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Leveraging Environmental & Geotechnical Partnerships Manage risk and cost to master difficult sites

Subgrade preparation for new structures isn’t always just a geotechnical issue. Existing infrastructure, especially when it is expected to remain in place below new construction, can present a variety of geotechnical and environmental challenges. In this case, challenges included pipe integrity, soil contamination, backfill method and subgrade uniformity.

By Michael Beck, PE

Collaboration during site investigation

Property redevelopment can be a tricky business. This is especially true for sites with a history of industrial use that are impacted by uncontrolled fills, construction materials, abandoned structures and utilities, and industrial waste. Put those materials near or below the groundwater surface and you’ve got quite a brew. Dealing with such impacts is not cheap, but many projects incur unnecessary costs because they aren’t coordinated from a shared environmental and geotechnical perspective. Excess costs come from two sources: basic site investigation rework and failure to leverage both environmental and geotechnical expertise when evaluating site redevelopment alternatives. Rework is generally the product of poor logistics or inexperience and can be limited through better planning. Leveraging environmental and geotechnical expertise requires more experience, a solid understanding of regulations governing design and construction, and industry savvy.

In the early days of environmental remediation, environmental professionals were faced with a multitude of large contaminant plumes on properties where there was no thought of redevelopment for future use. There was no need to characterize such sites from a geotechnical standpoint. But risk-based closure and brownfield redevelopment are no longer just concepts, and available financing opportunities continue to drive developers to take on difficult sites. Environmental professionals have always done a good job characterizing environmental site contamination and developing and performing remediation plans. It’s what they were trained to do. But many environmental site investigations come up short on difficult sites. Redevelopment cannot happen at these sites without characterizing subsurface conditions from environmental and geotechnical perspectives. Yet site contamination is often characterized with little or no thought regarding how the continued on next page …


… Leveraging Environmental & Geotechnical Partnerships continued

contaminated material(s) can be avoided, relocated, repurposed, etc., to support redevelopment. As a result, geotechnical consultants often redrill sites at additional cost to obtain geotechnical information that should have been gathered during the environmental investigation. Similarly, while geotechnical engineers understand what it takes to characterize subsurface geologic conditions to support construction of buildings and pavements, they often fail to recognize potential impacts to projects related to environmental issues that may be evident in surface features (abandoned fuel pumps), borehole samples (odorous or discolored soil), or test pits (entrained demolition debris). Whether environmental or geotechnical, such omissions can kill a project.

Intertwined design Once a site has been characterized, it is critical to understand all environmental and geotechnical constraints, how they affect each other, and how they affect the project’s bottom line and the risk of future structural problems. Unfortunately, the traditional environmental investigation and remediation process doesn’t do this well on its own, nor does conventional geotechnical engineering. For example, environmental consultants can rigorously delineate limits and estimate the volume of uncontrolled fill impacted with chemicals at concentrations above applicable regulatory standards, but what are the disposal options once it’s excavated? Are there options for on-site relocation of the fill that won’t limit redevelopment options or prevent redevelopment from occurring at all? And what about sites with uncontrolled fill impacted by contaminated groundwater? Is there a ground improvement or building support alternative available to reduce or eliminate groundwater management costs associated with dewatering?

Experienced field staff who understand both the environmental regulatory framework and plans for building construction is critical to the success of complex projects.


These questions can pose complex challenges. This is where experience and industry savvy come into play. For instance, it may be possible to place fill containing construction debris outside foundation oversize planes and/or at depth below pavements to reduce potential impacts to building or pavement performance. Many times, additional excavation work can be performed to accommodate placement of contaminated soils at depth below buildings or pavements to prevent off-site disposal of contaminated soils. For budget-sensitive projects, design of site remediation and development plans can be an iterative process, not unlike a shell game. Clean closure is not typically affordable for difficult sites, and redevelopment often hinges on designing to the least of several site “evils.” This might mean shifting building locations, expanding green areas, thickening pavements and assuming more long-term maintenance responsibilities.

Move construction obstacles with experienced staff No matter how well a site is characterized, unforeseen conditions are possible, even typical, during redevelopment of sites with a history of industrial use. Most building contractors are not used to thinking about environmental issues, but are focused on the myriad of details related to construction of the new structure and associated infrastructure. That’s why it is critical to have experienced field staff present during construction who understand both the environmental regulatory framework and plans for building construction. The presence of experienced field staff facilitates prompt resolution of minor issues and proper assessment and communication of larger issues to appropriate members of the project team. Whether the unforeseen condition consists of unknown building foundations or buried debris, forgotten underground storage tanks, an unexpected amount of contaminated organic soils, or any other unexpected challenge, successful resolution requires collaboration between the building contractor, environmental and geotechnical professionals, and the site owner. Experienced field personnel are the first line of defense when these issues arise in the field. It’s critical to bring environmental and geotechnical professionals together early in the planning process for redevelopment sites. Working together, these professionals can design field investigations that capture as much environmental and geotechnical information as possible to more effectively evaluate remediation and development alternatives, produce cost-effective and practicable designs, and help anticipate construction issues. Implementing this approach will maximize the performance of new structures while minimizing total project costs. ■

Practical and Entertaining Since 1997

Regulatory Navigation Steering a course to resource preservation and risk management

By Chris Thompson, PE

Braun Intertec is involved in the planning and execution of construction projects that range from simple to very complex. Our role is usually in the upfront stage, defining characteristics of project sites that will affect design and performance of structures, and then during and after construction to verify the structure was constructed properly and is performing as intended. You may be familiar with some of the work that Braun Intertec has been involved in over the last 56 years: soil type, soil density, ability to withstand applied loads and predicted settlement, concrete strength, soil correction recommendations, and so forth. As with many things in our lives, construction is more complicated today than it was in the past. The engineering services Braun Intertec offers have evolved to keep up with our more complicated world. There are numerous project requirements that demand attention before, during, and after construction is complete, which may fly under the radar if you are not prepared and can jeopardize a project in many ways. Preparing for and implementing a construction project presents requirements on a number of fronts, whether a new highway in rural Minnesota, a new bridge over the St. Croix River, a 30-story tower in downtown Minneapolis, a new ballpark in downtown St. Paul, or a commercial or industrial development somewhere in the Twin Cities suburbs. In addition to the engineering, planning and design, procurement, and construction, there are a myriad of rules, regulations, and laws governing our

natural resources that require attention. Braun Intertec and the design and construction teams that we are a part of have been planning and responding to these issues for many years. It takes substantial experience to gain the knowledge necessary to plan for, resolve, and document the work required for good engineering practice and by statute or rules when constructing projects affecting natural resources. What are these requirements you ask? They are simple to list but can be complicated to understand, permit, and implement. The requirements are broken down in one way or another into the basic building blocks of our natural world: solids, liquids and gas. Some of the more familiar requirements that might be planned for in any given construction project, large and small, include: 1. Ambient Air Quality – There are state and federal rules about air quality that may affect you. 2. Particulate Matter Emissions – There have been state rules on fugitive dust for years; they do affect you. 3. Noise – City rules can shut down your project in a hurry. 4. Odor – Neighboring residents can make your life difficult on this one. 5. Asbestos/Regulated Wastes – Yeh yeh yeh, but it can hit your pocketbook hard if not corrected appropriately. 6. Solid Wastes – Do you know what all is included in this? 7. Hazardous Wastes – Expensive. Did you know that there can be ways to avoid generating hazardous waste? 8. Stormwater – More important every day, the fines for not following the rules can be significant. 9. Groundwater – Are you aware of the relation between surface water and groundwater? 10. Contaminated Soil – Maybe you should reuse instead of paying to haul and dispose. 11. Lead in Construction Standard – Do you know about this? It’s important. 12. Beneficial Reuse Rules – Confusing sometimes, but can save a lot of money. 13. Waste Transportation Requirements – Can add schedule delays and costs that you need to plan for. 14. Vibration Monitoring – And you thought implications of odors were bad. 15. Buried and Overhead Utilities – Caution, the utility backfill might be a pathway for contamination. 16. Health and Safety Rules – Are you or your contractor familiar with confined space requirements? continued on next page …


… Regulatory Navigation continued

This list is not exhaustive, although it is probably exhausting to look at and fully understand to what degree these items might be important to a particular project and how to efficiently plan for them. Braun Intertec personnel are tasked with understanding these requirements, and it is all about risk management. The planning and work that goes into being able to start and successfully complete a construction project, however simple, should not be taken lightly. Assuming that someone else has planned for an issue – has “got it covered” – is not risk management. Braun Intertec’s role on projects many times includes the initial environmental and geotechnical investigation work, as well as permitting, development of engineering plans and specifications, completion of contract documents, construction period testing, inspections, observations and reporting, soil and groundwater remedial action implementation, and permit compliance. Braun Intertec professionals are required to understand these

processes and provide sound and defensible cost estimates in advance. Many construction-related issues can be planned for and successfully integrated into projects. It’s a bit like an athlete imagining his/her routine in advance so there are no mistakes while performing. There are many regulations, standards, rules, and requirements that pertain to constructing the built environment. Many of these are in place because they provide for a safe and healthy environment during and after construction, and protect our natural resources. They are also there to help keep test results consistent from one project to the next in order to define what is considered safe levels of chemicals in our environment, to safeguard that the project does not create a situation that damages the adjacent building, and to verify the foundation is not going to settle beyond set parameters. Understanding how regulations impact your project is important, but having a partner that can navigate the regulatory maze is essential. ■

Monitoring Construction Site Emissions For many construction projects, dust (or particulate) emission control and monitoring are required. Some of the nuances and complexities of control and monitoring are not well understood. A lack of attention to these matters can lead to rework, noncompliance letters, monetary fines, lawsuits, and just plain bad relations with those that might be affected by dust emissions. There are a number of reasons why control and monitoring of potential particulate emissions from a project is necessary. First, there are requirements to do so from both a legal and regulatory standpoint. Specifically, there is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that has standards for certain potential emissions in the breathing zone, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for airborne particulate matter. In many cases, real-time monitoring for dust is used as a precursor for other potential soil and/or groundwater contaminants present, such as heavy metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are just a few requirements for control and monitoring that must be undertaken depending on the project. Secondly, controlling and monitoring potential particulate emissions is critical to neighboring residents or adjacent properties. If you are allowing dust to be transported off your site, you may be buying car wash coupons or washing their buildings, pavements, and other structures. This may help alleviate immediate concerns but pales in comparison to proving your emissions haven’t lead to some perceived health problem.


So, how do you make sense of all of the acronyms and requirements: OSHA, NIOSH, permissible exposure limits (PEL), micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), EPA Ambient Air Monitoring Guidelines for Prevention of Significant Deterioration, total suspended Solids (TSS), site-specific action levels, and personnel protective equipment (PPE)? Call Braun Intertec’s environmental consultants, who have the experience and capabilities to assist with this required compliance. They can help determine what your needs are, set up and complete any required monitoring and reporting, and mitigate encounters with unhappy neighbors.

A local contractor diligently applying water for dust control.

Practical and Entertaining Since 1997

“There’s No Asbestos in My Building!” Surveying for asbestos is still relevant despite building age

By Gregg Kruse

“This building was constructed in 2003. There is no asbestos in it! We certainly don’t need to test for it!” Considering the overwhelming amount of publicity regarding the harmful effects of asbestos exposure, and the fact that regulations regarding asbestos have been in place for more than 30 years, one would assume the above statements to be true. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Once considered the “miracle material” because of its indestructible nature, today more than 50 countries have banned asbestos; however, the United States isn’t one of them. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 1,060 metric tons (more than 2.3 million pounds) of asbestos was imported into the country in 2012, and it’s likely to remain near the 1,000-ton level based on current trends. The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people worldwide die of asbestos-related diseases each year. Yet the global asbestos industry continues to aggressively market in developing nations, putting millions at risk of disease. Russia is the largest producer of asbestos in the world, with China and Brazil following close behind. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos in 1989, but the ban was struck down by an industry court challenge.

While it’s true that most domestic manufacturers and builders have not used asbestos since the 1980s, there is no magic date when you can say a building was constructed after, therefore, it’s asbestos free. The USGS says about 57 percent of domestic asbestos consumption went into making chlorine and sodium hydroxide, 41 percent into roofing products and the rest into “unknown applications.” Most of the unknown applications result from the import of building products and materials from foreign manufacturers. Every year, new cases arise documenting asbestos found in newly installed building products – materials such as wallboard, tile, grout, mastics, adhesives, and coatings, just to name a few. A recent Braun Intertec project involved the redevelopment of a former athletic club facility. The outdoor tennis courts had been milled in place a few years prior. It was discovered that the green paint used on the tennis courts contained asbestos. As a result, the milled asphalt and gravel had to be disposed off-site as asbestos waste, adding substantial cost to the project. In the case of building renovation or demolition, we are often asked, “The building was constructed 10-15 years ago, why do I have to survey for asbestos?” The answer: all buildings, regardless of age, are subject to regulatory requirements to identify the presence of asbestos-containing materials and the proper handling of those materials. Gregg Kruse provides hazardous materials support to the Braun Intertec environmental, engineering and building sciences groups, helping clients navigate the “stuff that comes up.” Kruse has spent 25 years providing hazardous materials expertise across the country on a wide range of project sites from residential developments to complex military facilities. ■

©2013 Braun Intertec Corporation


Ask The Professor By Charles Hubbard, PE, PG

Dear Professor: I attended a presentation you gave at my high school this spring on engineering, and I am hoping that you can offer more advice on pursuing an engineering-related career. You talked about the traditional four-year university programs, but I understand you also teach at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn., and I’m actually interested in a two-year program that will allow me to support engineers from the field doing some kind of testing, surveying, etc. Can you tell me more about what such a program includes, and what I can do as a student to prepare to learn and look forward to employment?

– 2013: The Class with Class!

Aptitude shows silver but attitude strikes gold Dear Graduate: “I saw you in the school yard today …” No, scratch that, I was distracted by one of those heartbreak-type country songs playing on the radio. From the sound of your letter I definitely don’t see you losing your gal, dog and pickup truck as a result of poor planning. But I will still offer you some information on a career as a civil technician and, if you don’t mind, a little advice on approaching the path and people that will help guide you. A technology program at a technical college is a great way for someone who doesn’t want to pursue a four-year degree to get solid experience in a variety of engineering-related disciplines. You will gain skills that are marketable to government agencies like city and county engineering and public works departments, state Department of Natural Resources branches, watershed districts, etc., as well as private consultants working in the civil, geotechnical, environmental, water resources, and other engineering disciplines. You will learn field and office skills associated with soil, aggregate, bituminous and concrete testing, surveying, computer aided design (CAD), and geographic information systems (GIS). The work is intended to be laboratory intensive and hands-on. Your role is generally one of collecting, organizing, and presenting


Civil technicians perform many important roles on construction projects – surveying, excavation observations and materials testing, and record keeping, among others.

data, not evaluating and making judgments on it. You’ll need to maintain or reacquaint yourself with your inner math genie as a lot of the lab work involves crunching numbers (this seems to be more problematic with those who come back to school after a number of years working other jobs, but can still be challenging to recent high school grads). More importantly, the attitude you bring to the classroom each day will likely outweigh the skills and experience you will learn from the coursework. As an instructor, my job is to convey a fundamental understanding and build basic competencies in the skills that civil technology students will need to succeed in the field. Of course, it helps if your level of understanding and skill proficiency is higher than others in your class (those you will potentially be competing with for a job). It’s also accepted that you can only gain so much experience through the course of a few semesters, and you will learn a lot more on the job. That being the case, what then will help tip the scale in your favor? Attitude. Now, I’m not just an instructor – I am a prospective employer as a geotechnical engineer for Braun Intertec. I receive reference calls seasonally from my students’ prospective employers, and what I’m asked about most often and also stress to those considering hiring one of my students is their attitude: Do they show up on time? Are they prepared? Do they complete their work on time? How do they communicate? Do they ask for help? These questions reflect more on one’s interest, willingness, and desire than they do on one’s knowledge or grades. Keep in mind that you will have a lot to learn no matter how good you are at taking tests, and prospective employers will be willing to invest in you if they know you are willing to do the work. A good friend of mine holds the theory that, on a basic level, each job you complete is nothing more than your interview for the next job. This applies not only to the clients you work for but also those within your organization and, even before that, those who instruct you. – Maybe I’ll see you in class! ■

Practical and Entertaining Since 1997

Groundwater Checkup Using groundwater monitoring wells to examine site wellbeing

By Tom Maertens, LEED Green Associate

Most people are familiar with getting regular dental or health checkups, but another type of “checkup” often associated with construction sites is the installation of groundwater monitoring wells and regular monitoring. When conducting environmental site investigations, it’s all too common for an unknown source of contamination to be discovered on a site. And when there are multiple property owners involved, investigations and remediation can get complicated very quickly. Finger pointing often results as those involved try to limit their own liability and cost. The installation of monitoring wells along with groundwater sampling and the appropriate analysis is a common way to mitigate risk associated with a given site or operation. Oftentimes, businesses that have operations with a potential to release a hazardous substance into the environment choose to install monitoring wells both as a preventative measure and in order to help document the conditions at their site for future reference. Some examples of these types of businesses include oil and gas operations, landfill operations, and wastewater disposal and soil treatment facilities. A small spill or release of oil or other material can turn into a large and potentially expensive liability if it’s undiscovered over a period of months or years. To minimize risk and exposure, such operations commonly install wells and collect regular water samples to monitor site conditions. Ideally, sampling efforts would begin prior to any site development or operations to provide baseline data or a “before” picture reflecting the site’s environmental health. With a minimum of three monitoring wells, the groundwater

flow direction can be identified. If contamination is discovered, the direction of groundwater flow across a site becomes critical to identifying potential contaminant sources, which may be an adjacent site or some other off-site source. Regularly scheduled monitoring events are a vital piece of the puzzle. This data helps a property owner identify a problem and quickly deal with a potential release. Addressing contamination in a small area, before it spreads, is usually much more manageable and less expensive. In addition, early identification of a release may be the key to preventing the spread of contamination to an adjacent property. To do this, facilities typically conduct two monitoring events each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. In a typical monitoring event, static groundwater levels are measured to assess flow direction and recorded prior to sampling activities. Although each sampling event is generally tailored to address a specific site and its contamination of concern, common sampling might include volatile organic compounds, total petroleum hydrocarbons or chloride. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Franklin understood that the effort necessary to prevent a problem is far less than what would be required to fix it. Relating his insight to groundwater contamination, the installation of monitoring wells and regular monitoring can be far more cost effective than a complex groundwater investigation after contamination is identified. ■

Precise groundwater sampling and analysis is critical for good planning and risk management.


11001 Hampshire Ave. S Minneapolis, MN 55438 Minneapolis Bismarck Cedar Rapids Dickinson Duluth Fargo Hibbing La Crosse Mankato Milwaukee Minot Rochester Saint Cloud Saint Paul

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Questions, requests and comments Charles Hubbard, PE, PG Braun Intertec Corporation 11001 Hampshire Ave S Minneapolis, MN 55438 Phone: 952.995.2000

This newsletter contains only general information. For specific applications, please consult your engineering or environmental consultants and legal counsel. ©2013 Braun Intertec Corporation

Detect a Leak in a Ground Heat Exchanger with 90% Less Excavation Operational problems due to pressure drop or fluid loss within ground source heat pump piping systems can occur for many reasons. Often, the problem is located within the building and results from an interior leak or trapped/recently released air in the system. But if the interior has been ruled out as the culprit, there can only be one other place to look – the ground heat exchanger. The leaking circuit(s) has been isolated and it’s time to start digging, right? Not necessarily. Narrowing down the location(s) of the leak prior to any excavation can greatly reduce site disruption, operational downtime, and unnecessary rehabilitation expenses. With Braun Intertec’s proprietary leak detection process, we can help achieve this goal. The process uses an environmentally-safe gas that is introduced into the affected portion of the system. Due to the lighter than air properties of the gas, sensitive detection equipment is utilized to identify the gas as it naturally travels upward through the soils at the leak point. The end result is isolation of the problem area(s) and a greatly reduced excavation area, approximately 90 percent less than would otherwise be required. For more information about this leak detection service or other geothermal consulting services contact Braun Intertec Geothermal at 952.995.2414.

The Pocket Consultant Summer 2013  

Leveraging Environmental & Geotechnical Partnerships - Manage risk and cost to master difficult sites VOL 16, Issue 2 - Summer 2013