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January’s Industry Review


A guide to what’s new and what’s changing in the engineering, architecture, and surveying industries, and how it affects the built environment.


Tech News

Winters are always hard on roads, with plows scarring pavement and salt slowly corroding it. But plowing and de-icing treatments are even tougher on certain kinds of pavement than on others.

Pervious pavements can be affected by salt and sand differently than your run-of-the-mill asphalt, and so can require different maintenance techniques.

Over the years, salt has gained popularity as the go-to deicing method for most cities, though some cities still prefer sand. Salt, however, is best for porous surfaces, because sand can plug the surface’s pores and needs to be vacuumed out. Porous surfaces should be vacuumed at least one to four times a year. The best times are before and after winter, to clear the debris caused by the fall and winter seasons. Using sand during the winter season means porous surfaces will have to be vacuumed much more often.

But there are downsides to salt as well. We usually think of pervious pavement and surfaces as helpful products, because they improve runoff water quality and increase infiltration rates. But when you add salt to the mix, it seeps into the pervious surfaces and ultimately the groundwater. Because there are no natural methods of breaking down, taking up, or removing salt from the environment, it just accumulates. Salt is also expensive, and it can damage the environment and eat away at roads and vehicles. The same can be said for other commonly used deicing chemicals.

Anyone who’s been relying on salt, but would prefer to rely on something less corrosive, will be interested in the research being done at Washington State University on environmentally-friendly deicers. Researchers are looking into biodegradable alternatives like beet pulp, tomato juice, and barley residue from distilled vodka. They’re also looking at new types of concrete, including some that don’t break down as quickly under salt and chemicals, and even some that contain nano- and mirco-sized particles that create a surface barrier, preventing the concrete from bonding with ice and snow. Easy plowing without chemicals, salt, or sand? That’s a technology we could get behind.


New in Policy

Winter has arrived and it doesn’t look like it will go easy on Michigan’s roads. Everyone seems to agree that something has to be done to improve the state’s infrastructure, but the question remains, as always, how are we going to pay for it?

The state’s legislators decided that question should go to voters, who will weigh in on whether to approve a sales tax increase in May. If voters approve it, the state sales tax would increase by 1%, from 6% to 7%. Governor Snyder’s plan would repeal the sales tax on gas and replace it with a new motor fuels tax.

Tax increases are never an easy pill for voters to swallow, but the month of May – also known around these parts as “pot-hole season” – could prove to be a better argument in favor of the increase than any pro-tax hike commercial the measure’s supporters could run. Already, opposition groups are gearing up to push against the increase.

We’d like to see something done sooner rather than later – Michigan’s cars will thank us.


Money Matters

Now that the new year has swept in, a new round of grant funding will once again be available. Some upcoming deadlines to keep in mind:

  • February 28 – Rural Business Enterprise Grant application due date.
  • April 1- Michigan DNR Recreation Grant Programs due date. They include the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF), Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and Recreation Passport Grants.

One item to remember; the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust Fund will not offer a grant cycle for 2015.


Project Highlight

Botham Avenue, St. Joseph, Michigan

Here’s a tip for the new year: When possible, bid early in the year. Abonmarche saw the benefits of that strategy firsthand on a City of St. Joseph project. The City needs about 1,300 feet of sanitary sewer, water main, and storm sewer replaced on a section of Botham Avenue. When Abonmarche was brought in to handle the surveying, design, and construction management, we let the City know that if the project, which was scheduled to bid in May 2015, was moved up by four months, they would see better bids. We successfully completed the first stages of the project, including the bidding, and received highly favorable bids. Normally on a project like this one, asphalt is the pavement material of choice. But based on the longevity of the material and taking price into consideration, the City went with concrete. Construction is set to begin in June, with the project scheduled to be completed in October.


December’s Industry Review

A guide to what’s new and what’s changing in the engineering, architecture, and surveying industries, and how it affects the built environment.

Tech News

The word “green” has come to represent many things it can mean environmentally conscious or refer to an abundance of outdoor recreational activities but for many municipalities that are considering sustainable initiatives, green starts to look like one thing – lots of money. But it doesn’t have to. A city can get high marks in sustainability by creating new parks or LEED-certified buildings, but there are other, more efficient and incremental ways to be environmentally conscious that can alleviate tension on existing infrastructure while going about the regular maintenance of city services.

One of the most pressing initiatives, especially for coastal communities, is water resource management. While it isn’t a very visible green activity, the benefits are certainly tangible. Prioritizing water resource management helps ensure potable and recreational water quality and quantity well into the future. Many cities are already looking at ways to maintain and improve their aging storm water systems and there are ways to integrate green infrastructure in conjunction with existing gray infrastructure to establish a unified network of sustainable, cost-effective benefits at scale and over time.

Abonmarche will soon be releasing an informational guide that will outline ways to implement sustainable design in your next project.


New In Policy

No policy issue has been more in the news during the last couple weeks than the poor condition and funding strategy for our state’s infrastructure. And speaking of “green”, our road funding policy and strategy, or lack thereof, is having a big impact on the green in our environment and the green of our wallet. Simply put, there is not enough money being generated to support our infrastructure system. Our current need just to maintain the system we have is approximately $1.6 billion more annually and that need continues to increase at an alarming rate of over $100 million per year. If Michigan motorists paid $120 more annually, our roads and bridges could be maintained at a high and safe level. The average Michigander pays $357 annually in unnecessary repairs to their vehicles due to poor roads (source: TRIP January 2014 report). Replacing tires, struts, shocks, etc becomes more frequent as our roads and bridges get worse. By investing a little more in our infrastructure, everyone would see less damage to their vehicles and less need for repairs. The state and Michigan’s drivers will see more savings by spending some money now rather than spending much more money later.


Money Matters

A reminder to communities considering new waterways projects: Starting in 2015, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is going to require that communities have their approved, five-year recreation plan on file with DNR Grants Management in order to apply for waterways grant funding. Many communities already have their five-year recreation plan approved by the DNR, but may not have realized that their water resources and water recreation goals also need to be reflected in the plan.


Project Highlight

Whirlpool Campus, Benton Harbor, Michigan

Whirlpool’s campus on Main Street in Benton Harbor serves as the company’s headquarters for its North American operations and is a fantastic example of what can be accomplished when environmental goals are incorporated into a project’s planning stages. Thanks to the project’s design and the use of green materials, the campus was awarded a LEED Platinum certification. Approximately half of the LEED points necessary for platinum certification were the result of site work performed by Abonmarche.


This Month’s Kudos

Congratulations to our partners at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation who recently won the Urban Land Institute of Michigan’s Real Estate Achievement Award for being a “real catalyst” in Michigan. The MEDC has been a leader at making investments in our state’s communities’ infrastructure helping to create a sense of place.






Do you have questions about smoke testing?


As Abonmarche’s project engineers prepare to start smoke testing, we’ve heard from several people with questions about the procedure. If you have received this flyer, it means Abonmarche will be performing smoke tests in your area. For those who may have concerns or are curious about the procedure, we’ve put together this list of frequently asked questions. If you would like to speak with an Abonmarche staff member, please call 269.927.2295.

Q: What is a smoke test?

 A: A smoke test is a way to test the sanitary sewer system for cracks, leaks or improper tie-ins. The goal of the test is to make sure sanitary sewer waste is processed at a treatment facility and surface water is allowed to drain separately into the storm sewers. If both are draining together, it can overwhelm the sanitary systems’ capacity and allow sewage back up into homes.

The test involves inspection crews pulling off a manhole cover and blowing a non-toxic smoke into the sanitary system lines with a large fan. The crews will watch for the smoke to exit and identify whether it indicates a problem that needs correction.

If you’d like more information about the smoke testing product, please read this statement by the manufacturer.

 Q: I saw smoke in my basement/on my property- what does this mean?

A: Smoke in your basement could mean a few things:

  • The most common incidence of smoke is simply caused by a drain trap that has dried up and is allowing the smoke to enter the home. If you pour some water down that drain, it will refill the trap and prevent the smoke from entering.
  •  It could possibly indicate a crack or cross connection in your sanitary system. Please call Abonmarche at 269.927.2295 and speak to either the Project Engineer listed on your door tag, or leave a message with the main desk if you see smoke rising from unusual places, like a driveway or your yard. Please include your name, address, phone, and description of the issue so an Abonmarche employee can contact you.

Q: The notice says I have to pour water down my basement drains, or cover them with a wet towel. I have limited mobility and can’t go in my basement. What should I do?

A: If you cannot make it down to your basement, please do not worry. The water and towel are simply recommended precautions to keep smoke to a minimum. It is not required. Any smoke that may enter is non-toxic and will dissipate on its own.

 Q: Is this smoke dangerous?

A: No, there is no danger to you from the smoke. It is non-toxic, non-staining, creates no fire hazard and is white to gray in color.  In most cases, you will not see any smoke enter your home. If you do, opening doors and windows will let the smoke dissipate more quickly, but it will eventually dissipate on its own. In some cases, there may be irritation in your throat, but leaving the area and ventilation should relieve symptoms.

Q: Do I need to be home for the smoke test?

A: No.

 Q: If there is a problem detected with my sanitary hook up, how will I know?

A: You will receive a follow up letter from the City addressing your next steps.


Abonmarche land surveyors go the extra mile to find your true corner

When Abonmarche staff does land surveys, we always try to track back to the original survey documents. Often, there’s not much to go back to and we have to work from scratch.

But in a recent case, when Abonmarche was hired to mark the boundary of a 40-acre parcel in Manistee County, Abonmarche staff knew there was a historical survey marker out there – they just had to slog through a swamp to get to it.

It turns that then-Manistee County Surveyor G. Baker set pointed wooden stakes in the four corners of the property in 1915, using only a 66-foot-long steel chain and a compass.

The Abonmarche survey crew, made up of Professional Surveyor Craig Stapley and Survey Technicians Robert Olmstead and Patrick Ziehm, traversed the swamp and began digging in the spot Baker had noted. Before long, the crew pulled the nearly 100-year-old stake from the swampy water, which had preserved it over all those decades. The stake was removed and replaced with a monument.

Other surveyors had overlooked Baker’s work and had set their own corner some distance north of the true corner. Because Baker’s survey was the closest known survey to the original survey, it’s held as the boundary over subsequent surveys.

It takes more work – and the occasional hike through a mosquito infested swamp – to do it the right way, but at Abonmarche we think it’s worth it.

The corner post placed by G. Baker.


Because of public works…

When you turn the hot water tap on your sink, hot water comes
out. When you set your garbage on the curb, by the morning, it’s gone. Traffic
eases, sewage flows and daily life ticks on. Normally, we don’t have to think
too much about it.

But this week is National Public Works Week, when we’re
asked to take a minute to appreciate the hard workers who make sure all those
life necessities operate like clockwork – so that we have the luxury of safe,
clean communities.

So head on over to the American Public Works Association’s
and check out the important ways public works impacts your life.


TAP is the new TE

Abonmarche was recently featured in an online article posted by the Michigan Municipal League pertaining to our streetscape projects in communities.   Streetscapes can have a significant effect on how people perceive and interact with their community.  If streetscapes are safe and inviting to pedestrians, people are more likely to utilize this public space.  They contribute to aesthetic quality, economic activity, health, and social cohesion in communities, not just its mobility.

Last year, Congress passed a new transportation bill, commonly referred to as MAP-21.  Under this legislation the Transportation Enhancement (TE) Program with some changes became the Transportation Alternatives Program, or TAP.  Similar to the TE program, TAP funding is designated for specific activities that enhance the intermodal
transportation system and provide safe alternative transportation options under
the following categories:

  • Facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, including traffic calming and other safety
  • Inventory, control, or removal of outdoor advertising
  • Safe routes for non-drivers
  • Vegetation management practices in transportation rights of way
  • Conversion and use of abandoned railroad corridors for trails
  • Archaeological activities
  • Environmental mitigation activities
  • Turnouts, overlooks, and viewing areas
  • Historic preservation and rehabilitation of historic transportation facilities
  • Boulevards in the right of way of former interstates or other divided highways

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) allocated approximately $16.5 million in TAP funding available for Michigan communities for 2013.  County road commissions, cities, villages, regional transportation authorities, transit agencies, public land agencies and tribal governments are eligible to apply.  Here’s an example of the impact streetscape enhancements can have on a community:

Contact us for additional information on the benefits of the TAP program in your community or go to our website for other streetscape projects we’ve completed in our continued commitment to improving communities.


MDEQ Expanding Dredging Permit Categories

The coastal assets of the Great Lakes, including harbors and major rivers, are vital to the commercial and recreational activities throughout the region, in addition to being the major economic driver for many waterfront communities.  With water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at new-record lows, leaders and officials across the state are collaborating on how to best meet the needs of communities facing the resulting challenges.  To address the increased need for dredging across the state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is expanding the expedited permitting categories for dredging.  The procedural changes focus on expanding the definitions of project and permitting categories, changing material testing requirements, and amending cubic yard limitations – all of which are intended to accelerate the permitting process and expand the eligibility of waterways.

Abonmarche has been assisting waterfront communities to improve and manage these vital resources for over thirty years and understands the critical impact water resources have on local cultural, economies, and quality of life.  With the 2013 boating season quickly approaching, it’s not too soon to start proactively addressing the potential challenges that may result from the lowering water levels of the Great Lakes.  Whether it’s conducting bathymetric surveys, preparing and obtaining dredging permits, or assisting with bid document, Abonmarche will work with you to ensure you’re well positioned for the upcoming season. Contact us to discuss further how Abonmarche can best serve your community and for additional information pertaining to the changes to dredge permitting.


MDEQ to hold Water and Wastewater Asset Management Seminars

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) will be holding four (4) seminars across the state to provide City and elected officials, DPW directors, certified operators, and consultants information about DEQ updates, as well as options and implementation strategies for asset management.

In addition to becoming a requirement on WWTP NPDES permits, asset management plans and programs are going to be a major component of the SAW grant and loan program that the DEQ will be implementing this fall.  Asset management is becoming a focal point of the DEQ because of its direct impact on public health and safety, the environment, economic development, and overall quality of life within a community.

More information on the seminars, including their locations and how to register, can be found at this link.


The Importance of Gravity in Land Surveying

Gravity has been measured here on earth for centuries.  Galileo ran a series of gravity experiments and theories in the 16th century.  As time has gone on, better technology has allowed for a better measurement of the earth’s gravity.  Those improvements in technology continue today, allowing for even more precise measuring and monitoring of gravity.

As surveyors we might ask, “So what does gravity have to do with my work?”  If we are surveying using any type of GPS equipment, we are geodetic surveyors.  If the work we are doing is concerned with heights and in what direction water flows, then gravity becomes very important.

With the changes in technology, man has been able to determine that the center of the earth is in fact changing.  As these changes are measured, adjustments become necessary.  Recently, the National Geodetic Survey ran a re-adjustment on their blue booked control points.  The Department of Transportation, here in Michigan, has changed the coordinate and elevation values for the Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS).

The world we are living in is constantly changing.  Gravity is no different.  Surveyors must be aware of the changes and apply them to their work.  Most of the changes in gravity affect elevations (how high above mean sea level, for example).  Where precise elevations are needed, a qualified professional surveyor will be aware of the current values
and utilize them in the survey.

Abonmarche has a qualified staff of professional surveyors, well versed in GPS and all the changes the new gravity measurements have brought on the surveying profession.  We
would be happy to discuss how this information could apply to your project.


Great Lakes’ Water Levels Cause for Uncertainty in Coastline Communities

Abonmarche works extensively in waterfront communities across Michigan and Northern Indiana.  Falling water levels coupled with the lack of adequate dredging are causing uncertainty in communities along the coastline, many of whom depend heavily on tourism and the shipping industry.  Inches mean a lot for shippers navigating the lakes’ canals and cargos are now carrying 1,200 to 1,500 fewer tons than they did a year ago.  A stark example of the impact of low water levels on the shipping industry is that the largest coal cargo that was shipped through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in 2012, was 64,706 tons; in the late 1990’s, when water levels were near record-highs, a U.S.-flag laker was able to carry nearly 71,000 tons in a single trip.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) estimates that more than 17 million cubic yards of sediment must be removed from Great Lakes ports and waterways before vessels will be able to carry full loads.  That means less cargo shipping, less boating, less fish for people to eat, and less revenue for communities along the Lakes.

2012 is going down in the books as the hottest year on record.  Climatologists are predicting average temperatures will continue to rise.  The Michigan-Huron basin saw only 87 percent of its average precipitation in 2012, and although the drought is expected to let up near Lake Michigan, severe drought conditions into the coming summer are still predicted for other parts of the Midwest.  Another summer of extreme heat or drought is bad news for the Great Lakes’ water levels.  While late winter is generally the lowest time in the lakes’ yearly cycle, and the water tends to go back up in spring and summer, significant snowfall is needed this season in order to put the drought of 2012 officially behind us.

Annual precipitation across the state of Michigan ranges between 30 and 38 inches on average.  Considering snow accumulation provides between 7 and 66 percent of total annual precipitation and approximately 10 inches of snow is needed in order to provide 1 inch of water, the value of winter precipitation is significant.  The bad news is that nearly half of the state of Michigan continues to have abnormally dry conditions and water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron hit record lows in December – nearly two and a half feet below average, according to the USACE.  Lake Michigan-Huron is 17 inches lower than it was one year ago and the water level of Lake Superior is one inch below its level from one year ago; Lakes St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario are 20, 23, and 15 inches, respectively, lower than their levels of a year ago.

Previously, weather and precipitation cycles had somewhat predictable patterns when it came to water temperatures, water levels, and ice formation in the Great Lakes.  The ebb and flow of water in the Lakes had historically impacted lake levels rising and falling by as much as seven feet.  However, climate change has created considerably less predictability in these cycles, resulting in some tough challenges for those who manage ports throughout the Great Lakes region.  The 110 ports on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway contain docks, seawalls, and other transport infrastructure, designed to serve a shipping industry that typically handles nearly 200 million metric tons of cargo annually, employs 226,000 people, and serves as one of North America’s most energy-efficient transportation systems.  However, the inefficiency of no longer being able to transport as much cargo has the potential to have dramatic economic implications for producers and consumers alike, should lake levels continue to drop.

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