Month: June 2022

Part II: Environmental Permitting over 30 Years & What’s to Come

Environmental Permitting Coordinators Joanne Theriault and Kimberly Peace out in a field

Summer 2022 will mark my 30th year in the environmental field – I know, that is surprising since I look so young, all I can say is sunscreen is your friend! If you have lived with a high school senior, as I currently am, you can understand that there is a lot of looking forward and back at the same time, which has caused me to reflect on my career as well, both the changes I have experienced and what the future will look like in this field.

Career Beginnings

When I began my career the summer of 1992, I had just graduated college, was looking to go to graduate school, and was hired to conduct water quality sampling on the Ohio River for the City of Cincinnati’s Wastewater Treatment Facility. I convinced them I could drive a boat; I couldn’t but I learned fast! Racing up and down the wide river against the huge barges of coal seemed exciting and we only occasionally lost a sample or dinged the boat trailer. There was no cell phone, no GPS, and while we did type the reports on a computer, the “graphics” had to be done by hand using – does anyone remember these – plastic scratch-off hatching sheets. The second part of my job was assisting in field work for a new gas pipeline across Pennsylvania, and for this, we used a Gazeteer and USGS topographic maps – physical, paper maps (the large format color version). Once, the pile of maps blew out of the car as we drove down the highway, having to roll all the windows down since there was no AC in our rental car; we had to go back and fight traffic to pick them up!  (Read more about my non-linear career path in Part 1.)

I bring these two examples up because I think what has changed the most in looking back is how easy it is now to access data – all different kinds of data – since then. Not only can we navigate and communicate much better thanks to the internet, email, GPS and cell phones, but even in the past five years, there has been improvement in the types of data that can be accessed online and the level of detail that can be viewed.

For example, in 2019 the NH Division of Historical Resources (NHDHR) created the Enhanced Mapping & Management Information Tool (EMMIT), a web-based cultural resource portal that uses GIS technology to provide a comprehensive map-based inventory of historical and archaeological records. Until EMMIT came along, to complete a review of these paper records, someone had to go to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Concord, New Hampshire. And in 2019, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) released the Wetland Permit Planning Tool (WPPT) that provides online access to multiple layers of data, including soils, wetlands, floodplains, parcel polygons, parks and recreational facilities, to name a few.

Using this online tool to identify multiple site parameters means that I do not have to search for a single resource (soils, for example) using an online database that will only provide data for that specific item. Tools like this are now available in most New England states Hoyle Tanner works in, and is not only an important time-saver, but also allow us, from the earliest stages of project scoping, to have a good idea of what features may need to be resolved. Do we need a wetland permit, is there an endangered species in the area, are the soils suitable for construction? There are so many other questions that previously had to be chased down either on different web tools, or reviewing paper maps, reports or files, or even driving to the site to collect that information. Of course, there will always be site information that can only be collected by hand, and a picture is still worth a thousand words, but our jobs have been made so much easier by the explosion of online data and GIS-based mapping tools that can allow us to view the site as we sit in our offices. Given the recent difficulties of COVID that forced most of us to work from our dining rooms or kitchens, I would say that in many ways we could not have been able to continue working steadily through the pandemic without this evolution.

In the future, can it get faster and better? Definitely! There is still unavailable data that we hope will come online, or currently available data that will be expanded on. And faster seems to be the goal for much of computing – and we all know that saving time saves money! Hoyle Tanner recently invested in one of the newest versions of GPS to allow us to record field data (wetland flagging, for example) that is much smaller in shape and weight and has a faster processor than other GPS units we have used; this new tool is much easier to carry on those long hikes across a large parcel, while at the same time it provides the accuracy needed to create maps and plans. 

While I can’t say that I will enjoy my child going off to college, I do look forward to the changes that will come in the future that will save time and effort in my work environment so that I am able to convey that time savings to our clients.

Easier & Harder at the Same Time

The permitting process over the past 30 years has changed in so many ways but doesn’t seem to get less complicated. Each state we work in has made considerable efforts to streamline the permitting efforts they require, including using online application submittals and review processes, coordinating permits through the same reviewer, or making it clearer to the user what is expected to receive a permit, and the steps necessary to complete the applications.

As development has expanded over the past 30 years, the efforts to protect the remaining resources have had to ramp up accordingly, and in most states, this has resulted in adding rules and requirements that must be addressed in developing a site. For example, with the issuance of new wetland rules by NHDES in 2019, some projects can now be permitted easier, while others became more challenging to permit. The best news on that end is that I have yet to meet an agency staff person who has not been open to the knowledge of this – they know the rules are complicated – and who has not been willing to work with us to ensure that we meet the rule requirements while achieving that important balance of protecting resources while addressing the goals of the project.

The Environmental Permitting team at Hoyle Tanner is always aware of the changes and efficiencies happening within this world, and we love to help clients navigate what can be a very complicated process. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions and we will be happy to help you!

Employee Spotlight: Justin Keefe

Photo of Justin Keefe with grass and trees in the background

Justin Keefe – Airport Engineer & Home Project Manager

1. What drew you to Hoyle Tanner?

I was in a site civil position with another firm when Tim Audet told me about an opening in the aviation group. I get to design and oversee construction on airport projects. Engineering and airplanes, sign me up!

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

Flexibility. I have been lucky enough to share responsibilities as a designer and as a resident engineer. In both roles you need to be ready for the unexpected. This is true for the individual as well as the team.

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

The winter is design season. Design work keeps you out of the elements! I was in landscape construction for 10 years, and I always envied those who worked inside during the winter months, so I never take it for granted.

4. What’s the coolest thing you’re working on & why?

I’m working on an apron project with many challenges. There is an adjacent design/construction project, shallow bedrock, treating stormwater from fueling and non-fueling areas, geothermal crossings, etc. I have been tapping into and expanding my civil 3D knowledge quite a bit.

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

My two girls are moving up to their next class at daycare. One is moving from the toddler room to preschool and the other is moving from preschool to pre-kindergarten. I love watching them grow!

6. How many different states have you lived in?

Three: Massachusetts Native, Vermont, New Hampshire

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

Any pasta dish from Podere Il Casale in Tuscany

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

I have a dog named Neela. My brother named her for her blue eyes as a puppy.

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

Rebecca and Abigail Bates, aka ‘The Army of Two,’ reportedly deterred the sailors from a British ship from coming ashore to ransack the town for supplies. The two played their fife and drum from behind a sea wall to sound like a small militia.

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

  • Seeing Mount Everest
  • Learn to play the guitar
  • Trip into space

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

  • Sailboat
  • Harmonica
  • Sunscreen

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?

Organization.

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

1978 Paddington Bear Piggy Bank

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

‘I’ll ride the wave, where it takes me’, Eddie Vedder. Life is not a straight line, and many of the things that force us to change direction are out of our control. The thing that you can control is how you handle change and your ability to go with the flow.

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

Photographer

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

Johnny Utah

Celebrating Women in Engineering

June 23rd is International Women in Engineering Day. For the past nine years, this day has been celebrated across the globe to recognize the females striving in the largely male-dominated field. In honor of the holiday, Transportation Engineer Caroline Corwin has answered some questions about her career and why she loves this industry.

Why did you pursue engineering?

“When I was choosing my career path, I knew two things: I wanted to be an engineer and I wanted to make a positive impact in the world. My preference for working with more tangible concepts and my lifelong fascination with how roads and transportation systems function led me to civil engineering. Learning how crucial universal access to safe and effective transportation systems is and that civil engineers design those systems has kept me in civil engineering. I feel lucky to be a part of a team that designs the improvements neighborhoods and communities want and need.”

Are there any recent projects you’ve worked on that have excited you?

“A highlight for me so far has been a New Hampshire Department of Transportation resurfacing project. There are many different aspects to this project, so I have had various new experiences. I got to spend multiple days in the White Mountains collecting data, learned how to use an unfamiliar CAD program, and got to practice and improved my guardrail calculation abilities. All of this was done as a team effort across the Ground Transportation Services Division, so I got to work with most people in our group and learn from their experiences.”

Any advice for other women thinking about a career in engineering?

“As someone still very early in my career, I have two pieces of advice for other women looking to join this field: have confidence in your abilities and make a habit of asking questions. A lot of knowledge in our field comes from time and experience, so asking questions is your most powerful tool when you start and have very little of either.”

Thank you to Caroline and the dozens of women in engineering here at Hoyle Tanner! We are happy to bring awareness to these professionals and are grateful for the commitment and unique perspectives they each bring. Join us in celebrating all of the wonderful women in engineering today and every day.

3 Things to Consider When Designing for Stormwater on Airports

Stormwater that ponds or collects on airports can be considered a hazardous wildlife attractant and pose a significant risk to aircraft and the flying public. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 17,228 wildlife strikes at 753 US airports in 2019. In a previous blog post by Senior Airport Engineer Wilbur Mathurin about protecting wildlife, he mentions the importance of proper drainage on an airport, calling the stormwater design “a delicate balance between aircraft safety and providing adequate infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff during a storm.”

There are of course, some challenges when it comes to finding the right balance. Stormwater design is not necessarily straightforward, and there are quite a few different goals and standards that need to be met. Below are three important airport stormwater design concepts that provide some insight into what is considered during design.

1. Elevation

For the safety of the moving aircraft, airfield pavement and airport turf areas are designed with minimal slopes, making most airports relatively flat. When the differences in elevation from inlet to outlet are minor and the slopes of any channels or pipes might be minimal it can make it difficult to move stormwater quickly off the pavement and away from the aircraft. Additionally, stormwater may need to be stored to reduce the peak flow, or treated, both of which could impact some of the elevation you need to outlet. Stormwater chambers and/or some treatment systems are located underground, so you need to make sure that it isn’t too deep that you can’t get the water out.   

Another potential limiting factor with underground storage may be possible contamination from nearby fueling operations or by the depth to groundwater and/or bedrock. Impermeable liners can be used, but this eliminates the possibility of infiltration to groundwater and requires an outlet to an appropriate discharge location or integration into a closed drainage system.

2. Above ground stormwater detention

It would be ideal to avoid any and all areas of stormwater detention, but as mentioned above, underground operations are not always feasible. If above-ground detention is used, it is important to make sure that the stormwater will drain as quickly as practicable so that it does not become an attractant for birds. When using detention in combination with a soil filter for treatment, state design standards typically require that the water drains in no less than 24 hours for proper filtration and no more than 48 hours to avoid prolonged detention.

When treating stormwater, multiple infiltration ponds may be needed to collect stormwater from multiple impermeable areas. Each soil filter or infiltration basin requires a certain amount of space to collect properly, store, and filter the required volume of stormwater runoff. In some areas of an airport such as adjacent to the runway or taxiway, a long soil filter design might be more feasible, but it can be challenging to find enough space for the proper size system near aprons and buildings.

3. Permitting

To safeguard water quality stormwater treatment is required is required for runoff from impervious areas including airport building rooftops and airfield pavement. In addition to federal standards, the permitting process is specific to each state, so permitting requirements and treatment design solutions vary by airport. Stormwater treatment design at airports can include infiltration ponds, soil filters, subsurface sand filters or underground storage chambers with filtration, open-lined channels to convey the stormwater to another location, or meadow buffers if they are available. Before permitting, it is essential to check the data you will need to submit with the design. This can include test pits, bedrock and groundwater depth, soil type, hydraulic conductivity of existing soils, etc. Information will need to be obtained relatively close to the area of the proposed stormwater treatment, so the design must be closely coordinated with the data collection process. It is ideal for permitting to happen before the design is complete to start the review process with the permitting agency.

As airport design engineers, we understand the direct correlation between aircraft safety and stormwater management. Proper stormwater drainage design considers each airport’s unique terrain, storage capacity and treatment standards.  I am available to discuss any of these elements may be impacting your airport’s stormwater management and how we can help improve your facility’s system.

FEMA BRIC Program: Addressing Bridge & Culvert Needs

Culvert photo with FEMA article title on top and Hoyle Tanner icon

I have been working with communities across Vermont for the past 15 years to assess, prioritize and address their bridge and culvert needs. Many of our smallest towns and villages are located in mountainous regions where roadways have numerous stream crossings with aging structures that weren’t designed to meet the hydraulic capacity standards we have today, nor are they prepared for the increasing large storm events we are experiencing with climate change.

Communities are faced with a challenge when seeking funding assistance for both engineering design services and construction replacement costs for locally owned bridges and culverts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has supported pre-disaster hazard mitigation since 1997, and up until recently, communities would only have an opportunity to apply for Hazard Mitigation Grant funding after a major disaster event was declared. While this program has been extremely helpful in supporting many important projects to advance throughout our country, it has presented challenges for smaller communities with less reserve capital to complete the application ­-  which requires an engineering assessment to understand existing and proposed conditions and the development of accurate project cost for the completion of the Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA). While these expenditures are eligible for reimbursement should the project be awarded the Hazard Mitigation grant, there is an inherent risk that the BCA of 1.0 or above will not be met and the project would not qualify for submission, and thus expenditures for the analysis and grant application preparation are absorbed by the community (A BCA of 1.0 is the balance point representing the proposed project cost versus the known or projected expenses associated with the existing structure – meaning a BCA of 1.0 or above represents a project investment that will save money over its lifespan).

Enter the FEMA BRIC Program

Recognizing the success of being proactive with our emergency preparedness, in September 2020, FEMA initiated the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. This relatively new program supports state, local communities, tribes, and territories as they undertake hazard mitigation projects. BRIC is an annual program with the Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs) opening in September and closing in January, and it is not tied to a declared event – allowing eligible applicants to plan accordingly. State Hazard Mitigation Officers assist with application submissions and, as application processes can vary by state (beginning earlier than September in some locations), it is advised to reach out to your State Hazard Mitigation Officer early in your planning process.

Specifically, the BRIC Project Scoping Activities Program allows communities to complete scoping services that determine if a project is eligible for further BRIC funding. Per the FEMA Program Support Material these services include, but are not limited to:

  • Scoping and developing hazard mitigation projects, including engineering design and feasibility studies
  • Conducting meetings, outreach, and coordination with potential subapplicants and community residents to identify potential future mitigation projects
  • Evaluating facilities or areas to determine appropriate mitigation actions
  • Incorporating environmental planning and historic preservation considerations into project planning activities
  • Collecting data for benefit-cost analyses, environmental compliance, and other program requirements
  • Conducting hydrologic and hydraulic studies for unmapped flood zones or other areas where communities propose to submit hazard mitigation projects
  • Coordinating, scoping, and developing regional or multi-community hazard mitigation projects that require coordination to cohesively address resiliency and sustainability goals
  • Utilizing third-party cost estimation services for project budgeting across subapplications
  • Contracting services to address data consistency needs for other project application categories, such as environmental planning and historic preservation, cost-sharing mechanisms, and work schedules

With this healthy list of services being completed for a project, communities can better understand the project’s need and eligibility for future funding. The BRIC Project Scoping program pays 75% of the cost (25% local match, or less for small, impoverished communities). That’s a win – even if your project doesn’t meet the BCA of 1 or above, having this foundation of information will help with seeking other grant assistance through state and federal programs. All of this information lays the foundation for the continued design and development of the project.

Our Recent Experience

I recently assisted the Towns of Stowe and Roxbury, Vermont to prepare their FY2021 BRIC Project Scoping Applications. We worked collaboratively with our excellent state resources, Stephanie Smith, Vermont State Hazard Mitigation Officer and, Lisa Kolb, Vermont State Hazard Mitigation Planner to submit quality applications for multiple structures in each community. The online FEMA Grants Outcomes (GO) project scoping subapplication has to be completed by Town staff, but we were able to assist with our knowledge of the project locations and the project goals to prepare question responses for the Town to utilize in advance.

I’m a big supporter of this FEMA BRIC Project Scoping program: It fills a gap in getting projects initiated with communities able to make informed decisions and better prepare for the effects of climate change with safe, resilient transportation infrastructure. Each state determines how much is set aside for project scoping and planning activities – Vermont has set aside $1.5 million for FY2022. This allows for a wide range in quantity and scale of projects selected each year.

Got a project in mind? Feel free to reach out to me. We provide this service for communities across the Northeast and would be happy to discuss further how this program might be the right fit for your project.

Employee Spotlight: Steve Haas

Steve Haas featured with his family

Stephen Haas, PE – Vice President, Senior Transportation Engineer & Roadway Historian

1. What drew you to Hoyle Tanner?

I have always had an interest in roads and roadway design. At my last two companies we didn’t do enough of this work. My boss (who was leaving the company) suggested that the people and the work (I-93 at the time) at Hoyle Tanner would be a good fit for me. He was right!

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

It’s all about people. Regardless of what you’re working on, being surrounded by good people who can support you will carry you through and help you keep a positive attitude.

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

Christmas time obviously. I enjoy the decorations, and the cold weather means there are more people in the office.

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

Roundabout design (Conway and Rochester, New Hampshire). As a traffic engineer, I have an interest in intersections and traffic flow so I have always wanted to design one of these alternate improvements. They are safe, too!

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

Getting to spend extra time with family over a long holiday weekend (Memorial Day weekend).

6. How many different states have you lived in?

Three (Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire)

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

Sandwiches, I’m a pretty simple man.

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

A cat, Ari. My wife and I were watching “Entourage,” with “Ari Gold” the agent. My wife suggested that Ari, which means lion in Hebrew, made sense. It is fitting, as he is an aggressive kitty.

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

Stratham is the US headquarters for Lindt Chocolates. We can smell it when the wind is right.

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

  • Visit the Pyramids or Mayan Ruins
  • Own a beach house
  • Road trip across the US

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

  • Plenty of heavy metal music
  • Beer, beer, beer
  • My wife (she made me say that)

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?

Humility.

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

My blanket from when I was a kid. (Is that embarrassing? Thanks, Mom).

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

“Whatever you do, do it well.” – Walt Disney

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

A construction worker (I am in the same field at least).

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

“Wow, this really looks like Google Earth.” (I am obsessed with maps and aerial photos.)

Part I: What to do When the Career Path isn’t Linear

Kimberly Peace in her early career with text overlay of blog title

Featured image: Kimberly collecting marine life samples.

Overwhelming Choices

The months of May and June can be times of big change for those who are graduating high school or college, and whether you are 18, 22 or 52, the choices that need to be made regarding next steps can feel overwhelming – what do I want to do? And how do I get there? I have a high school senior who will graduate next month, and while she has chosen a college, the path to a career is still a bit hazy, which is just fine in our household.

Taking the Unexpected Path Forward

I can’t remember the reaction when I informed my parents as I was graduating college that I was going to go to graduate school for Marine Science, but I think that’s because there wasn’t a lot of fanfare about it. I was a pretty level-headed kid and they assumed I knew something about what I was getting myself into, but as a first-generation college and graduate school student, it was all very unknown in that moment what the next few years would lead to. Today’s college costs are so much higher that the focus has skewed from becoming a learned individual towards getting a good job as being the endpoint of those four, six or eight years. If it is reassuring for any of you out there facing similar choice yourself or looking at your beautiful child who is proposing an unexpected path forward, take heart in the fact that despite not getting to work with dolphins or whales (I studied microscopic invertebrates!), I have been gainfully employed over the years and have had some fun along the way.  

The glamorous life of an aquarium staffer!

Being Open to the Alternative Opportunities that Add Depth of Character

I would also encourage you to be open to alternative opportunities – after six years of college, it might not have seemed the wisest choice to then propose to my parents that I was going to take a one-year volunteer stint as a VISTA (which became AmeriCorps VISTA that year, I still have the T-shirt with the  first logo!). But they were very proud and supportive of my desire to not enter the working world yet. I had a choice of a few options and decided to work in Senior Citizen Outreach in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Which was not in any way related to marine science, but that’s what came up and I was game for the challenge to assist this rural area. And oh yes, I waitressed to pay the rent. But that opportunity to spend a year giving back to my community full-time was one I will never regret, and I learned valuable life lessons during that year. Including how to work in a professional office, how hard it is to be a waitress, and the value of good shoes for people who are on their feet all day! I’m also proud to say that some of the programs we implemented that year are still going strong.

I coached volleyball when I was teaching high school. We won the tournament!

Making Ends Meet in the Early Years

When I was, finally, finally ready to go get a job, the jobs were not waiting for me. I ended up meandering for a year – teaching a few semesters of college and working in an optical shop, until I landed what may have felt like a dream job working for an aquarium that was just beginning to be constructed. At last, those Marine Scientist credentials got me in someplace! I spent my first day on the job monitoring the blood pressure of a shark and thought I had won the lottery. It was fun (sharks and lionfish and octopus – I have stories to share if you offer me a beverage). But unfortunately, it wasn’t a sustainable wage, and every week a fresh new face came knocking on the door wanting my job for less money, so it didn’t seem like a sustainable career choice. I taught marine science at a private high school for a year and half, which was interesting and fun in its own way, but still didn’t feel like the right fit. By then I had a husband who was working as an environmental consultant, who suggested I pull together a resume and give it a try. I was hired as a wetland scientist and permitting specialist shortly after and have moved forward on this environmental consulting career path since then.

Graduating with my Master’s in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina.

Taking Comfort in Knowing that Not all Paths are Linear

So take heart – the path to a career may not be exactly straight; you may have to eat a lot of cheap meals and work hard in jobs that are just a way to make ends meet, but every job can provide an opportunity to grow if you look hard enough. I still know many of my fellow Marine Science students who have had paths more, or less, straight than mine, and it has been fun to see them grow, change, thrive. None of them work with whales or dolphins!  The career you may end up loving or finding yourself successful in may not be the one you can see where you, or your child, is standing right now, but if you keep growing and being open to possibilities, you may find it. My co-worker Deb Coon recently decided on her “Grown Up” career at the young age of 50 and went back to school to obtain her degree. We are all proud of her accomplishments, and she serves as a role model for anyone who may be feeling like they still, after all this time, may not have the career they were looking for. Keep growing!   

Read Part II here to explore the future of Environmental Permitting as Kimberly looks back at her 30 year career in the field!