The last such “megaquake” struck just over 300 years ago.

As was recently seen in Chile, Indonesia, and Japan, tsunamis ravage low-lying areas such as Westport. There, it is expected that a tsunami from a Cascadia Subduction Zone megaquake could reach the coast in as little as 20 minutes. However, evacuation of Westport and neighboring Ocosta Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools could take nearly double that time. Therefore, in 2013 residents of the Ocosta School District approved re-construction of an aging elementary school that will include the nation’s first tsunami “refuge” structure.

Construction of the school started in November 2014. The school’s gym has been designed to withstand the impact of a tsunami and the debris it carries, while sheltering nearly 1,000 people on its roof. The roof is 30 feet above the ground (nearly 55 feet above sea level) to keep people dry and safe. The gym’s roof is supported by heavily reinforced concrete towers in each corner that are designed to remain intact during shaking from the initial megaquake, associated aftershocks, and the resulting tsunami surges.

Because of the potential for over 10 feet of scour (soil erosion adjacent to the building) caused by tsunami surges and liquefaction of the native sandy soils, the gymnasium is supported on nearly 50-foot deep piles. The remainder of the school is supported on shorter piles designed to withstand earthquake shaking and liquefaction, but not necessarily tsunami surge forces.

Links below lead to more information on the Ocosta building and general tsunami research. Note that the maps on the last link (Project Safe Haven) illustrate how impossible it would be to escape a tsunami in the Ocosta area.

Rooftop Refuge Washington Disaster News, Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division
Grays Harbor County school to build first U.S. vertical-tsunami refuge Seattle Times
First tsunami-proof building to be built in Westport Komo News
Rising above the risk: America’s first tsunami refuge the Geological Society of America
Project Safe Haven: Tsunami Vertical Evacuation in Washington State