Dennis Peters, Environmental Manager at Hart Crowser, a division of Haley & Aldrich, joins this episode of the National Association of Environmental Professionals’ (NAEP) Environmental Professionals Radio. NAEP’s podcast covers anything and everything related to being an environmental professional, including career advice, timely topics, policy updates, and more. On this episode, Dennis discusses his work with military ordnances in Hawaii, how the pandemic has impacted the islands, his experience flying planes, and more. Listen to the whole interview below:
What is a Supplement Environmental Project (SEP) and How Does it Work?
A Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) is a federal mechanism used to facilitate settlement of an environmental enforcement action. It allows a polluter to voluntarily take action in place of paying a fine. The business or individual undertakes a project that provides “tangible environmental or public health benefits to the affected community or environment, that is closely related to the violation being resolved, but goes beyond what is required under federal, state or local laws.”
Interestingly, for every dollar the business spends, their fine is only reduced by 80 percent. This means that an SEP costs a company more. If a fine is $1 million, for example, a company could pay $1 million on a habitat restoration project and still owe $200,000 in fines. In spite of the higher cost of implementing an SEP, companies prefer them for the benefits they could achieve: a beneficial restoration for the community, and goodwill for the company.
A Guidance Change Halts Most SEPs
However, in early 2020 the Department of Justice issued guidance saying that they could (for the most part) no longer support this approach. Their stance is that while enforcement of laws is a function of the executive branch, that branch can’t choose how to appropriate federal funds. Instead, the fine must be deposited in the Treasury so that Congress can decide how to appropriate those dollars under its constitutional authority.
The guidance doesn’t apply retroactively, and so previously negotiated SEPs shouldn’t be affected.
Given that the 2020 guidance is relatively recent, there is still uncertainty about how it will play out, and a change in administration may affect the future of SEPs.
More information on SEPs
Information about our environmental services
Questions? Contact Mark Dagel, LHG
We interviewed Garry Horvitz, Vice President and geotechnical engineer at Hart Crowser for his perspective on how the engineering world has changed since the coronavirus arrived and what the future holds. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
The Coronavirus is Hastening a Continuing Trend
I’ve noticed over time that, from an engineering getting-work-done perspective, there has been less and less need for interaction. Less need for proximity. We had developed a habit of video conferencing even before this. The tools have become that good—we can not only see each other, but we can share information virtually: project plans, drawings, white board information. We’d been using tools like Skype, Teams, Zoom, and WebEx to save the time and cost of travel and parking. We already know we can be effective without physically congregating. This is not game-changing in that respect. Things had already been evolving.
The Downside to Meeting Virtually
The downside to this trend is that we need human interaction. Even this conversation with you would be much more comfortable if we could have done it in person. I don’t like working from home—I enjoy social interaction—walking around the office to talk with others. Remote work gives me a little PTSD from when I was convalescing for four weeks after I broke my knee.
As far as marketing and business development, it’s always been “Don’t send an email if you can pick up the phone, and don’t pick up the phone if you can meet in person.” I have also said that there are times when I make up an excuse to meet with a client in person. The more senses you have working when you’re meeting with someone, the easier it is to build and maintain a relationship. But we’ll get back to that. Engineers tend to be introverts, and there will be those who will shy away from making that personal contact when they have the alternative to do that.
The Upside to Meeting Virtually
Personally, I’m happy I can visit with Lynn-dee who is in the other room working. I also like the 20-second commute although I miss stopping at the latte stand on the way in.
What is Essential Work?
People are pushing the definition of essential work to keep the economy going. There’s a natural tendency to call something essential when it’s not. They want to keep people working but it’s overplayed. On the other hand, you can’t just turn everything off just to avoid risk. There needs to be a balance. You can’t decide never to cross a street to avoid being hit by a bus. You have to balance risk and reward.
The Importance of Patience
One thing we can do for each other is to have patience. Don’t expect things to happen as quickly as you’d like. Everybody is exasperated and frightened. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. We’re sailing in uncharted waters on both a business and personal level. Deadlines may need to be extended, although not from a lack of efficiency—because we had already been working virtually. We’re fortunate in the architect/engineering industry that we can do that for design.
Our Real Enemy
When you think of the number of people in this world and how they are all affected by the coronavirus, you see that the threat of pandemic far exceeds external political influences and the threat of war. We seem to like to hate other people but our most important enemy is microscopic. A virus has no soul so you can’t hate it. Our government should have acted on this months ago. We were completely unprepared. That will change. And it ought to change. (“I’m Garry and I approved this message.”)
What Does the Future Hold?
I never thought it would get to this point. Even so, I’m not seeing a lot of architect/engineer firms going out of business (yet). Back in the 2008 recession it was different; the writing was on the wall. Development dropped off a cliff. Hart Crowser’s client base was diverse, which helped us to weather that. Now money will likely be put into infrastructure packages of one sort or another and that will keep us going. I don’t see a huge downturn, but ask me again in two months.
March 25, 2020
To all our clients, teammates, and friends:
Like all of you Hart Crowser is adapting almost daily to the changing COVID-19 conditions and directives from health officials and local and national leaders. We have taken the following steps:
- All staff with the capability of working from home have that option. Most are doing so.
- Our offices are open but all internal and project meetings are being conducted in Microsoft TEAMS.
- We are actively supporting ongoing projects with you or on your behalf. That includes office/technical work, site exploration and testing, and construction administration. We expect to meet deadlines or work with you to revise expectations.
- All non-essential air travel has been stopped.
- Our offices and work spaces are regularly cleaned and disinfected.
Above all our goal is to keep our staff healthy. Sometimes we can do this on our own but other times we will need to work together with you to ensure we can all work in safe environments. We remain committed to our clients, teammates, and staff and look forward to strong collaboration as we work through the challenges of stopping this virus.
Best Regards to All
David G. Winter, PE, LEED AP Chief Executive Officer
The new Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP) sampling requirements for Washington State became effective on January 1, 2020.
The ISGP’s goal is to improve stormwater quality (and reduce pollutants in runoff) through management of stormwater at industrial sites. The ISGP originates from a combination of federal (the Clean Water Act) and Washington state (Water Pollution Control Act) law. Under the ISGP, permittees are required to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce stormwater pollution, monitor their stormwater discharges, compare the results with benchmark values, and implement an escalating series of corrective actions depending on the number of times the benchmarks are exceeded.
What Stormwater Provisions Changed? Key Updates
Many of the key provisions didn’t change. Here is a brief summary of the key updates.
- The five core water quality benchmarks—turbidity, pH, oil sheen, copper and zinc—remain the same, and the requirements and deadlines for implementing corrective actions if those benchmarks are exceeded remain unchanged.
- The new permit proposes to use 2017 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) groups to classify the sectors required to apply for permit coverage (the previous permit relied on the 1987 Standard).
- Industrial Classification (SIC) groups to identify the sectors required to apply for permit coverage. The Clean Water Act remains based on SIC codes, and there is a not a one-to-one relationship between the two codes.
- The Washington State Department of Ecology has changed the groundwater-related provisions with an intention to increasingly regulate infiltration of stormwater under the ISGP. For sites with a discharge point to groundwater (i.e., infiltration systems), the terms and conditions of this permit will apply. There is an exemption to permit coverage for facilities that discharge only to groundwater.
- Permittees must sample the stormwater discharge from the first fall storm event each year (the start date for the “first fall storm event” sampling requirement has been moved from October 1 to September 1). First fall storm event means the first time on or after September 1 of each year that precipitation occurs and results in a stormwater discharge from a facility. We’ll likely see more 3rd quarter benchmark exceedances as a result, as there are fewer summer storms to sample to average with the first flush.
- Permittees claiming “consistent attainment of benchmark” for one or more discharge monitoring parameters will now be required to collect a single annual sample in the 4th quarter.
- Ecology has retained the provision requiring permittees that discharge to Puget Sound Sediment Cleanup Sites, including the Lower Duwamish Waterway, to conduct line cleaning and storm drain solids characterization sampling once during the permit term.
- The new permit requires that the stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) be prepared by qualified personnel. Some additional information and details are also to be presented on figures, such as showing the property size/acreage, areas of existing and potential soil erosion that could result in the discharge of a significant amount of turbidity, sediment, or other pollutants, etc.
Changes associated with the 2018 International Building Code (2018 IBC) are coming soon to Washington State. This will affect all buildings that are submitted for permit after June 30, 2020.
No Three-Month Grace Period in Seattle
Typically there has been a three-month grace period in Seattle between the code change date and enforcement. This allowed projects that were designed using an older code to still be permitted under that code if there is a short delay. We have heard from multiple City of Seattle representatives that there will be no grace period this time. Projects submitted on July 1, 2020, must use the new code.
Changes to Seismic Design
There are significant changes to the way the seismic hazard will be considered in ASCE 7-16, which is referenced by the 2018 IBC. Up to now, the process to determine code-based seismic hazard has been generally straightforward. As long as a site wasn’t on liquefiable ground that would turn to Jell-O in an earthquake, an engineer could produce seismic code parameters for a site based on latitude, longitude, and assessment of soil stiffness, called the Site Class.
In ASCE 7-16 the process for determining seismic hazard is more complex. Site-specific seismic studies will be encouraged for a larger range of site conditions (i.e., Site Classes D, E, and F), which includes sites with generally soft or loose soils even if a liquefaction hazard is not present. Such a study involves complex calculations and computer modeling. A developer may choose to take an “exception” and not perform a site-specific study for an affected site, which the code allows in certain situations. However, they would incur a penalty by taking this exception that could require the structural engineer to use higher seismic values for building design than the current code permits. A cost-benefit analysis will provide important information.
For example, a seven-story building on a soft, non-liquefiable site in Lynnwood might be affected by these new code changes. Taking a code exception for this structure would likely result in a significant increase to the seismic loads used in design, compared to the previous code. However, a relatively simple site-specific seismic hazard analysis could potentially reduce these seismic loads with a minor cost to the project. In Seattle and Bellevue, the benefit of this additional analysis is reduced because of Seattle Basin effects that amplify ground motions.
It won’t be straightforward to determine whether a site-specific seismic study or use of a code-based design will save money. Finding the best approach for each project will take more up-front communication between the developer, the structural engineer, and the geotechnical engineer. We suggest engaging the geotechnical engineer early in the design process.
Balancing Ecological and Industrial Needs
The Snohomish River mouth in Puget Sound is a busy place. Bald eagles, seabirds, salmon, seals, and the occasional whale frequent this area year-round. The area is also a hub of industry with vessels large and small coming and going from the Port of Everett’s International Seaport and recreational marinas, and adjacent US Navy facilities. This convergence of ecological and industrial uses can sometimes lead to conflicts that require careful management.
When the Port of Everett needed to upgrade its South Terminal Wharf to accommodate bigger cranes, it turned to Hart Crowser to assist with Endangered Species Act (ESA) permitting. The project would require partial demolition of the existing wharf, driving hundreds of new steel piles, and reconstructing the wharf deck over water. Pile driving in particular is known to generate high levels of underwater noise that can be a nuisance and cause physical harm to fish, diving birds, and marine mammals. Therefore, the project would need to demonstrate that sufficient precautions would be taken to avoid detrimental effects.
The biological assessment (BA) prepared by Hart Crowser analyzed the potential impacts of the project on southern resident killer whales, marbled murrelet, Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout – species that are listed under the ESA and known to occur in the area. Using the best available scientific information, Hart Crowser calculated the noise disturbance and injury zones for these species. In some cases, this zone extended over 9 kilometers from the site!
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (collectively referred to as the Services) reviewed the BA and concurred with our analysis. The Services issued an “incidental take” statement that allowed the port to continue with the project subject to several terms and conditions. These included working within the “in-water work window” to avoid the salmon outmigration period, a limit of 2,000 blows per day for impact pile driving, acoustic monitoring to verify noise levels, and monitoring to immediately identify any fish kills and shut down if ESA-listed species entered the affected area.
Subsurface Conditions Require a Creative Solution
Given these constraints, the construction contractor, Advanced American Construction, commenced work in September but soon realized that the subsurface conditions in several areas required significantly more blows with the impact hammer to install each pile. On many days, they were required to stop work early to avoid exceeding the daily blow count limit. This led to concern that an extended construction timeline might push past the in-water work window. If this were to occur, it would likely require shutting down for several months and returning for a second construction season, which would add considerable cost to the project.
In the meantime, The Greenbusch Group conducted the acoustic monitoring and recorded site-specific noise levels for the type of hammer, pile, and substrate. While they confirmed that the underwater noise from pile driving of 24-inch diameter piles matched the assumed levels, they also noted that in certain situations – such as when 18-inch diameter piles were driven, or when piles were driven in areas above the waterline – the noise was several decibels less.
At the Port of Everett’s request, and in partnership with Greenbusch, Hart Crowser reviewed the acoustic results and dissected the Services’ analyses of incidental take due to noise. The daily blow count limit was driven by the threshold for injury to ESA-listed fish such as Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout as defined by the cumulative sound exposure level, or cSEL. The calculation of cSEL incorporates the source noise level and a logarithmic function of the number of blows. Therefore, Hart Crowser biologists determined that by substituting a lower source level into the equation based on pile size, the blow count could be increased and still maintain the same authorized cSEL limit. Hart Crowser and Greenbusch developed a spreadsheet calculator to allow the contractor real-time management of the cSEL based on driving different pile sizes , and prepared a technical memorandum explaining this proposed approach to the Services and US Army Corps of Engineers.
The negotiation was successful, and the contractor was allowed to proceed with a higher blow count if the calculator was used to carefully track the number of blows per pile-type . The creative approach, availability of site-specific data, detailed technical justification, and demonstration of how the new tool would be used resulted in approval without the need for time-consuming formal reinitiation of consultation. Hart Crowser marine mammal monitors on site kept a running tally of the blow counts for different pile diameters and advised the contractor when approaching the cSEL limit. The project is currently on track for completion in 2020.
Pier Reconfiguration—A Seismic Focus
Local ports must evolve to meet industry needs, or ships and jobs will simply go elsewhere. The Northwest Seaport Alliance (the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle) needed to accommodate some of the largest shipping vessels in the world. A 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) Ultra-Large Container Ship is longer than two Space Needles, and the Port of Tacoma’s General Central Peninsula couldn’t accommodate such a vessel. Part of the reason was that Pier 4 stuck out diagonally into the Blair Waterway, narrowing the waterway and creating a chokepoint.
Pier 4 had to be completely reconfigured and aligned with Pier 3 to create a single 3,000-foot-long berth. This required demolition of the existing pier structure and cutting back the shoreline to accommodate the reconfiguration.
Hart Crowser supported multi-discipline engineering firm KPFF Consulting Engineers on this project, which involved demolishing the existing wharf, dredging 460,000 cubic yards of sediment (a volume equivalent to a football field stacked with 215 feet of sediment), constructing a new 1,750-foot-long concrete wharf structure, erecting a new 7,000-square-foot, two-story marine operations building, and improving utilities throughout the site.
Brand-New Seismic Code for Wharves and Piers
The Port of Tacoma Pier 4 Reconfiguration project was the first major port development in the Pacific Northwest to follow the new code standard. The new code standard for seismic design of piers and wharves (ASCE 61-14 ) encourages using “performance-based seismic design” to calculate how the soil and structures will act and interact during an earthquake.
It’s usually the differential deformation (the difference in movement from one location of the structure or soil to another location) that makes a structure unusable after an earthquake. Hart Crowser used dynamic finite element modeling and close collaboration with KPFF engineers to analyze the forces and displacement in the structure caused by earthquake ground motions. Hart Crowser’s work was used to provide input to KPFF’s structural analysis and to optimize the stone column ground improvement layout. This analysis makes the resulting design safer, more resilient, and less expensive than alternative design methods.
Ground Improvement for Seismic Stability
The soil at port and waterfront sites is often weak, and the Port of Tacoma is no exception. In many places there are river deposits or large areas of fill that have been deposited in the past. To strengthen the soil, the team installed stone columns, which are basically pillars of rock inserted into the ground. A hollow probe (or tube) is vibrated into the soft ground to the specified depth then filled with gravel which is injected into the surrounding soil. This vibration and volumetric displacement makes the surrounding soil denser and stronger. When the probe is removed, the gravel stays behind, forming underground columns. This can mitigate earthquake-induced liquefaction—in other words, keep the soil from turning to quicksand in an earthquake, and keep the underwater slope from failing in an earthquake.
The ability to design and install stone columns is not common and requires knowledge and experience. Plus, some stone columns needed to be installed on land and some in water, and there was a high water table to contend with. Construction had to be timed for dealing with tides so that workers could get close enough to create the hole before the tide came in. During the stone column installation, old undocumented pier structures were found. Hart Crowser made recommendations for over excavation of the structures in some places and a revised stone column layout to avoid underground obstructions in other places.
A Successful Outcome
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Washington awarded Hart Crowser a 2019 Silver Best in State Award for complexity for this project. The reconfigured dock now supports the largest container cranes on the West Coast and can accommodate some of the largest container vessels in the world. These new ships use 35 percent less fuel per box than smaller vessels and produce around 50 percent less carbon emissions. Hart Crowser was honored to be a part of the new Pier 4 – a world class marine cargo facility that will serve the Port of Tacoma, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, and the community for many years to come.
As we reported in a recent post, adventure is a way of life for Hart Crowser staff. In January 2018, Geologist Kaelan Hendrickson also proved this by kayaking 226 miles through the Grand Canyon. He triumphed over numerous rapids, scrambled through side canyons, and endured winter conditions on the eleven-day trip. His goal: see and experience the tumultuous 1.8-billion-year geologic history for himself. The experience was like going backwards in time day by day.
Kaelan and the group of six began the adventure at Lee’s Ferry alongside the youngest layer of rock known as the Kaibab Limestone. This layer was formed 270 million years ago (give or take) by the sea that covered much of North America. After two days, they reached the next youngest rock layer, Coconino Sandstone. The mysterious cross-bedding throughout the layer was formed from dune fields much like the Sahara.
As the group descended into one of the darkest sections of the canyon, they reached the 280 million-year-old Hermit Shale layer, formed from low-energy streams. The landscape at this time was a coastal plain, tremendously different than now. Streams drained into the ocean and Permian reptiles roamed the plains. These streams carried fine particles that piled up over many years
The group continued going back in time, to the Supai Group layer, formed 300 million years ago from beach deposits. During this turbulent period, the coastlines changed rapidly: beaches, dunes, and shallow seas left rocks in their wake. An abundance of fossils are found in this layer.
Halfway through the trip, the group reached the Redwall Limestone, formed 340 million years ago when a shallow sea once again dominated North America. The rock here holds fossils of coral, brachiopods (marine animals that resemble clams), and other marine invertebrates. An uninformed traveler might think this layer was red all the way through, but the dramatic surface stain hides drab gray underneath.
After a grueling eight days the group reached Bright Angel Shale, formed from a muddy shallow sea, much like the Mississippi River at the Gulf of Mexico. This layer holds shallow sea fossils such as crinoids (sea lilies and fans) and worms. The crinoid fossils can often be pulled intact straight out of the rock.
On day ten, the group finally reached the Precambrian Basement Rocks, the oldest rock in the Grand Canyon. The granites in this layer were formed 1.8 billion years ago by cooling underground magma. An island chain much like the Hawaiian Islands collided with North America, forcing magma to the earth’s surface. These rocks were under intense heat and pressure and are highly deformed. Today, they form the deepest part of the Grand Canyon including the infamous Lava Falls rapid, named for the lava-formed rock.
Once the group successfully navigated Lava Falls, they had kayaked down the largest rapid on the trip. While another day of paddling remained, the group had now seen 1.8 billion years of geologic history and conquered one of the most remote whitewater stretches in the United States. What they experienced will stick with them forever.
Two Odd Facts
Odd fact one: America’s national forests are not entirely public. They often contain “inholdings,” pockets of private land surrounded by public land. Some 180,000 acres of inholdings are within federal wilderness areas.
Odd fact two: Even in places so remote you can’t get there from here, there is a potential of environmental contamination.
Sometimes these two odd facts intersect. An example is in the Wild Sky Wilderness at Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington, where The Wilderness Land Trust (motto: Keeping Wilderness Wild) had the chance to protect 350 full acres of inholdings by acquiring them and giving them to the US Forest Service. By doing transactions like this, the trust helps give access to wilderness areas previously closed to the public and provides intact habitat and unbroken migration corridors for wildlife, including endangered species.
But a Phase I environmental site assessment was needed before the property could change hands; this would give the Forest Service information for a decision whether to accept the property from The Wilderness Land Trust, and it would also help evaluate any risk to the trust. This is especially important in this area, which is spotted with small historic mining claims that could have metals contamination.
Some of the information for this assessment was gleaned by interviewing individuals who were knowledgeable about the area, and by poring over regulatory files, maps, aerial photos, and other historical material, but a site visit was also needed.
The Adventure Begins
Miners had somehow clambered their way to the property in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Loggers made it there as well, before the 1960s. But the only way in was by helicopter (too expensive) or by foot.
So, two of Hart Crowser’s intrepid geologists packed their backpacks and camping gear, and headed out for, you could say, a wilderness adventure. Their goal was to explore the possibility that some contaminated mine drainage may discharge from underground workings on or upstream from the property into surface water.
They first consulted National Weather Service mountain forecasts to schedule the visit between a series of strong Pacific weather systems and to reach the site before it became snowed in for the season. On November 9th, they drove the gated Forest Service road up the south fork of the Sauk River valley from the Mountain Loop Highway toward the Monte Cristo Campground trailhead. They were stopped about a mile from the trailhead by a debris flow that had covered the road, so continued on foot to the trailhead and from there to Poodle Dog pass (named after a real dog, we understand) at the head of the Silver Creek valley.
As they trudged up the pass, heavy snow began falling, obscuring the landscape. From the pass, the geologists left the established trail and worked their way down into the Silver Creek valley and onto the property, at times following a route marked by old surveyor’s flagging. They located a partially open adit (a mining tunnel entrance) associated with the historical Q.T. Lode claim as well as a waste rock pile on a nearby property associated with the historical Orphan Boy claim.
Heavy snowfall throughout the day increased the adventure factor and kept the geologists from exploring part of the property, and further snowfall closed access until Spring. Even so, they were able to use their reconnaissance information along with their previous research to prepare a Phase I report.
In any case, this summer, soon after snow-melt, was the best time to detect and characterize any mine drainage. A geologist went out one more time accompanied by a Forest Service engineer. He helped the engineer with a different job at a remote mine (volunteering a day of his time) in exchange for assistance at the Silver Creek claims. This time they investigated mine openings along Silver Creek and its tributaries, and looked for any secrets the snow had hidden the first time around, in order to support the mission of The Wilderness Land Trust.
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