Month: April 2022

The Endangered Species Act – Saving the “Fluffy” Species?

In my career as an environmental scientist, with a focus on permitting and regulatory compliance, I review projects for the potential to affect species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and assist our clients in understanding how their project can be revised, when necessary, to avoid or minimize impacting these species or their habitat while still meeting the project goals.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973 as one of the several federal laws passed in the 1970s to address the rising concerns about environmental protection. The intentions of the ESA are to protect and prevent species from becoming extinct, prepare and implement efforts towards recovering species that are trending towards extinction, protect and preserve the ecosystems and habitat on which these species depend, and provide for cooperation among state governments to assist in these efforts on a regional and local level.

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If this seems like a very large task, it is indeed! There are three different federal departments that administer the ESA: the Department of Interior (endangered animals and some plants), the Department of Commerce (marine mammals) and the Department of Agriculture (plants). Between them, over nearly 50 years, they have developed regulatory guidance that breaks this large effort down into some very specific actions and processes. They develop the official list of endangered and threatened species and enforce rules regarding the import, export, take, possess, selling or transporting any endangered or threatened species. In addition, they develop detailed descriptions and mapping of the critical habitat for listed species, including land that is presently occupied by the listed species and land that is important for its continued and future existence.

Creating The List

At the start of the process is The List – how to determine which species belong on the list and deserve the protective efforts of federal organizations? This can be a controversial topic, as critics of the ESA often say it targets the “fluffy” or “cute” species, or those that pull at our heartstrings like the Florida panther, Monarch butterfly, North Atlantic right whale, Green sea turtle. (You may also think of pandas, but we do not have pandas in the wild in the US!) You may not think the Ozark hellbender, the meltwater stonefly or the Atlantic sturgeon, all worthy of protection despite their lack of photogenic features, but these species are considered just as important as any other federally-listed species.

The biggest challenge is that we cannot protect all organisms; the financial realities are that budgets must be created to pay for enacting all of the sections of the ESA – someone needs to conduct surveys, develop Critical Habitat Plans, provide assistance in protection and enforce the rules when they are broken. It is up the federal agencies, then, to determine in a real-world way which species are essential to protect. The lists must be made based on valid science, and not swayed by popular opinions of which mammal is more huggable. And while there is certainly a school of thought that saving only certain species is by its very nature a flawed process, one must start someplace. Saving some is better than saving none.

Species are often identified for protection because that species is an indicator of the status of their ecological surrounding or is key to the regional ecological cycle – these are sometimes called “keystone species.” The sea otter, very cute and cuddly, is a great example –  they feed on sea urchins, and when sea otter numbers fell due to demand for their pelts, sea urchins boomed and munched their way through acres of kelp beds, which altered the ecosystem for the other fish and marine life dependent on the kelp forest microhabitat. Protecting the sea otter then protects a variety of other species. As another example, less cuddly, the Florida bonneted bat lives in the native forests of Florida and is a valuable source of pest control – reduction in their numbers has resulted in the need for additional pesticide use in those areas.  

Another concept is to protect “umbrella” species, like the Florida panther, which has a home range of several hundred miles in which it routinely travels. Development of new roads can fragment what are currently large blocks of contiguous habitat that allow for safe travel for panthers, so some protective measures include land use controls that are focused on reduction of expanding land development into these unfragmented areas. Leaving large areas unfragmented and undeveloped allows for protection for all of the other species that also live in these areas. In that way, the umbrella that covers the panther also covers other species.   

Decisions, Decisions…

But there is also a consideration of the fiscal realities and physical practicalities:

  • What are the measures necessary to save a species, and can we afford to?
  • Are some species too time-consuming to protect?
  • Is that species worthy of affording all of the time and effort spent preserving it?
  • Will it work? Will the effort to protect a single species result in other losses in areas that are important?

This circles back to the emotional potential for saving species that are “fluffy” and look nice on a brochure asking you to donate to the cause. These “flagship” or “charismatic” species are the celebrities of the natural world, and by pulling our attention to the plight of such species, organizations can educate and raise awareness for conservation of all protected species and natural areas. Which means that the fluffy species have a role to play.

What Can You Do?

If you can contribute to wildlife organizations, do so – time or money donated on behalf of fluffy species can benefit other species. But consider donating to organizations that actively support conservation measures for the “ugly” species, too, or to local land or wildlife conservation organizations. If you are working in land development, understand how the ESA requirements apply to your project, and be proactive in meeting those requirements. Hoyle Tanner’s team of environmental scientists is always prepared to work with our private, municipal and state clients to successfully address the ESA while advancing the needs of the project.

From Desk to Harness: The SPRAT Certification Process for Bridge Inspection

Ben Schorn hanging underneath a bridge after earning his SPRAT Certification for Bridge Inspections

In 2021, I became a SPRAT-certified bridge inspector to enhance and expand my skills as a bridge engineer. The certification process was short but intense, and I’ll be using the skills I learned from this training throughout my career.

The Certification Process

The SPRAT (Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians) certification training was administered over the course of one week in which students were taught both behind a desk and in hands-on application. Critical information and theory in the classroom and physical rope access methods and techniques in the training facility. There was a diverse group of students in the class which varied from professional engineers to tradespeople.

Why I Got Certified

I wanted to become SPRAT certified because it seemed like a great opportunity to combine my passion for learning new skills (both physical and intellectual) with my thrill-seeking personality. I love being a student, regardless of the setting, so when I was offered this opportunity from Hoyle Tanner to take this course, I hopped on it immediately.

Training on Location

The certification course took place in a training facility in Oakland, New Jersey, which is about five hours from the Burlington, Vermont office where I work. The facility is basically a warehouse comprised of multiple stations varying in size and complexity meant to mimic common in-the-field scenarios where SPRAT skills would be used. There was also an air-conditioned classroom within the warehouse where we sat for lectures and took our written exams. Structural Engineer Katie Welch and I took this course in the middle of July so the warehouse was extremely hot (especially with full face-coverings while climbing).

Physical Intensity & Duration

Even though some of my coworkers who were already SPRAT certified gave me some insight to the physical intensity of the training, I was not prepared for the constant fatigue the training would subject us to. We spent many days practicing specific rope access techniques and procedures repeatedly, which to me was the most intense five consecutive days of exercise I’ve encountered in a very long time (that is, until I applied these skills while inspecting the Augusta Memorial Bridge in October 2021).

The course consisted of four days of instruction and one day of evaluation. At the end, everyone in our class received their SPRAT certifications and we were all very proud of one another for overcoming the physical and mental challenges the course put us through.

Engineering After Certification

Following the SPRAT training, I attended a two-week course in Chicago at the end of August which granted me a NBIS (National Bridge Inspection Standards) certification. These two certifications often coincide with one another, as the SPRAT certification is required to physically climb a structure and the NBIS certification is required to inspect/document deficiencies on a structure. With these trainings under my belt, I was able to properly participate in the inspection of the Augusta Memorial Bridge for MaineDOT at the beginning of October along with my colleagues Ed Weingartner, Joe Ripley, Katie Welch and Brian Nichols. It was very rewarding putting my skills to use and working together as a team to get this inspection done thoroughly and efficiently.

Is it Worth it?

The training required to receive a SPRAT certification is certainly a rigorous one, but it’s extremely rewarding overcoming the challenge. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in pushing their limits and learning new hands-on skills. I very much enjoyed putting my certification to use during the Augusta Memorial Bridge inspection last October and look forward to using my certification more in the future.

Runway Safety: More than Smooth Pavement & Bright Lights

Construction photo with people painting lines and working on runway wearing safety vests

Airport safety may bring to mind images of TSA checkpoints and marshallers directing aircraft in the right position on the ramp. Although these are some of the more noticeable measures critical for safe air travel, airport engineers also make a vital contribution to air travel safety that may be less apparent but equally as important. Part of our role is to design and oversee the construction of the runway pavement and all the associated lighting and pavement marking that pilots rely on for each takeoff and landing.

Each airport has its own runway and taxiway network, but design standards have been established to prioritize safety for all the traveling public. Safety measures are determined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and applied industry-wide at all airports in the county. FAA publishes what are known as Advisory Circulars which dictate how an airport should be designed and how it should operate. Everything FAA does is in the name of safety, and this governing body’s diligence is why the United States has the safest aviation industry in the world.

What makes up the Runway

Many things can affect the safety of a runway, so let’s first start with pavement as the most obvious component.

The biggest danger is what’s on the runway itself – anything aside from the paved surface is called Foreign Object Debris (FOD). It could be a rock or a dislodged chunk of pavement sitting on the runway that can cause incredible damage to an aircraft. Even small debris can get sucked up into a jet engine or hit a wing, leading to expensive repairs or worse – an accident. That is why you’ll notice airport pavements are much cleaner than your typically roadway. All airports have formal inspection programs that include FOD removal.

You may also notice that in the winter, airports don’t salt their runways the way roadways do. This is because planes are made primarily of aluminum; salt and aluminum do not mix. Airports instead rely on plows and brooms to keep the pavement as clean as possible before ice has a chance to form. Some airports in the northern parts of the country will also supplement their snow removal program with glycol applications.

How the Pilot Knows Where to Land

Pilots are confident that as they prepare for the plane’s descent, the pavement awaiting them is clear and strong enough to support the weight of the aircraft. But with all the pavement at an airport, how does that pilot know exactly where to touchdown? This is where the airport engineer’s design of navigational aids (NAVAIDS), pavement markings (paint), signage and lighting contributes to runway safety.

Runways have visual clues that tell a pilot how far down the runway they are landing using paint markings as well signs that tell the pilot how much runway pavement remains. Runway paint markings are always white and taxiway paint markings are always yellow, providing another visual clue to let pilots know where to land.

One type of marking is a hold line with a surface painted hold sign, which is painted on a taxiway pavement leading onto a runway. This keeps the pilot from getting too close to a runway before they are cleared for takeoff. It’s like a stop sign before pilot gets permission to cross onto the runway. To maintain a safe and orderly movement of aircraft once they exit the runway, taxiway networks also have yellow centerlines that guide the pilot to their destination whether it is a runway, terminal building or hangar.

Many airports also have non-movement lines. On one side of a non-movement line, aircraft and ground vehicles can drive where they need to, and on the other side of the line, operators must get permission from the air traffic control tower (aircraft always have right of way over ground vehicles). This is true of commercial service airports; and for smaller airports, people rely on radios to communicate planes landing/taking off. FAA continually reviews the Airfield Marking Advisory Circular to incorporate design standards that will improve safety.

Lighting and signage is another component of runway safety. While a passenger may look out their window and see a runway flagged with glowing lights and signs as a spectacle, these lights and signs have different placements and colors to indicate to a pilot where to land, how much runway is left or their location on the airfield. For example, there are geographic position signs that tell an aircraft where they are on an airport, especially useful during low visibility conditions, such as fog or heavy rain. While FAA establishes which lights and signs to use for what purposes, our job as airport engineers is to work those lights and signs into the design and planning of the runway. We design the lights and signs to be in the correct locations, and indicate which color and types of lights, the size of the sign and then we coordinate with the electrical engineer for installation.

Visual Separation Aides

As good as pavement markings, lights, signs and tower control may be, there is still the need for visual separation. In most cases, the runway and taxiway areas are not just an expanse of pavement; they very often have grass or some other visual separation between the aircraft movement areas.

This is purposeful; we design airports to have grassy areas as a way to provide another form of visual separation for pilots. These grassy areas have the added benefit of providing a place to incorporate our drainage design to remove potential hazardous rain and snow melt away from pavement area.

How we Maintain Safety

There is a lot that goes into airport and runway safety. FAA has an entire research facility in Atlantic City, New Jersey where professionals test and implement new ways of keeping airports safe. FAA also completes annual inspections at commercial service airports to confirm, in part, the condition of pavement, markings, lighting, signs, abutting shoulders, and safety areas; watch ground vehicle operations; ensure the public is protected against inadvertent entry and jet or propeller blast; check for the presence of any wildlife; check the traffic and wind direction indicators.

At Hoyle Tanner, our airport engineering professionals are committed to incorporating the most current FAA design standards outlined in the agency’s Advisory Circulars in each of our airfield improvement projects. Our proven experience in the aviation industry allows us to tailor valued solutions to meet the safety and security requirements, design challenges, funding procedures and time sensitive needs of each airport we service.  Want to learn more about safety practices and FAA? Contact me.

Landslides: Prevention & Repair Through Slope Stabilization

Slope failure photo with blog title

In New England, March marks the last weeks of winter and the start of spring rains and snow melt.  Paying attention to erosion control during this time of year is always on the minds of municipal public works staff, state agencies, construction companies, and even homeowners, especially those fortunate enough (or perhaps not) to have water frontage. 

A 2018 study conducted by the USDA found that precipitation is increasing in the northeast more than any other region in the United States. The frequency of consecutive wet days is generally increasing in the northeast and precipitation extremes have also become more frequent. Given these trends, it is no surprise that peak flows in rivers and streams are also increasing and occurring earlier in the year which can result in a greater risk of flooding.

While it is difficult to prevent major erosion of stream and river banks due to extreme precipitation events, damage can be mitigated by inspections of at-risk areas combined with prioritization of these areas for repair. It is important to address slope failures quickly because bank degradation can cause significant damage including loss of property and infrastructure, sedimentation of the waterbody, water quality issues and damage to critical riparian buffer areas. As civil engineers, we can provide assistance with erosion control issues that range from preventative design practices, culvert replacements and stabilization of failed embankments.

Below is a list of some stabilization practices along with before and after photos of our recent embankment stabilization projects.

One such embankment failure occurred in Lancaster, New Hampshire, when high flow conditions in the Connecticut River resulted in severe washouts along an 800 foot long embankment causing loss of land and unstable soil conditions. Hoyle Tanner designed and permitted solutions to repair and stabilize the slope using native riparian vegetation and rip rap armament. Live willow and dogwood stakes were planted in soil between the rip rap stones.

Terms to know:

  • Live willow & dogwood stakes: Living shrub cuttings that take root quickly in bank environments – provides natural habitat and additional erosion control
  • Rip rap: Large stones used for protection and dissipation of energy from high water flows
Washout along the Connecticut River in Lancaster
Lancaster Embankment after Stabilization

Hoyle Tanner also designed and permitted repairs to a steep slope in Rochester, Vermont, when intense rainfall events undermined the toe of the bank, causing the slope and roadway above to fail and slide into Brandon Brook 90 feet below.  The repair solutions included installation of a blast rock toe detail and stone facing with grubbing material along the hillside to restore the slope. The roadway was reconstructed and a mid-slope underdrain was installed to intercept groundwater seepage. Debris from the slope failure was removed from Brandon Brook and the streambed was restored.

Terms to know:

  • Stone facing with grubbings: Combination of stone and native material to promote vegetation growth
  • Blast rock toe: Large rocks placed at the toe of the re-stabilized slope to combat undermining
Rochester Slope Failure at Brandon Brook
Brandon Brook Stabilized Slope Repair

Improving safety and combatting damage from growing peak flows and extreme storm events is an important part of our job. Hoyle Tanner is excited to offer solutions to slope stability issues and challenging site conditions. For more information on how we can be of assistance, please contact me.

Employee Spotlight: Charles Ramey

Employee Spotlight: Featured image of Charles Ramey next to partner in stadium surrounded by other people

Charles Ramey – Environmental Engineer & Novelty Seeker

1. What drew you to Hoyle Tanner?

When I moved from Colorado to Vermont, I was looking for any position in the industry that would allow me to learn. Hoyle Tanner stood out because they had job listings in Burlington for a few different positions I was interested in, and I knew I would have an opportunity to develop a wide variety of skills.

2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?

You don’t need to do anything alone. There are great people with a lot of knowledge and experience to share, both within Hoyle Tanner and outside the company.

3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle Tanner & why?

I’ve only been with Hoyle Tanner for half a year, so we’ll see what the summer brings. That being said, I enjoy late winter/early spring because it’s a time when we get to complete a lot of design work as we head into construction season.

4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on, and why?

Everything I work on is cool! If I had to pick one project it would be assessing the Bolton Valley Ski Resort’s water system. Coming from Colorado, I’ve spent a lot of time on the slopes, so it’s cool to see the unique challenges of a ski resort’s landscape, weather, and seasonal occupancy.

5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?

I just completed hockey lessons yesterday, and now I’m able to play my favorite sport!

6. How many different states have you lived in?

Two. I lived in Colorado for the first 25 years of my life and just moved to Vermont in August.

7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

My grandmother’s pasta. We all love family cooking and nothing beats my Italian grandmother’s homemade pasta sauce.

8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?

I have a three-year-old American pit bull terrier super mutt who I rescued in October. We kept the name Piper, which was given to her by her previous owner.

9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?

My hometown has a coal mining history that is older than the state of Colorado itself, and many of the mines still exist underneath the town!

10. What are three things still left on your bucket list?

  • See the Aurora Borealis (and visit Antarctica, two in one!)
  • Visit the 7 Wonders of the World
  • Go on an African safari

11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island.

  • My guitar
  • A ball (any ball, just something to play with)
  • My favorite book series (Red Rising by Pierce Brown)

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?

Patience

13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?

I have a vibrant ski jacket from the 80s that I bought at a thrift store.

14. Words to live by? Favorite quote? Why?

There’s no such thing as failure until you give up on yourself. Every “failure” is an opportunity to learn and grow. Even if we decide to stop trying something, it’s important to have self-confidence and self-respect.

15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

When I was really young I wanted to be a professional athlete, and through my teenage years I wanted to be an architect. Being an engineer in a civil field isn’t too far off!

16. If you were to skydive from an airplane what would you think about on the way down?

I have skydived from an airplane and I can say that all I could think was how exhilarating it was and how happy I was to be falling from the sky…I only wished it could last longer!