No, but seriously is this site safe to dig at? Whether it’s digging holes for soil test, septic testing, foundations, footers, or for an infiltration test excavation can be difficult and tricky work. It doesn’t help when you throw in the ever changing and unpredictable nature, of well nature. Wet, muddy, or steep conditions can cause a bunch of issues for excavation operators. These conditions can cause safety issues, delays, or additional costs that were never anticipated in the first place. Have no fear though, D.L. Howell & Associates is here to help so you have minimal delays and can learn a thing or two about excavation for your intended projects!

Alright, so let’s talk (or read rather) about some basic points/tips for digging safety, these are for providing advice on following standards in excavation and keeping workers safe. These tips will allow you to get a better idea of what is involved in any future projects that you might have.

  • What is the difference between Excavation and Trenching? Excavation is any man-made dug out area and a trench is a narrow spot longer than it is wide and must measure more than 15 feet deep.
  • Planning Out the Dig and Current Conditions: Excavation or trenching projects are rarely ever the same. Employers must approach each new job with proper care and preparation. Before digging is done a thorough inspection of the site should be completed. If a site is to be excavated the following conditions should be considered before anything else happens. Conditions to consider are when was the last rain/snow storm, is the ground dry/frozen, is the dig location on a slope or high elevation? Proper preparation can not only protect workers (the most important goal), it can reduce costs associated with the project.
  • Different Soil Types: Understanding and knowing the difference in compressive strength and stability of the different rock and soil types in the known area. This would include the soils texture, density, porosity, and water-holding capacity.
  • Competent Operators: A competent operator is one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surrounding site. It is also one who can take prompt corrective measures to be as safe as possible for the job.
  • Dangers for Operators: In addition to the danger of a cave-in, workers need to look out for falling debris, slippery or muddy conditions, and the general hazards from the equipment. This being tipping or uneven load balance on the machine. A good tip for avoiding cave-ins is to have all excavated soil and your chosen digging equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of all dug out edges.
  • Accurate Bidding/Cost Analysis: Before all the planning, digging, surveying, or whatever else you might need employers need to look at a variety of factors before making an accurate and competent bid. Such as, local traffic for the dig location, soil classification, surface/groundwater, proximity of nearby structures to the dig spot, weather conditions for the day of digging, fall protection, ladders, and more. By conducting proper surveys,studies, and cost analysis before making a bid, employers can understand the equipment, personnel, and any planning needs they might have.
  • Protective Systems for Operators and Individuals in Excavation: In order to protect workers from cave-ins, and other hazards of digging OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires employers to do the following.
    • Support the sides of the excavation site to avoid cave ins.
    • Place a shield between the side of the excavation and the work area.
    • Slope and bench the sides of any dig locations.
  • Working around Utilities: Call “One Call” before digging to ensure that the area is marked off and that you do not come across underground utilities, wires, or piping while digging. Ensure that while excavating, that all underground utilities are protected, supported, and not in any danger of being damaged or removed in order to protect workers and any individuals who might be in the surrounding area.

Here at D.L. Howell & Associates we take all precautions to assure that all of our intended digs are as safe and as low budget for customers as possible. So, if you need some holes dug for soil, infiltration tests, or septic testing, contact us and we’ll be more than happy to help!

PNDI Searches and the Famed Bog Turtle

PNDI Searches and the Famed Bog Turtle

If you’re looking to develop your lot, you have probably done some homework to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.  You’ve checked your zoning regulations.  You’ve checked your water and sewer availability.  But have you performed a PNDI search for the property?

PNDI stands for Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory, and it is a system put in place by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program to ensure that land development projects do not adversely impact endangered and threatened species of plants and animals.  When a PNDI search is performed, the lot and surrounding area are screened by four agencies; PGC, DCNR, PFBC, and USFWS.  Depending on the site conditions and other nearby reports, a project may have an impact from one or several of these agencies.  If an agency determines that there is a potential impact on an endangered or threatened animal or plant species, you are required to perform specific actions or avoidance measures to minimize these impacts.

While it is difficult to foresee if a project site will get a hit from the PGC, DCNR, or PFBC, there is a little more predictability from the USFWS.  One of the most common potential impacts we see is to bog turtles.  If a lot and surrounding area (300-foot offset) have or may have wetlands, there is a good chance that the USFWS will request a Phase I Bog Turtle Survey.  This survey determines whether or not there is a potential for bog turtle habitat (this survey does not confirm if bog turtles are present, that’s a Phase II survey, but more on that later).  If the Phase I survey finds that there is no potential for habitat, the survey report is sent to USFWS for review and verification.  But if you contracted one of the recognized qualified bog turtle surveyors (as found on this list, click here) all they have to do is send a courtesy copy to the agency and you can proceed.  Using a surveyor that is not on this list requires the USFWS to review the report which can take several months and can put a halt to a fast-moving land development project.

If the Phase I survey finds that there is a potential for habitat, then a Phase II survey must be performed.  The purpose of this survey is to determine if bog turtles are present in the wetlands in question.  This Phase requires at least four separate field visits for each wetland area, and they can only be performed between April 15 and June 15, which coincides with the period of highest annual turtle activity.  The scope of this Phase II survey alone can be a significant impediment to any project.  The alternative is to maintain a 300-foot buffer from the edge of the wetlands, which in most cases drastically reduces the developability of a lot.

If your project requires a Sewage Facilities Planning Module or an NPDES permit, you will need to perform a PNDI search.  Feel free to contact us at DL Howell to run one for you.


Why We Need Stormwater Management.

Why We Need Stormwater Management.

Many cities and towns are designed with some sort of stormwater controls in mind to convey runoff from the streets to the nearby waterways. Now, we are discovering that with the increased development of the land around us, the existing infrastructure that we rely on to prevent flooding in our cities and neighborhoods are becoming overwhelmed. In some older cities, the storm and sanitary systems are run through the same pipes. This becomes a problem when we receive large storm events that the combined sewer system can no longer handle, which results in the untreated stormwater and sanitary sewage needing to be released into the surrounding waterways.

Last year, Philadelphia, a city which still uses this kind of sewer system, installed two large retention basins to collect runoff from nearby businesses to reduce the amount being conveyed to the existing municipal systems. This, in turn, will reduce the need to open the pipes to the local waterways to relieve the pressure on the system and help prevent pollution to the environment. To construct these systems and maintain the existing infrastructure, many Townships and Boroughs are implementing fees for the maintenance and construction of the stormwater management infrastructure. The fee amount for each property owner is usually decided on a Township/Borough basis and calculated by the amount of impervious coverage that is on the lot. This fee will have more of an impact on businesses as they tend to have a much larger amount of impervious surfaces than the average homeowner.

Along with the stormwater fee, all Townships and Boroughs require the use of a stormwater management system to handle the runoff of any new improvements proposed to a property. At D.L. Howell & Associates, our Engineers and Designers are well versed in the design of these stormwater management systems whether they are for a small addition to your house or large basins for new development.

Contact D.L. Howell for all your stormwater needs.

Local Government

Local Government

Our localized governments are referred to as Municipalities. Municipalities are collective, contiguous parcels of land that are regulated and maintained under a common set of ordinances which have been voted on and adopted by its residences. In Chester County, we have 73 municipalities which are classified as either Townships, Boroughs or Cities. Each of these entities is governed a little differently from one another, although much of the regulation is the same. So, why the different classifications?

In short, the differences are mainly in their population size and the structure of their elected and appointed officials. In the late 1600s, William Penn established townships by dividing areas with at least 10 families living relatively close to one another. As the population continued to grow, townships were further divided into two classes. There are “First Class” townships, which are generally defined as lands with at least 300 people per square mile and have petitioned and voted for first-class status. All other townships have “second class” status. In today’s politically charged environment, I’m sure this could easily be looked upon as some sort of social discrimination, but it refers to the structure of their government and population size rather than the character and social status of its people.

Next, we have Boroughs. Boroughs were born out of Townships with at least 500 people. The Borough government structure is a little different in that it has a Mayor and a Borough Council rather than Supervisors or Commissioners. A Borough Mayor typically lacks the political punch of that of the city mayor as its primary duties are more of civic/social responsibilities. However, they are often influential with its council and have the ability to break ties and/or veto the council’s decision. Chester County has 15 such Boroughs with West Chester being the most prominent, as well as the most populated. According to the latest census, there are now more than 18,000 people living within the 1 square mile of its boundaries. Modena, on the other hand, is the smallest in size, at 0.34 sq. miles, and least populated with only 535 residence according to the latest census.

Last, but not least, we have Cities. In Chester County, there is only one municipality with this classification which is the City of Coatesville. Ironically, the population per capita is significantly less than that of West Chester, with approx. 12,000 residents within 1.6 sq. miles. As far as the government goes, in cities, the Mayor has a much more influential position and pulls rank on its Council Members unlike its counterpart in the Borough system. Originally, there were 4 classes of cities. There were 1st class cities which have a population of 1,000,000+, 2nd class cities which have a population of 250,000 to 1,000,000, 3rd class cities with populations under 250,000 and then there is 2nd class ‘A’ cities with a population of 80,000 to 250,000 that elect, by ordinance, to be classified as such. Changes to the class of a city requires a majority vote of its citizens, as well as changes to its population that has held true over two consecutive censuses.

Most people may not think about what type of municipality they live in, or even care, however, the mere title often incites an immediate stereotype to the type of community. Like myself, I think that most people assume Townships to be rural, Boroughs to be quaint, and Cities to be crowded.

Sewage Facilities Planning- Know When It’s Required

Sewage Facilities Planning- Know When It’s Required

We have seen it all too often. A project is nearing completion, final approval is on the horizon, and the question arises- did you receive sewage facilities planning approval?  If the answer is no, sit back and get comfortable because your project, which was slated to break ground in 3 weeks, won’t be receiving final approval for potentially 6-9 months. Below is a quick reference guide to Sewage Facility Planning Exemptions and Waivers help prevent a situation like the one we just described and potentially streamline the planning process.

Exemptions and Waivers – What are they?

Waivers from sewage facilities planning are given to projects that don’t meet the definition of a subdivision and lot per Chapter 71 definitions.  If the lot is existing or not deemed to be subdivided due to estimated sewage flows or due to the nature of the project, a waiver can be granted.

Exemptions from planning are a streamlined process to obtain sewage facilities planning approval and can be applied for when the conditions of Chapter 71, Section 71. 51(b)(1) and (2) have been met.

In general, projects proposing on-lot systems may be eligible for an exemption if:

  • The municipality’s Act 537 Plan indicates that the area in which the project is located is to be served by on-lot systems, and
  • The area proposed for use of an on-lot system is not underlain by carbonate geology nor is this area located within ¼ mile of water supplies documented to exceed 5 PPM nitrate-nitrogen, and
  • The area proposed for development is outside of high quality or exceptional value watersheds, and
  • Subdivided lots and the remaining portion of the original tract after subdivision are 1 acre or larger, and
  • Soils testing and site evaluations establish that separate, permittable sites are available for primary and replacement areas.

In general, projects proposing a connection to or extension of public sewers may be eligible for an exemption if:

  • The existing collection, conveyance, and treatment facilities are in compliance with The Clean Streams Law and the rules and regulations thereunder, and
  • The receiving sewerage facilities do not have an existing hydraulic or organic overload or a 5-year projected overload, and
  • Written certification documenting that there is adequate capacity from all of the permittees of the collection, conveyance, and treatment facilities has been provided to the municipality.  The certification must indicate that there is a capacity to receive and treat the sewage flows from the proposed project and that the additional waste load from the proposed project will not create a hydraulic or organic overload or a 5-year projected overload, and
  • The municipality has a current approved sewage facilities plan which is being implemented.

Estimated Sewage Flows and “Deemed” Subdivisions: If there is no physical subdivision of land and:

  • If the proposed additional flows are less than 400 gpd (gallons per day) and regardless of the total flows of the property (even if they are over 800 gpd), the property is not deemed to have been subdivided;
  • If the proposed flows are 400 gpd or more and the total flows for the property are less than 800 gpd the property is not deemed subdivided
  • If the proposed flows are 400 gpd or greater and the total flows for the property are 800 gpd or more, the property is deemed subdivided.  Therefore, sewage facilities planning is required and may be completed as an exemption (if applicable) or an adopted sewage facilities planning module.

What if your project proposes a lot line change or a subdivision for non-building purposes (agricultural lots, for example)?

  • Projects proposing a lot line change or a subdivision for non-building purposes may submit the Request for Planning Waiver and Non-Building Declaration (formerly known as the Form B). The Southeast Regional Office also routinely accepts an application mailer, along with a short narrative and a plot plan, for projects of these types and if acceptable, will respond to the applicant, indicating that sewage facilities planning is not required.

For any and all questions relating to Sewage Facilities Planning, and the ability to streamline the process, please give us a call at (610) 918-9002 and we will be more than happy to discuss all of the planning options.

Homeowners Survival Guide : 10 Tips to Dealing with a Municipality for a Home Project

Homeowners Survival Guide : 10 Tips to Dealing with a Municipality for a Home Project

#1 WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION? – If your profession is a doctor or lawyer ( land use attorneys are exempt) this is going to be a huge problem. You may want to stop reading right now and forget your project completely. If you choose to keep reading please do so at your own risk. Ok, here goes. You are too smart for this project. Now, that was NOT a compliment. What it means is, 99.9% of you (this number was scientifically calculated by me) THINK that because you were successful at achieving a degree in medicine or a law degree that you can somehow understand and navigate this process. Listen very closely to the next part. YOU CAN’T!!!! Again….YOU CAN’T!! I am an engineer, yet I chose an orthopedic surgeon to do my ACL reconstructive surgery, there is a reason for that.

#2 SHOULD YOU HIRE AN ENGINEER? – YES, especially if you are # 1.

#3 WILL THE ENGINEERING PROCESS BE CHEAP? – NO (sorry, you can blame your lawmakers for that) But, the good news is, if you are #1 or #2 you will be fine. Actually, you will be fine anyway.

#4 MEETING WITH THE TOWNSHIP TO DISCUSS YOUR PROJECT – This may be as important or more important than # 1. Understanding that you want to control # 3 because you did # 2 but if you are # 1 you should NEVER meet with anyone at the Township on your own. The reason you should not is explained in #1. But, in layman’s terms, you will not meet with the correct people, you will not ask the correct questions, you will not understand the answers you received to the incorrect questions and most importantly, you will undoubtedly leave the meeting being overly optimistic that you have received approval and that the Municipality is in love with you and your project. Reality is, nothing was approved and the Municipality neither loves nor hates your project. This is critical to understand because when you come in to meet with your engineer bursting with enthusiasm and optimism we have to “bring you down to earth”, which is never pleasant. You then view us/me as Mr. Negative, Debbie Downer etc. when I am really just being Mr. Reality or Mr. Been Doing This for 26 Years.

#5 HANDLING OUTSIDE AGENCY APPROVALS ON YOUR OWN – I simply cannot say NO loud enough. Again….you will likely need approval for your “home” project from the County Conservation District, the County Health Department, possibly PA DOT. Yes, you can google them and call them and ask questions but you will set into motion a few fun things that really are not fun. First and foremost, the people that work at those agencies are helpful, but also busy and it is often difficult for them to explain all that needs to be done to someone that has zero experience with “the process”. Therefore, you will often get (and rightly so) the Cliff Notes version of what is required. You will then digest about 30% to 35% of the Cliff Notes information you received and pass about 20% of that information accurately which results in about 6% to 7% good information. That is not good in case you were wondering. Think of it like this. You need open heart surgery and your anesthesiologist needs to discuss the surgery with your heart surgeon. Do you want to meet with the anesthesiologist on your own and then explain what he/she said or needs to your surgeon? The answer is, you don’t.

#6 CONSULTING WITH YOUR RELATIVE THAT IS AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER IN SOUTH DAKOTA – Yeh, this is not going to help. While your cousin Jed may have a degree from South Dakota State University in electrical engineering he, unfortunately, will not be of any use whatsoever. We will always be polite and let him participate but in the end, you are wasting your, our and Jed’s time I promise you.

#7 THE USE OF LOGIC – Hands down the most dangerous thing you can do. Avoid logic like the plague no matter how much it tempts you. And trust me, you will be doing all you can to not revert back to logic all the time. You must live and die by ordinances and regulations AND definitions of any and all words. Logic has absolutely no place in the world of approvals in Pennsylvania I am sorry to report. Example – Denny, I don’t need stormwater management, my driveway will be stone. WRONG! Stone is defined as impervious. Denny, I am not adding any impervious cover, I am building my addition over my existing driveway. WRONG AGAIN! Last one, and this is my favorite….I get the chills even typing it. Denny, the Township will love this, it gets them “ratables”. Just for the record, I can’t stand the word “ratables”. RIGHT and WRONG actually. Right, it does get the Township “ratables” but WRONG they are not going to love you for it. Every project, I say again, EVERY project causes the dreaded 3 (followed by my favorite things I hear over and over and over ). 1. Traffic ( There is so much traffic on that road I can’t even pull out of my driveway in the morning Denny!) 2. School-age children (How in the heck will the school district be able to afford ALL these new children Denny? ) I fight hard not to scream out “WITH SCHOOL TAXES YOU &@%!!”. And, my personal favorite 3. Where will all of this stormwater runoff go? Gee, I wonder.

#8 COMPLAINING ABOUT THE PROCESS TO THE TOWNSHIP – This is very common, no need to be alarmed if you have an overwhelming feeling to call the Township and let them know how frustrated you are and how incompetent you feel they are. Unfortunately, this only causes two things. One, it shows clearly your complete lack of understanding of what is required and the process of getting your project approved and two it will likely get someone upset and maybe even irritated at you. Neither of these will be beneficial to you.

#9 CONTACTING YOUR CONGRESSMAN – Not as common as #8, but this does happen. About 10% of people go nuclear during this process and pull out that handy guide you get at the polls with all of the phone numbers and email addresses of your state representatives and congressman. You will set out on a mission to “change the system”! You will be unsuccessful. I don’t like to use the phrase “ you can’t fight city hall” because that would be inaccurate. You can fight City Hall all you want, you just won’t win. You CANNOT win. Consider reading Sun Tzu….”The greatest victory is that which requires no battle”

#10 LISTEN – I once heard a saying that went “ no one is listening until you fart”. I remember laughing but I notice that people rarely are listening to what is being said to them. I joke in my office that no one listens to me when I ask a question or they tend to finish your question with an answer that is incorrect. “Oh, I am sorry….did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours? “ The process of getting your project approved for construction can be an easy one or an extremely difficult one. Listening to what you are being told and THEN questioning will make the process much more enjoyable, relatively speaking, and you will come away with some valuable knowledge.

Laminated pocket copies of this are available at our office anytime.

Denny L. Howell, II PE