One Million Pounds

West African Elephant

What’s 12.75 inches wide, 70 feet long, and can hold the weight of 83 fully grown male African elephants?

Until recently the answer would not have been a helical pipe pile. But at University Village in Seattle, tests for a new parking garage showed that a single helical pile could hold over a million pounds. Until then, helical piles had been used for up to about one-third that weight (if you’re keeping track, that’s the weight of only 27 fully grown, male African Elephants).

Why is this important? Helical piles can be installed more quietly and with much less vibration than standard pipe piles. The piles can be screwed into the ground without disrupting property owners and users. They can also be a less expensive foundation option for certain sites. Helical piles are well suited for sites with soft or liquefiable soils over a firm bearing layer.

Helical Pile

A helical pipe pile is named for the helix (spiral)-shaped plate that winds around its base. Photo source: Advanced Geosolutions Inc (AGI)

More about helical pipe piles.

More about African elephants.

What’s Your Poison?

Effluent sampling

Environmental scientist holding colorimetric filter paper for effluent sampling

It’s poisonous, corrosive, and invisible. Volcanoes spew it. Swamps burp it up.

But you don’t have to be on Gilligan’s Island to encounter hydrogen sulfide. You can find it in right in your neighborhood…in the sewers. Highly toxic and potentially corrosive, this compound has a characteristic rotten egg odor (althought there is no odor at the most dangerous concentrations). It can build up in sewer lines, particularly when the effluent is stagnant in pipelines between sewer pumping cycles. Utility providers need to know when it’s there in order to protect their facilities.

Understandably, testing sewer systems for hydrogen sulfide requires precautions. The sampler wears a Tyvek suit, two pairs of gloves, and eye protection. Special equipment is used to test for explosive and poisonous gases in the atmosphere around the manhole. If that is clear, gas levels can then be measured in the manhole. If gas levels are high, then masks and ventilators may also be required. To prevent a fall into the sewer manhole (never a good time), the sampler uses a fall arrest system with a body harness and a self-arresting retractable lanyard, shown on the environmental scientist in the photo above. If he were to fall wearing this safety gear, he would hang high and dry (whew…) and then climb out by ladder. He also brings shaving equipment along in case he needs to wear a respirator, to ensure a good seal.

The effluent sampling is decidedly unsophisticated and basically involves collecting effluent from the base of the manhole using a plastic cup attached to a rod. The sewage is then placed in a container with colorimetric filter paper and effervescence tablets (aka Alka Seltzer!). The filter paper is then compared to a color chart and hydrogen sulfide concentrations can be determined.

The result? The utility provider now has the data to determine whether there is a problem, how serious the problem is, and what the next step should be.

Effects of the Proposed Steelhead Critical Habitat Listing

Steelhead Habitat

Example of Critical Steelhead Habitat

The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed designating a few thousand miles of freshwater and estuarine habitat in Washington and Oregon as critical habitat for Puget Sound steelhead and lower Columbia River coho salmon. Both are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

If the designations come to pass, the extent of critical habitat protected from construction or other development activities under the proposed rule will substantially increase in the Puget Sound region. Many more miles of critical habitat will be protected from activities associated with forestry, grazing, agriculture, road building and maintenance, mineral extraction, sand and gravel mining, and dams. It will become increasingly important for anybody involved with these activities to accurately identify and classify the presence of listed fish species and associated critical habitats within a project’s impact area. This information must then be properly incorporated into a biological assessment that applies established criteria in a specific manner to assess and document project effects and measures taken to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those effects.

Developers who educate themselves about the Endangered Species Act and use design strategies to reduce habitat impact will better navigate the regulatory review process and be more likely to avoid needless permitting delays or denials.

The NMFS will accept public comments on the proposed rule through April 15, 2013.

Additional information, including maps of the proposed areas, are in the Federal Register announcement (78 FR 2725).