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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.


Transportation Funding Survey

The Indiana legislature is allocating next year’s funding, and seeking information from local government officials on their transportation infrastructure needs to ensure that funding will be available for safe and efficient roads throughout the state.

The Indiana Department of Transportation projects that if preservation spending of bridges remains the same over the next 10 years, an additional 230 bridges will deteriorate into a condition rating of “poor.”  Pavement conditions will also deteriorate – currently 835 miles of INDOT roads are in poor condition and they project that in 2022, that number will increase to 1,076 miles if spending remains flat.

The Joint Transportation Legislative Study Committee, led by Representative Ed Soliday (R- Valparaiso) and Senator Tom Wyss (R-Ft. Wayne), has requested that municipalities respond to a web survey that includes questions about inventory of lane miles, annual maintenance costs, and annual reconstruction costs of gravel, asphalt, chip and seal, and concrete pavement, as well as bridges and culverts.  The survey was developed with help from the Local Technical Assistance Program, the County Highway Engineers Association, the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, and the Indiana Association of County Commissioners.


ArtPlace accepting Letter of Inquiry for Creative Placemaking Projects

As part of our ongoing efforts to assist communities, Abonmarche would like to make you aware of a recently announced funding opportunity through ArtPlace, which is a collaboration of 11 major national and regional foundations, six of the nation’s largest banks and eight federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, to accelerate creative placemaking across the country.

ArtPlace invites Letters of Inquiry from initiatives involving arts organizations, artists and designers working in partnership with local and national partners to produce a transformative impact on community vibrancy.  ArtPlace believes that art, culture and creativity expressed powerfully through place can create vibrant communities, thus increasing the desire and the economic opportunity for people to thrive in place.

Creative placemaking has been gaining traction as a locally-driven strategy for bringing
new life to communities.  ArtPlace defines creative placemaking as “a means of investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities.”

The Letter of Inquiry form will become available on September 17, 2012, and all requests must be submitted by November 1, 2012.  Selected applicants will be notified by January 2, 2013, of their invitation to submit full proposals for grants.  The deadline for submitting full proposals is February 15, 2013, and successful applicants will be notified of their award by March 31, 2013.  All 501(c)3 and local governing bodies are eligible to submit a Letter of Inquiry for grant funding.  Individuals and for-profit entities may also submit for grant funding using a fiscal agent.

If you’re interested in more information regarding ArtPlace grants or would like to start the process for your Letter of Inquiry, contact Sarah Murray at or 269-926-4578 to get going on your creative placemaking project.

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