A Quick and Abrupt Lesson in Civil and Environmental Engineering

A Quick and Abrupt Lesson in Civil and Environmental Engineering

My job here is a Civil Designer and a Junior Engineer/Engineer-in-Training. I work under registered Professional Engineers, who typically manage different projects and then pass tasks on their projects down to me. No day here seems to be the same, but the majority of the time, I am drafting plans on AutoCAD Civil 3D, performing Stormwater BMP Inspections, Infiltration Testing in the field, preparing Inspection Reports, or doing a variety of calculations. Throughout this newsletter, I have some pictures that describe my experience here so far.


Lot 24 Wrights Lane Stormwater System Inspection – In this case, I was looking for any obstructions or excessive sedimentation in the Terra-Kleen system, which is part of the Stormwater Management network and serves the purpose of removing pollutants before the water is discharged or infiltrated.

In four months, I think I have learned more than I did in four years of engineering school. The same principles of success still apply here, like respecting the people you work with, being dependable and communicating, but actually taking engineering concepts and applying them to the real-world projects provides a much deeper understanding than just talking about it in a classroom.


Tri-M Group Sketch Plan – The Tri-M Group is a long-standing business in East Marlborough Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania that services the tri-state area as an electrical contractor. The Tri-M Group provides our community with approximately 500 jobs and is continuing to grow, and this preliminary sketch is for a building addition at their headquarters that will serve as a new safety training area. This site is currently in the process of being surveyed and the next step will be land development plans.

There have been some situations I’ve been put in here that I wasn’t exactly comfortable, like talking to three attorneys on the phone at one time, but that is how you learn and grow. There have been times that I have really enjoyed here as well, my favorite being operating the excavator for infiltration testing.


Chester Community Charter School Infiltration Testing – View from the back of the International Commercial Towing Truck that is used to transport the mini-excavator. The truck weighs approximately 25,000 Pounds without the excavator loaded.

On a typical day that we are going to perform infiltration testing, I would meet Dave DiCecco, DL Howell’s Environmental Specialist, around 7:30 AM to head out with the equipment (Yanmar ViO 35 Mini-Excavator and an International Commercial Towing Truck) to do some digging. During two days on site at the Smith Property, a 19.4 Acre Site in Kennett Square, Dave and I completed ten infiltration tests in different areas of the property that are of interest for stormwater management.


The Smith Property Infiltration Testing– View from the cockpit of the excavator. In this case, we first dug until we met groundwater and to record the soils, which was to a depth of about six feet. Then, we dug out a smaller area to do our infiltration testing at a depth of about two feet. Typically, the infiltration testing would be done around four and a half feet, but, because the groundwater level was high, we decided to do our testing a bit shallower.


The Smith Property Infiltration Testing – Side view of the excavator in another area of the property. The excavator weighs approximately 7900 pounds and has a maximum digging depth of 11.25 Feet.

While digging for infiltration testing looks like fun and games, it serves as an important part of the stormwater management system design process. When you are building something, there is going to be impervious that creates runoff, and a certain amount of this runoff (dependent upon the township your project is in) has to be infiltrated into the ground on site.


The Smith Property Infiltration Testing – At this infiltration testing site, the groundwater level was about nine feet, so we were able to do our testing at about six feet.

To infiltrate your runoff on site, there are typically two main tools used, one of them being an infiltration basin and another being an infiltration bed. Basins are often used in developments where there is more open space, while beds are used where there is less open space, like in an urban area under a parking lot. By doing infiltration tests, the rate at which the water will seep into the ground can be determined (hydraulic conductivity is the fancy name), this is important to know when sizing your basin or bed to dewater within the required 72-Hour PADEP period.


Manfredi Cold Storage Infiltration Bed Inspection – At this location, an underground infiltration bed is being constructed. After this infiltration bed is completed, a parking lot will be constructed above it. G & A Clanton, Inc., out of Avondale, Pennsylvania was the contractor on this job. My main purpose for going out to inspect this bed was to ensure that it was being built to the specifications noted on the proposed plan.

Above, an infiltration bed can be seen. In this case, the infiltration basin was chosen to mitigate stormwater runoff due to space limitations. Below, an infiltration basin and detention basin can be seen. Infiltration basins are meant to infiltrate runoff while detention basins are meant to slow down and control the flow of runoff. Detention basins are often used to protect floodplains and creek beds from unhealthy increases in flow and sediment.


Oakcrest Stormwater Management Inspection – This is an infiltration basin; there is an inlet structure on the right side of the basin that allows water collected by the inlets along the street to flow into the basin. There is an outlet structure, without an orifice, that allows the water to flow out of the basin in the case of a massive storm event when the basin is completely full.


Sage Hill Stormwater Management Inspection – This is a detention basin, there is an inlet structure on the right-hand side of it that again allows water collected by the inlets along the street to flow into the basin. The main difference in a detention basin when compared to an infiltration basin is that the outlet structure contains an orifice that allows water to flow out of the basin in a controlled manner during smaller storm events. In this case, there is a creek over the berm at the other end of the basin, so this basin was most likely put in place to protect it. There are some maintenance issues with this basin that are currently in the process of being remediated.


Camphill Village Kimberton Hills – An AutoCAD Civil 3D sketch of a proposed 6210 SF building with 26 parking spaces, the two closest to the building will be handicapped spaces, which is required by the West Vincent Township Ordinance. The green dashed line surrounding the building and parking is the limit of disturbance, while the solid yellow line is the drainage area that will be used for stormwater management calculations.


Because I have been out in the field so much during my time here so far, I have learned that it is important to listen to the construction workers/contractors and be humble when doing so. They are the ones out there everyday building what has been designed, so they may have some input that you did not necessarily anticipate during the design process. Sometimes, builders will look to you for answers to their questions, and because there is so much to learn in this industry, you won’t always know the answer at first, but you can almost always work to figure it out. For all of these reasons, civil/environmental engineering is a pretty tough industry to enter, especially when you are a younger person just coming out of school, but I look forward to the future and think it will be worth it in the long run.

Construction Has Begun On Ducklings Early Learning Center!

Construction Has Begun On Ducklings Early Learning Center!

After Receiving the last of the approvals needed back in June, construction of the Ducklings Early Learning Center has begun.  Located at 1302 Wilson Drive in East Goshen Township, this site is within half a mile of St. Peter & Paul Parish Catholic School Religious Education Center, as well as multiple business parks and the local QVC Facility. D.L. Howell has been working closely with Shippee Engineering and Tamora Building Systems to bring the site one step closer to being completed.

The site will consist of 13,815 S.F. Learning Center containing multiple classrooms for kids up to pre-kindergarten, an indoor Gym, and a 3,500 s.f. outdoor play area for the kids.  The location is ideal as working parents can drop their kids off on the way into work and pick them up on the way home. Stay tuned for further updates in the weeks to come!


Chesco Views and Surveying!

Chesco Views and Surveying!

On a regular basis we receive calls from property owners who have searched for their property on the County Geographic information system (GIS) known as ChescoViews and discovered that their neighbors driveway is on their property or some other gross error is apparent. 

Anyone who has worked with surveyors and GIS professionals may perceive a well-known stigma that goes along with the two. It’s a touchy subject, and both sides can be pretty stubborn about it. Surveyors may feel that GIS professionals are careless with the way they use their data. GIS professionals may insist that surveyors don’t welcome innovation. Any party who holds either belief is greatly misinformed. The fact is that when spatial data is well documented and used for the application that it is suited, conflicts and misunderstandings regarding these two geospatial practices fade. Furthermore, one may contend that there isn’t a better partnership than surveying and GIS.  

The first thing we tell the owner is GIS is not a survey, but county tax parcel information overlaid onto an aerial image. Counties have had tax maps for many years. Now these tax maps are overlaid onto an aerial image and accessible online. These maps are meant to be used as a tool for the county and its residents. That neighbors driveway that appears to be on your property in most cases may not be. The best way to clear up any questions about the true location of property lines is to hire a surveyor to perform a boundary survey. 

What is involved in performing a boundary survey?  There are several steps involved in properly performing a land boundary survey:  First, we obtain copies of the record legal documents from the county Recorder of Deed. As a matter of course we obtain not only the deed for your property, but also the deeds for all the properties that adjoin yours. Many times, the deeds we obtain reference subdivision plans, if the plan was recorded, we retrieve a copy of those as well.  Second, we enter the descriptions of those properties into our Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software and piece them together like a giant, mathematical, jig-saw puzzle.  Third, we send a crew to your property to look for and recover any existing property markers in your neighborhood.  Once the crew has found sufficient evidence of where the property lines are, they will set any missing corner markers on your property and set stakes along the lines.  

If you see one of our surveyors with a copy of a ChescoViews map out in the field do not be alarmed. We use this information as it is intended, a representation of your tax parcel and your neighbors tax parcels. We can often see why the client has concerns. We can see that driveway is “over your property line”. This helps us be sensitive to property owners’ concerns. After the survey is complete and the true boundary line is established, we can compare the ChescoViews representation and the survey lines with our client. 

GIS is a valuable tool when used for the applications for which it is intended. A professional survey is the only way to determine boundary issues.   

A Look Back

A Look Back

The end of this month will mark my 18th year with D.L. Howell & Associates.  I thought it would be interesting to look back at all the changes that have occurred during that time and the evolution that has occurred in the industry and in technology.

On August 27, 2001, I started my first day with Denny.  Up until that time I had spent most of my working career in the construction industry.  Having just turned 30 and two weeks away from marriage, I figured it was a good time to make a career change, as my body was already feeling the effects of a blue collared life.  At that time AutoCAD was quickly becoming the go-to program in the industrial world, replacing Terra-model (or as we like to call it, “terrible-model”) and Micro Station.  Digitally, we had very little information available and many architects and engineers were still drafting plans by hand.  I can remember calculating drainage areas with a device called a planometer, which rolled around on wheels and was calibrated to the drawing using a triangulation of points.  Looking back, the accuracy was probably only 90% to 95%.  Our computers had 500MB’s of RAM and we had to print single sheets of plans (which took about 3 minutes per page), then run them through a photocopier and collate.  Putting together 10 sets of 25 sheets was an all-day endeavor.  At that time, faxing was still the best way to send documents and phones were still analog.  Nextel flip phones were the rage, with the “push to talk” button that worked like a walkie-talkie.

Flashing forward about a half dozen years, everything was changing fast.  Our computers had a lot more RAM and processing speed, our plotters were now pumping out a sheet or two a minute and you could plot a whole set of plans with no need to use that photocopier.   That same set of plans now could be plotted in just a few hours.  The internet had come a long way as well and we now had access to imagery online, thanks to Google Earth, that we could screen capture and insert into our drawings.  The iPhone with touch screen was introduced to the world, arguably the greatest invention of all time behind fire, the wheel, electricity and of course sliced bread!  (Why is sliced bread such a marvel??)  During this time, I also bought my 1st home and had a couple of kids.  My life was now changed forever!

From then until now it all blurs together.  I’ve endured many sleepless nights with my kids and experienced the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, but have experienced many things, mastered many skills and met many amazing people in this industry.  We now have a plotter that is capable of plotting 6 to 8 pages a minute and in color.  We can access recorded plans, deeds, high resolution imagery, street views and elevated topography, all online and for free, making our once archaic sketch plans so detailed that they often get confused for approved engineered plans.  Everything is digital and accessible from anywhere and our phones allow us to do work and email clients while sitting on the beach with our feet in the water, if we so choose.  I’m excited to see what the future will bring and can only imagine drafting will be performed with mind controls rather than keyboards and mice.

To be continued…