General NPDES Renewal Changes – What You Need to Know

General NPDES Renewal Changes – What You Need to Know

Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection made a change to the renewal coverage associated with General NPDES Permits. Previously, when an applicant would submit the required information for a General NPDES Permit renewal, DEP or the local Conservation District would reply with an updated coverage window that extended five years from the previous expiration date. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has made the decision to standardize the General NPDES Permit expiration dates to five (5) years after the latest General NPDES Permit was approved, which was on December 8, 2019. This means that ALL General NPDES Permits will expire on December 7, 2024, regardless of when the renewal information was/is submitted. Here are two examples of how the new expiration date could affect you:

Example 1
An active General NPDES Permit is set to expire on August 1, 2022. The applicable renewal paperwork has been submitted to the local County Conservation District. A renewal approval is issued, with the new expiration date of December 7, 2024. This results in a renewal window of 2 years and 129 days.

Example 2
An active General NPDES Permit is set to expire on August 1, 2024. The applicable renewal paperwork has been submitted to the local County Conservation District. A renewal approval is issued, with the new expiration date of December 7, 2024. This results in a renewal window of only 129 days.

At this time, it is uncertain when the Pennsylvania DEP will amend the General NPDES renewal coverage period. It has been rumored that a streamlined renewal process is in the works. One thing that is certain is the tidal wave of renewals that will all be set to expire at the same time. It should be noted that Individual NPDES Permit renewals will continue to have the familiar 5-year window for renewal approvals.

Don’t get caught off guard! If you have any questions regarding your current or expiring NPDES Permit, please reach out to D.L. Howell & Associates, Inc. and we will be more than happy to discuss the renewal process with you.

Ice, Ice, Baby

Ice, Ice, Baby

No, not that Ice, Ice, Baby… but, now that we’ve got you bobbing your head to the most famous song of 1990, let’s kick it.

We are fortunate to live in a region where seasonal change offers a range of different temperatures and opportunities to experience. From lakes and beaches in the summer to mountains in the winter, Mother Nature provides us with a chance to enjoy each of the four seasons for just long enough before we start looking forward to the upcoming change.

I began to think, what if that wasn’t the case? What if we had the same climate year-round? How would that impact the way the local infrastructure operated?

Each year, we typically have a brief window of time where the frost layer of the soil extends to a depth that halts construction or at least impacts it enough to necessitate alternative methods of excavation and earthwork. How do engineers, surveyors, planners, and operators overcome the challenges of construction in areas where the ground is permanently frozen, permafrost? Let’s dig in.

Permafrost is soil, rock, or sediment that is frozen for more than two consecutive years. Frozen ground is that which is below the freezing point of water, whether or not water is present in the substrate. In areas not covered by ice, it exists beneath a layer of soil, rock, or sediment, which freezes and thaws annually and is called the “active layer”. Permafrost typically forms in any climate where the mean annual air temperature is lower than the freezing point of water and extends to a base depth where geothermal heat from the Earth and the mean annual temperature at the surface achieves an equilibrium temperature of 0 °C.

Arctic permafrost has been diminishing for many centuries. The consequence is thawing, which causes the soil to be weaker and wetlands to dry out from drainage or evaporation, which compromises the ability of plants and animals to survive. During thaw, the ice content of the soil melts and, as the water drains or evaporates, causes the soil structure to weaken until it regains strength with decreasing moisture content. Recently, an increasing number of alpine rock slope failure events in mountain ranges around the world have been recorded. The high number of structural failures is expected to be due to permafrost thawing, which could be linked to climate change.

Building on permafrost can be difficult because the heat of the building can warm the permafrost and destabilize the structure. This warming can result in the thawing of the soil which could lead to the weakening of support for a structure as the ice content turns to water. Where structures are built on piles, warming can cause movement through creep because of the change of friction on the piles even as the soil remains frozen. One example of how engineers solved the permafrost problem was during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which used heat pipes built into vertical supports to prevent the pipeline from sinking. Two additional methods commonly used in regions experiencing permafrost are to build on thick gravel pads, typically three to six feet thick, or using pile foundations extending down to a depth of 50 feet.

While we, in our region, don’t experience the level of complications of others dealing with permafrost, the above examples show the adaptability within the engineering and construction community.
The ability to adapt, overcome, and provide a solution to the problem, both historically and currently, is the overall objective. I doubt when the famous lyricist Vanilla Ice once wrote, “If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it!”, he had the engineering community in mind, but a more accurate motto has yet to be penned.

Fluid Intelligence

Fluid Intelligence

Websters defines fluid as “subject to change or movement,” while intelligence is defined as “the ability to learn or understand, or, to deal with new or trying situations.” In a recent interview, a high-ranking Navy SEAL within the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, more commonly known as SEAL Team VI, described his role in the training that led up to the most infamous terrorist manhunt in United States history. During the interview, he explained his main task was to develop scenarios in which there were no clear-cut answers to see how the team members reacted during high-stress training. This type of fast-paced, high-intensity training with continuously changing scenarios and high stakes led to the mastery of what he referred to as fluid intelligence, the ability of elite operators, in peak physical condition, to also be able to uniformly think through and process scenarios at an extremely efficient rate.

While typically not the life-or-death scenarios experienced by the military’s finest, we encounter many situations throughout the day, some unexpected, and some we anticipated coming. The key is how we react when they arise. Do we pass the buck, avoiding responsibility? Do we make it worse by over-exaggerating the complexity in an effort to gain sympathy from others? Do we avoid the situation altogether, hoping it will go away? Or do we implement strategies and tactics that will help us overcome these challenges? Do we utilize fluid intelligence to assess the situation, weigh our options, and choose the most applicable solution to optimize the outcome as favorable as possible for all parties involved?

The point here is, don’t make things harder than they need to be. Don’t do it! Hard times and difficult scenarios, with no clear-cut answers, will come. That’s a guarantee. There’s no need to create them on our own. And when they do come, be ready. Be ready for the challenge. Be ready to be uncomfortable. Be ready to succeed. Unfortunately, we live in a time now where victimhood and the saddest story are celebrated, when in fact, the individuals who put the work in and see obstacles as an opportunity to get better are the real winners. The people who aren’t worried about getting the most “likes” or comments on social media from people who don’t really mean them are the ones who will, and have always been, the ones who recognize the chance to improve in the face of hardship. Instead of viewing life through the perspective of who’s going to be the biggest winner of the losers, start thinking who’s going to be the biggest winner. It is ok to take 5, 10, 30 minutes, or even a day, to get back to a client with a resolution that has been thought out, supported by reasons explaining how and why you arrived at that specific conclusion. It’s ok to slow things down for the sake of being concise —plan for what is difficult while it is easy. Forward-thinking during the infant stages of a new project will prove to be highly valuable in the long run. Perseverance and perspective until victory.

Eminent Domain – What you need to know

Eminent Domain – What you need to know

As Chester County continues to see more and more pipeline work being performed along its roads, you may have wondered what gives large companies like Sunoco the ability to disturb land so close to residential and commercial properties. Well, reason is simple: eminent domain.

Eminent domain was created in order to give government the ability to take private property for improvements. As pipeline work continues, we would encourage you to look at the following article written by Amanda M. Olejarski titled “Eminent domain? It’s an imminent problem for Pennsylvania”.

Eminent domain? It’s an imminent problem for Pennsylvania

https://www.pennlive.com/editorials/2012/02/eminent_domain_its_an_imminent.html

Additionally, property owners looking for more information should read this article.

https://www.barley.com/important-facts-for-property-owners-about-eminent-domain-and-penndot

Mariner East Pipeline – Is Marsh Creek Lake Safe?

Mariner East Pipeline – Is Marsh Creek Lake Safe?

On Monday, August 10, 2020, an Energy Transfer subsidiary, Sunoco Pipeline LP, spilled 8,100 gallons of drilling fluid into wetlands and a tributary of Marsh Creek Lake in Chester County, according to the DEP. About 33 acres of the 535-acre lake, located in Marsh Creek State Park, was placed off-limits to boating and fishing during cleanup.

The pipeline project, which carries natural gas liquids some 350 miles from southwest Pennsylvania to an export terminal at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia, has been plagued by technical and environmental problems since construction started in February 2017. The DEP has issued more than 100 violations to the company for polluting wetlands, waterways, and destroying about a dozen private water wells. 

Construction on the line caused about 8,100 gallons of drilling mud to seep into a stream that feeds the lake, which is popular for boating, fishing, and birding, as a result of horizontal directional drilling (HDD). HDD uses bentonite clay, often referred to as drilling mud, to lubricate a large drill bit that bores beneath the surface, making way for the 20-inch pipe. The project, which is mostly complete, includes three separate pipes that carry natural gas liquids from the shale fields of western Pennsylvania to an export terminal in Delaware County. Construction of the line has hit several snags in Chester County, where the karst, or limestone geology, creates difficulties for large-scale industrial projects that use underground drilling.

Water from Marsh Creek Lake runs into the Brandywine River, which provides drinking water to Chester County residents. The Brandywine flows into the Christiana River, and then into the Delaware Bay. The Department of Environmental Protection says there have been no known impacts to drinking water supplies downstream, however, citizen groups worry about the safety of the pipeline during and after construction, as the natural gas liquids are highly volatile should leaks occur. While both the company and DEP say the drilling mud is non-toxic, many residents worry about chemical additives. Even without the additives, drilling mud in large amounts can smother aquatic life like macroinvertebrates, which are an important part of the food chain.

In response to the spill, buoys will be used on the lake to delineate the affected area. Approximately 33 acres of the 535-acre lake is now off-limits to boating and fishing. Boating and fishing are still permitted on the rest of the lake, and the park remains open to all other activities.  

DEP, along with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), continue to investigate and oversee the cleanup of the inadvertent return into Marsh Creek. At the conclusion of the investigation, DEP anticipates that there will be civil penalties and potentially other regulatory ramifications. Drilling activity at the site has ceased until further notice.  

NPDES Reissuance – How Does It Affect You?

NPDES Reissuance – How Does It Affect You?

Recently, many of you received a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) regarding the reissuance of the PAG-02 NPDES General Permit.  This letter has prompted many phone calls to our office from clients asking- What does this mean?, Do I need to do anything?, Why did I receive this letter?  As of December 8, 2019, the terms and conditions of your NPDES Permit coverage have changed.  Here are the major focus points you need to be aware of:

You received this letter because you currently have coverage under the PAG-02 General NPDES Permit

NPDES Renewals/New Applications

    • still have to submit for a renewal 180 days prior to permit expiration
    • permits will only be renewed until 12/7/2024
    • new permits will only be valid until 12/7/2024
    • there will be new renewal process after that
    • all new permits will be subject to the new guidance
    • if in an Impaired Watershed
        • ABACT BMP’s will need to be implemented if any additional earth disturbance is proposed throughout the life of the project
        • For TMDL streams option for non-discharge alternative OR ABACT
  • Site Inspection Report Form will need to be used when doing site inspections (for Engineers or qualified professionals)
  • Instrument Filing is needed at time of NOT and also at time of Permit Transfer (if applicable)
  • “Modules” will need to be completed and included with NOI submission
  • NOI for General NPDES and a different NOI for Individual NPDES
  • New County and Municipal Land Use notifications forms have been created

If current permittees are unable to comply with the terms of the new 2019 General Permit they are to submit an Individual NPDES Permit application by March 9, 2020.  This is determined based on the Acknowledgement form, which is to be completed and returned to DEP (or completed online) by March 9, 2020.

We encourage you to contact your regional PA DEP office, local Conservation District, or civil engineering firm to help aid in answering specific questions and concerns you may have.

Helpful Links:
NPDES Acknowledgement Form
PAG-02 General Permit Forms
FAQ Document

Nailed It! Is Soil Nailing Right for You?

Nailed It! Is Soil Nailing Right for You?

Soil nailing is a ground stabilization technique that can be used on either natural or excavated slopes. It involves drilling holes for steel bars to be inserted into a slope face which are then grouted in place.  Mesh or shotcrete is attached to the bar ends to hold the slope face in position.

Soil nailing is commonly used as a remedial measure to stabilize steep sloping embankments. Other applications for soil nailing include:

  • Temporary excavation shoring
  • Tunnel portals
  • Roadway cuts
  • Under bridge abutments
  • Repair and reconstruction of existing retaining structures
  • Landslide redemption
  • Steep cut stabilization
  • Long term stabilization to existing structures without the need for demolition

The main considerations for deciding whether soil nailing will be appropriate include; the ground conditions, the suitability of other systems to perform the same task (ground anchors), geosynthetic materials, and finally cost.

Soils which are particularly suited to soil nailing include clays, clayey silts, silty clays, sandy clays, sandy silts, sand, and gravels. Soil nailing can be used on weathered rock as long as the weathering is even throughout the rock.

Soils which are not well-suited to soil nailing include those with a high groundwater table, cohesion-less soils, soft fine-grained soils, loose granular soils, and ground exposed to repeated freeze-thaw action.

Some of the advantages of using soil nailing include:

  • They are good for confined spaces with restricted access
  • There is less environmental impact
  • They are relatively quick and easy to install
  • They use less materials and shoring
  • They are flexible enough to be used on new construction, temporary structures, or on remodeling processes
  • The height is not restricted

Limitations of using soil nailing include:

  • They are not suitable for areas with a high water table
  • They are not suitable for permanent use in sensitive and expansive soils
  • Specific contractors are required.
  • Extensive 3D modelling may be required.

Long-term performance monitoring is typically implemented to collect data to ensure adequate performance and refine future design practices. Parameters to be measured include vertical and horizontal movement of the wall face, local movements or deterioration of facing elements, drainage to the ground, loads, load distribution and load changes in the nails, temperature, and rainfall.

Soil nailing, in many cases, provides a cost-effective solution to steep slope erodibility problems throughout the construction process.  It is an often forgotten about remedial practice that is both functional and environmentally friendly.  Keep it in the back of your mind as a topic of discussion with your engineer the next time you’re between a rock and a hard place.