A Day in the Life of a Construction Oversight Engineer

Have you ever wondered what it actually means to conduct construction oversight on a project? Our engineers regularly do so to ensure design plans are being implemented correctly. But, construction oversight requires a lot more than just the ability to oversee. Our engineers have to understand the ins and outs of the plans, be adaptable, fast-thinking, and incredibly capable of communicating with and coordinating various parties.

Let’s walk through a day in the life of one of our construction oversight engineers, Casey Schrading, EIT, and outline the key components of his job:

SAFETY. When it comes to construction sites, safety always comes first. It is important to have the proper health and safety training before entering an active construction zone. On an active construction site, there could be many different hazards that workers encounter. Before heading to the site, Casey makes sure he has all his necessary safety equipment and protection gear. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) usually includes a neon safety vest (visibility), hard hat (head protection), long pants (protective clothing), safety glasses (eye protection), and steel-toed boots (foot protection). In some cases, on construction sites with more risk factors, higher levels of PPE may be required including hearing protection, gloves, respiratory masks, fall protection equipment, and disposable Tyvek coveralls.

COORDINATION.  For most construction projects, the day starts early. Upon arrival, Casey checks the site out to see if anything has changed from the day before and takes pictures of the site. He then checks in with the contractor to discuss the plan for the day and any outstanding items from the day prior.

Most of the day consists of a back and forth process between watching the construction workers implement the design and then monitoring and checking the design plans. In order for the contractor to properly implement the design, the oversight engineer must direct the workers during the installation process; for many designs, there are critical angles, locations, heights, and widths that features must be installed at. It is imperative for the oversight engineer to direct and work hand-in-hand with the contractor so those features are installed correctly for effective design implementation.

ON-SITE MONITORING.  For certain projects, the day-to-day construction oversight tasks may get a little more involved. For instance, when conducting construction oversight for our Columbia Dam Removal project, Casey was tasked with taking turbidity samples every three hours at two locations along the Paulins Kill — one upstream of the site to collect baseline data and one downstream of the site to quantify the site’s effect on turbidity. If the turbidity readings downstream of the site came out too high, Casey would then have to determine how those high levels were affecting the turbidity in the Delaware River, which the Paulins Kill discharges into less than a quarter mile downstream of the site. If flooding in the Delaware River wasn’t enough to pose safety concerns, Casey would then take readings at two additional locations upstream and downstream of the Delaware River-Paulins Kill confluence. Again, the upstream reading served as a baseline reading for turbidity while the downstream reading showed the effects of the Paulins Kill on the Delaware River.

These turbidity samples were necessary because this project involved passive sediment transport, meaning the sediment that had built up behind the dam for over a century was going to slowly work its way downstream as the dam was notched out piece by piece, as opposed to it being dredged out before the barrier removal. It’s important to monitor turbidity in a case like this to make sure levels remain stable. The need for monitoring at construction sites further emphasizes the need for construction oversight engineers to be multifaceted.

ADAPTATION.  In all construction projects, the goal is to have everything installed or constructed according to plan, but, with so many environmental factors at play, that rarely happens. Because of the ever-changing nature of most of our projects, it is essential that our construction oversight engineers have the keen ability to adapt and to do so quickly. Casey has experienced a range of changes in plan while conducting construction oversight. He says the skills he relies on most is communication. When something changes, it’s imperative that the onsite engineer knows exactly who to contact to work out a solution. Sometimes that might be Princeton Hydro’s internal project manager, or sometimes it might be a regulatory official from NJDEP.

WEEKLY MEETINGS.  Another critical part of construction oversight is facilitating weekly coordination meetings. The weekly meeting is usually attended by the contractor, the engineering firm, and the client.  The parties will discuss what has happened thus far at the site and what still needs to happen, allowing them to establish action items. Occasionally, other entities like organizations that provided funding for a project or regulatory agencies, will also be involved in those conversations. The weekly meetings are designed to keep everybody on task and help to ensure every party’s goals and needs are being met.

DOCUMENTATION.  Anytime field work is being conducted, it is essential to document the happenings and the progress made. This documentation usually comes in the form of a Daily Field Report (DFR). A DFR includes information about the work performed on a given day, such as measurements, quantities of structures installed, and how that installation process went. Also included in the DFRs are clear and descriptive photographs.

COMMUNICATION.  Working on any project, it’s important to make sure all involved parties understand the reason behind each installation. It is often easier for a construction team to implement plans correctly if they know and understand why each part of it is important and included in the project. Explaining why a task needs to be completed also helps relieve tension that could potentially arise between the engineer and the contractor. It is essential to make sure every person on the project team is on the same page.

PUBLIC OUTREACH.  Another critical aspect of construction oversight is having the ability to successfully communicate with the public. Members of the community surrounding a site need to be kept apprised of the goings on so they can remain safe during the construction period and understand the goals of the project. When citizens understand the purpose and goals of a project, they are more likely to support and respect it.

REGULATORY COMPLIANCE.  Understanding the permitting surrounding a project is also essential to success as a construction oversight engineer. The engineer has to understand the ins and outs of the permitting and regulations in order to be able to make decisions about changes in the plan and to be able to successfully point the contractor in the correct and compliant direction.

Construction oversight is a tedious and incredibly important job, yet I really enjoy it because it gives me a new and better understanding of the engineering design process,” explains Casey. He feels it gives him a much more practical understanding of engineering design, as he has seen what kinds of plans are actually implementable and what that process looks like. “Watching a design plan get implemented brings the project full circle and allows me to take that knowledge and experience back to the office and back into the design process.

Princeton Hydro provides construction oversight services to private, public, and nonprofit clients for a variety of ecosystem restoration, water resource, and geotechnical projects across the Northeast.  Learn more.

Casey graduated from Virginia Tech in 2018 with a degree in Biological Systems Engineering and now works as a staff engineer for the firm with a focus in water resources engineering. He has experience in ecological restoration, flood management, water quality analysis, and best management practices. His experience also includes construction oversight for dam removal and restoration projects as well as design, technical writing, and drafting for a wide variety of water resources engineering projects. In his free time Casey very much enjoys travelling, hiking, skiing, and camping.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out another one from our “Day in the Life” series, and stay tuned for more:

A Day in the Life of a Stormwater Inspector

A Day in the Life of a Stormwater Inspector

Walking through a park isn’t always a walk in the park when it comes to conducting stormwater inspections. Our team routinely spots issues in need of attention when inspecting stormwater infrastructure; that’s why inspections are so important.

Princeton Hydro has been conducting stormwater infrastructure inspections for a variety of municipalities in the Mid-Atlantic region for a decade, including the City of Philadelphia. We are in our seventh year of inspections and assessments of stormwater management practices (SMPs) for the Philadelphia Water Department. These SMPs are constructed on both public and private properties throughout the city and our inspections focus on areas served by combined sewers. 

Our water resource engineers are responsible for construction oversight, erosion and sediment control, stormwater facilities maintenance inspections, and overall inspection of various types of stormwater infrastructure installation (also known as “Best Management Practices” or BMPs).

The throat of a sinkhole observed by one of our engineers while on site.

Our knowledgeable team members inspect various sites regularly, and for some municipalities, we perform inspections on a weekly basis. Here’s a glimpse into what a day of stormwater inspection looks like:

The inspector starts by making sure they have all their necessary safety equipment and protection. For the purposes of a simple stormwater inspection the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) required includes a neon safety vest, hard hat, eye protection, long pants, and boots. Depending on the type of inspection, our team may also have to add additional safety gear such as work gloves or ear plugs. It is recommended that inspectors hold CPR/First Aid and OSHA 10 Hour Construction Safety training certificates. 

Once they have their gear, our inspection team heads to the site and makes contact with the site superintendent. It’s important to let the superintendent know they’re there so that 1) they aren’t wondering why a random person is perusing their construction site, and 2) in case of an emergency, the superintendent needs to be aware of every person present on the site.

Once they arrive, our team starts by walking the perimeter of the inspection site, making sure that no sediment is leaving the project area. The team is well-versed in the standards of agencies such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and local County Soil Conservation Districts, among others. These standards and regulations dictate which practices are and are not compliant on the construction site.

After walking the perimeter, the inspection team moves inward, taking notes and photos throughout the walk. They take a detailed look at the infrastructure that has been installed since the last time they inspected, making sure it was correctly installed according to the engineering plans (also called site plans or drainage and utility plans). They also check to see how many inlets were built, how many feet of stormwater pipe were installed, etc.

If something doesn’t look quite right or needs amending, our staff makes recommendations to the municipality regarding BMPs/SMPs and provides suggestions for implementation.

One example of an issue spotted at one of the sites was a stormwater inlet consistently being inundated by sediment. The inlet is directly connected o the subsurface infiltration basin. When sediment falls through the inlet, it goes into the subsurface infiltration bed, which percolates directly into the groundwater. This sediment is extremely difficult to clean out of the subsurface bed, and once it is in the bed, it breaks down and becomes silt, hindering the function of the stormwater basin.

To remedy this issue, our inspection team suggested they install stone around the perimeter of the inlet on three sides. Although this wasn’t in the original plan, the stones will help to catch sediment before entering the inlet, greatly reducing the threat of basin failure.

Once they’ve thoroughly inspected the site, our team debriefs the site superintendent with their findings. They inform the municipality of any issues they found, any inconsistencies with the construction plans, and recommendations on how to alleviate problems. The inspector will also prepare a Daily Field Report, summarizing the findings of the day, supplemented with photos.

In order to conduct these inspections, one must have a keen eye and extensive stormwater background knowledge. Not only do they need to know and understand the engineering behind these infrastructure implementations, they need to also be intimately familiar with the laws and regulations governing them. Without these routine inspections, mistakes in the construction and maintenance of essential stormwater infrastructure would go unnoticed. Even the smallest overlook can have dangerous effects, which is why our inspections team works diligently to make sure that will not happen.

Our team conducts inspections for municipalities and private entities throughout the Northeast. Visit our website to learn more about our engineering and stormwater management services.

 

Dam Removal on the Moosup River

Moosup River

The Moosup River is a beautiful 30-mile-long, trout river flowing through Connecticut and Rhode Island, eventually emptying into the Quinebaug River.

Several dams, most originally built in the 1800s or early 1900s, impeded the river’s natural flow, impaired habitat, fragmented the river system, and prevented fish from swimming upstream to their native spawning grounds.

In 2013, American Rivers, CTDEEP Fisheries, and Natural Resources Conservation Service began collaborating on the removal of multiple dams and remnant dams as part of a larger project to restore connectivity to the Moosup River in the Town of Plainfield. Princeton Hydro and RiverLogic Solutions were contracted to provide design-build and permitting services.

As part of this larger multi-year effort, five dams are planned for removal from the Moosup River. The most downstream barrier, the Hale Factory Dam was removed in 2014. The remnants of the toppled Griswold Rubber Dam were removed in 2015. In 2017, the removal of Brunswick Mill Dam #1 was completed. And, two more dams, downstream of New Brunswick Mill Dam #1, are currently under consideration for removal. When fully completed, the Moosup River Dam Removal Project will reconnect fish habitats along 6.9 miles of the Moosup River.

 

Hale Factory Dam

The Hale Factory Dam was constructed of a boulder core capped in a one-foot-thick concrete layer. The dam was partially breached as the concrete cap had deteriorated severely over the years, allowing flow to pass between boulders and allowing the normal pool elevation to drop substantially from its former design height.

The resource delineation conducted on site identified a vernal pool with an 18 inch culvert outlet that discharged 90 feet upstream of the dam. To preserve this ecological resource on the site, the vernal pool was not disturbed during the dam removal.

Princeton Hydro provided a field assessment, sediment characterization and analysis, final design and permit application package for the full removal of the Hale Factory Dam. Full removal of the dam entailed demolition and removal of the concrete, and re-use of the natural cobbles and boulders from the dam to create in-stream habitat features. Once completed, the river and its boulders appeared as if placed by nature itself, with the former dam’s presence indicated only by the age-old lichen covered field stone walls leading up to the banks.

 

Griswold Rubber Dam

The Griswold Rubber Dam was in a gravel-cobble reach of the river approximately 80 feet wide in the Village of Moosup and was adjacent to the 1992 expansion of the Griswold Rubber factory.  At one time, the dam stood approximately 10 feet high and 150 feet long. The dam was constructed of a large segmented concrete slab that had since toppled over and was lying nearly flat on the river bed in multiple sections. The dam structure, having failed, served no useful purpose. Despite being toppled, the dam still presented a deterrent to the effective movement of aquatic organisms at normal to low flows and was therefore worthy of complete removal to restore river connectivity.

Princeton Hydro conducted an initial field investigation with RiverLogic Solutions to gain insights regarding the construction approach. Princeton Hydro then followed-up with a more detailed assessment of river bed sediment, geomorphic conditions, the likely riverine response, construction access, and other design related issues that were incorporated into design plans and permit applications. The restoration design Princeton Hydro developed aimed to remove the partial barrier to fish passage with as little disturbance to surrounding infrastructure and resources as possible.

 

Brunswick Mill Dam #1

This dilapidated timber crib dam stood approximately 4-feet high and spanned the channel at approximately 130 feet. The timbers ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 feet in diameter and over 20 feet in length; 50 were integrated into the dam. The timber crib was filled with gravel and other debris, and the gravel substrate extended 50 feet upstream. The original dam was significantly higher, but the timber crib spillway deteriorated and gradually collapsed over time and only a portion of the structure remained.

For this project, Princeton Hydro completed sediment investigation, sampling and analysis; hydrologic and hydraulic analysis; and provided design and engineering for full removal of the dam. Princeton Hydro contracted with an archeologist / industrial historian, and together closely observed the dam deconstruction to observe and record how the timber crib had been assembled. Multiple types of iron pins and wooden pegs revealed how the dam had been repaired over the years – findings, old maps, and photos were incorporated into a historical report filed with the state historic preservation office. Princeton Hydro coordinated to have the old timbers salvaged for eventual re-use. Removing the Brunswick Mill Dam #1 was a continuation of the large scale Moosup River restoration effort and paved the way for the potential removal of two more dams downstream in the coming years.

“When a dam is breached and taken out, the tangible results are very quickly noticeable,” said Paul Woodworth, Princeton Hydro Fluvial Geomorphologist. “The return of migratory fish is a very strong indicator of the ecological benefits of dam removal – sometimes after a removal you can see fish immediately swimming upstream. Removing dams also improves safety in nearby communities, reestablishes the natural flow of sediment, improves water quality, provides new recreation opportunities, and restores habitats for fish and wildlife.”

Click here to read more about Princeton Hydro’s engineering services for the restoration and removal of dams.