Month: January 2020

A New Decade Brings New NHDES Wetland Rules

wetland permit amherst nh

Think back 29 years, to 1991 – remember how different life was then? For some, this might be too far back to remember; others might recall images of the Gulf War, the AIDS crisis, grunge bands, the Simpsons had only been on for a few years, gasoline prices per gallon were $1.14, and the World Wide Web became publicly available. The year 1991 was also the last time the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) completely revised the Wetland Rules – until now.

New Hampshire’s Need for Updated Rules

The New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (RSAs) are the laws of the State of New Hampshire that are adopted or amended by the NH Legislature each year. RSA 482-A: Fill and Dredge in Wetlands was adopted in 1989 that defined wetlands and gave the State the authority to protect these essential resources.

Over the past 29 years, NHDES has amended the rules and issued permit forms and publications, such as Best Management Practices (BMPs), that have helped clarify the requirements for addressing the Wetland Rules during project development. However, it had become apparent that a complete revision of the Wetland Rules was necessary to streamline the permitting process, clarify rule application and procedures, and document some informal processes that had resulted in rule implementation over time.

Public Comment and Listening Sessions

Streamlining the permitting process was a significant task to undertake. NHDES began in 2018 by issuing a draft of the new rules for public comment and hosting a series of public comment and listening sessions. Based on the amount and type of feedback received, NHDES established a Wetland Rules Workgroup consisting of a mix of professionals in the field of wetland science, state and federal agency staff, and private consultants who have experience with permitting wetland projects; this group met bi-weekly over summer and fall 2018. I was fortunate to be an invited member of this group, and we had lively and lengthy discussions as we reviewed and revised the proposed rules, chapter by chapter, line by line, to produce new rules that were clear, effective, and would streamline the permitting process, where appropriate, while still protecting the State’s wetland resources. On December 15, 2019, the revised wetland rules became effective.

Along with the new rules, NHDES issued several revised publications, BMPs and wetland permit application forms that can assist applicants in completing the permit application process, from the very beginnings of resource identification, preliminary design and impact analysis, pre-application dialogue with NHDES, through to successful receipt of the permit and conditions. NHDES staff hosted a series of training sessions across the state that reviewed specific chapters of the new rules and gave input regarding noteworthy changes between the old and new rules, new items that may need to be addressed in an application, and answered questions about the new rules and forms.

New Changes

Projects that involve repairs to certain sized bridges (routine roadway, replacement, repair, or extension of culverts) will be permitted faster and easier than under the prior rules using the new Permit by Notification (PBN) and Statutory PBN categories. The new rules have provided:

  • A new definition for when a stream crossing project may be “self-mitigating,” which helps determine when those kinds of projects may or may not need mitigation.
  • A reduction in the distance to an abutting property line for which impacts can occur without the abutting landowner’s permission from 20 feet to 10 feet; acquiring these permission letters can sometimes be a time-consuming step in the permitting process.
  • A comprehensive Wetlands Permit Planning Tool (WPPT) that allows for convenient review of multiple project parameters in one online location, including stream crossing and watershed data, National Wetland Inventory and FEMA flood maps, and Shoreland Protection areas; this tool will allow for a better understanding of the potential project impacts and permitting needs during preliminary design to eliminate costly or time-consuming “surprises.”

Through it All

The Hoyle, Tanner environmental coordination team, which consists of myself, Deb Coon, and Joanne Theriault, are well-versed in the new (and old) rules and will work with our clients to determine the best path through NHDES permitting for every project.

Employee Spotlight: Deb Coon

Deb Coon, Environmental Coordinator, and Chacuterie Fan
1.  What drew you to Hoyle, Tanner?
I originally came from the banking industry which was very unstable at the time. I looked at Hoyle, Tanner as a potentially stable environment where I could work the rest of my life and retire from. That was 20 years ago!
2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?
I appreciate the opportunity for growth that I have been given here.  It was my husband and supervisor that encouraged me to go back to school and earn the degree I am currently working on.
3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle, Tanner?
Anytime its busy – I love being busy. 
4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on?
Anything that involves historic structures/districts or a unique protected species.  I love learning about these things and blending preservation while protecting the traveling public.
5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?
I went to lunch with my best friend today!
6. How many different states have you lived in?
Five: Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, & New Hampshire
7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
Cheese, bread, olives, and wine.
8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?
One spoiled rotten cat named Oliver.  His name is Oliver because he looks like an Oliver, how else would you name your pet?
9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?
I grew up in Schenectady, NY.  The city is known as the birthplace of General Electric and almost everybody I knew had a parent that worked there.
10. What are three things still left on your bucket list?

  1. Fly in a fighter jet doing rolls and dives and then get hit with a g-force so hard it knocks me out.
  2. Attend a soccer match in Europe.
  3. Spend a couple of weeks sailing the east coast with my husband.

11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island
My husband, a boat, and any device that could be self-powered that would stream music
12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?
Honesty most definitely
13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?
At least 60 years!  It’s a doll that used to belong to my mother when she was a little girl.
14. Words to live by? Favorite quote?
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Maya Angelou
15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A veterinarian – doesn’t every little girl want to do that at some point?
16. If you were to skydive from an airplane what would you think about on the way down?
I would wonder what the heck I was thinking when I agree to do this!

How the ADA has Changed Transportation Infrastructure After Nearly 30 Years

Nearly one in four adults has a disability in the United States. The most common disability is mobility, followed by hearing and vision. “At some point in their lives, most people will either have a disability or know someone who has one,” according to Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. After almost 30 years since it was first established, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had a significant impact on transportation engineering and design for public use.

Recognizing the challenges of adapting the ADA guidelines to existing transportation infrastructure (sidewalks, street crossings, curb ramps, etc.), the United States Access Board is in the process of developing new guidelines for these facilities called “Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way,” popularly known as PROWAG. These guidelines, which are currently a draft but recognized as an industry best practice, establish practical design standards for these elements while recognizing the various constraints posed by space limitations, roadway design practices, slope, and terrain.

Learning about ADA compliant engineering designs can help make streets a safer place for those 61 million Americans living with a disability. Below are two types of engineering designs that you commonly see but might not fully know their purpose:

  1. Accessible Pedestrian Signal and Push Button:  These devices are used at pedestrian crossings to provide non-visual information (audible or vibratory) on WALK and DON’T WALK intervals.  Through tones and vibration, they help a visually-impaired pedestrian locate the push button, know when the walk interval has begun, and know the direction of crossing. It can also provide information on the crossing location through braille or speech messages. The location and design of a pedestrian push button are also critical for those with disabilities. The buttons should be located adjacent to a level all-weather surface and within 3.5’ to 4’ above the sidewalk to provide access from a wheelchair (shown below). To ease operation, they should also be large enough to push with a closed fist and no more than 3.5 pounds of force.ada-document-image_edited
  2. Curb Ramps and Detectable Warnings on Surfaces: Accessible sidewalks are imperative to those living with mobility issues. Safely crossing a street or entering/exiting a parking lot can be difficult for those in wheelchairs if there are no curb ramps. Curb ramps (as shown below) provide a maximum of 1:12 grade to smoothly transition from the sidewalk elevation. As the ramp is flush with the roadway, a detectable warning surface is required to provide tactile cues to those with vision impairments to alert them that they are entering the roadway. A change in surface texture and color, such as concrete, can also be more conspicuous for those with minor vision impairment.

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The ADA was a Civil Rights Movement that prevented discrimination of those with disabilities. The two engineering designs described above were designed to comply with ADA. These designs, and others, will continue to help pedestrians feel more comfortable making their way safely across the street.

Can We Predict Black Ice – Factors to Prepare Winter Roadway Treatments

Snow covered road

Winter is officially here, which means icy temperatures, snow days and longer nights. This time of year we all pay a little closer attention to the weather and in particular, how it could potentially affect driving conditions. The idea that pavement temperature directly corresponds to air temperature is a common misconception and is in fact only one of several factors that needs to be taken into consideration. Air and pavement temperatures can differ by several degrees. The difference is critical in predicting and preparing for black ice, which poses a serious threat to all motorists each year because of the difficulty it takes to identify.

Forecasting pavement temperatures and conditions is difficult but not impossible. When predicting conditions, four major factors are considered: air, sun, moisture, and the amount of heat beneath the pavement.

Air:

According to the Law of Thermodynamics, every object is in a constant state of temperature change. If you place a cold object in a warm room, the temperature of that object will steadily increase; if you place a warm object in a cold room, the temperature of the object will decrease. If you hold the temperature of the room constant, the object will adjust accordingly until it reaches room temperature. Roadways are no exception to this rule. However, the balance of heat is a gradual process and the speed by which it occurs is heavily dependent on several factors, such as surface area, density and material. For example, in the event of a temperature drop, a bridge (which is exposed to the air on all four sides and made of metal and concrete) will cool faster than the street, with only one surface area exposed to the air.

Below the Pavement:

It’s easy to forget what isn’t out there in the open for us to see. Half of the pavement surface area is affected by the ground beneath it, so subsurface temperatures play an equally important role when considering pavement temperature.

In the fall, the pavement is usually warmer than the air because the subsurface temperatures are still cooling down from the summer months.

In the spring the air is warmer than the pavement because a lot of the ground is still thawing from months of below freezing temperatures.

During a snowstorm the air is below freezing; snow may accumulate but if the ground underneath is warmer than the outside air, the snow will melt.

In addition, rain falling on pavement atop freezing subsurface temperatures may be enough to freeze over the roads.

While this general information is good to know as a guideline, accurate subsurface temperatures can only be measured with a Road Weather Information System (RWIS) installed by the department of transportation. Therefore, it is best to be cautious on the roads when seasons are changing, especially if you’re in a new area.

Sun:

Even in the winter, the sun still has a huge influence on pavement temperatures. It is so powerful, in fact, that a cloudy day can cause a decrease in the pavement temperature by 10 degrees. Despite cold and miserable weather conditions the pavement is constantly being affected by solar radiation. When dealing with the effects of radiation, a meteorologist considers elevation as an additional factor. Higher elevation means closer proximity to the sun and increased exposure to radiation.

Moisture:

Rain, snow and water vapor are the three forms of moisture in the atmosphere. Just like cooler temperatures, rain and snow typically cool down the surface of the pavement. The harder the rain or snow falls the faster the pavement will cool down.

Out of the three forms, water vapor is the most difficult form of moisture in the atmosphere to measure, because you cannot visibly see it. The most commonly accepted form of measuring water vapor in the air is dew point; the temperature below which water condensation occurs. The greater the difference between dew point and the air temperature, the drier the air. We know from the water cycle that once rain falls, it will evaporate back into the air. Evaporation requires heat to occur and there is heat in the pavement. Therefore, the drier the air, the faster evaporation will occur and in conclusion the faster the pavement will cool.

Finally, it is important to understand how air temperature and moisture come together in the formation of black ice. A dangerous misconception is that it needs to be snowing or raining for black ice to occur. Black ice usually occurs when the dew point and air temperatures converge. At this point, the air can no longer hold the moisture, so it condenses onto the pavement. Black ice can also occur when the air temperature is below zero but is warmer than the pavement temperature — requiring only that the pavement temperature is below freezing.

As we have already stated, predicting pavement temperature is complicated. Predicting the air temperature for 5:00 pm tomorrow is already a difficult task. If they predict the air temperature incorrectly, it automatically throws off the accuracy of the pavement temperature prediction. In addition, there are a variety of other factors that change quickly and with less notice (air temperature, precipitation, clouds, thickness of the pavement, etc.). That’s why we rely so heavily on site specific RWIS technology for the most accurate prediction of pavement temperature. State DOTs rely heavily on these pavement forecasts to determine when to pretreat roads, when to schedule crews, and how much material will be required throughout the duration of the event in order to ensure your safety.

Despite predictions and precautions, dangerous winter storm conditions are not 100% preventable. Stay safe this winter and listen to winter weather advisories. Even if there is no snow, black ice is a real possibility.