We Are Now Seeing Projects From a New (Droned) Perspective

Jeffrey R. Kerr, ASLA, AICP,  Principal, Environmental Design Group

Using a drone – correct that – a small Unmanned Aircraft System, just got a lot more valuable and easier (more on that in a minute) for engineering companies like us.

Prior to this, unless you secured the difficult and drawn-out process of an FAA 333 Exemption, you were limited to flying a drone for hobby. That changed on August 29th when the FAA 14 CFR part 107 rule went into effect. That waiver now allows small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) to operate for non-recreational uses, i.e. business, under certain conditions and authorizations.

I spent part of the beautiful labor day weekend (KCLE 041651Z VRB03KT 10SM CLR 27/09 A3027 – if you don’t know what this means, you’re probably not ready for the test!) studying information needed to pass the sUAS Part 107 Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG) Aeronautical Knowledge Test so I could become a certified sUAS pilot. (Granted, my studying may have included a couple beers on the back porch – which I now know will prevent me from operating my drone for the following 8-hours).

I have to admit, the test material was much harder than I expected. I had to learn terms such as RPIC, NOTAMS, TAF’S, and TFR’S; decode a METAR; calculate angle of bank changes to the load factor of the aircraft; and learn the differences and restrictions between Class B, C, D, E, and G airspace. Yes, I even read VFR sectional aeronautical charts. For me, it was like learning a new language.

jeff-1VFR Sectional Aeronautical Chart of Greater Cleveland

Really? All this to fly a simple drone? FAA thinks so, and for safety purposes, I can see why.

The drone industry is expected to grow from 2.5 million units to 7 million by 2020 according to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration. I would expect the engineering industry to be one of the heavy user groups. The FAA believes that 2017 will be the big turning point in drone adoption by businesses, which, in our industry, will use them for everything from surveying to inspecting bridges, buildings and utility infrastructure.

This September, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission will complete its first bridge inspection using an unmanned aircraft system, or drone. (article) “We hope to determine if the use of a drone may reduce the time and expense and increase safety when performing these types of inspections on the turnpike and on the ODOT system,” according to Randy Cole, executive director of the Turnpike Commission.

jeff-2Lakewood Park Solstice Steps drone image – Courtesy: Aerial Agents

With a high-resolution 4K-video capable camera, the drone can capture some really spectacular imagery. This will undoubtedly change how we do our work and will improve the quality of information needed to help us understand our project sites better, faster, cheaper and safer.   For us, drones could allow us to expand our services into areas such as aerial surveying, real-time corridor evaluation, which is really important for our lineal trail projects, site construction inspection, or just capture some really cool shots of our projects.

We have tested different software that will create precise digital terrain 3-D surveys that will be accurate enough to be within a couple inches over very large areas, volumetric calculations, and high-quality orthomosaic aerial photogrammetry.

Pretty cool stuff.

jeff-3Digital surface model from a drone orthomosaic photogrammetry

We are anxious to see how this changes our view of project delivery. Think a drone can make an impact on your project? Give us a call, maybe we can provide you a whole new perspective (up to but not over 400FT AGL).

Happy droning.

…And, yes, I passed.


The Cuyahoga River Fish Habitat Restoration Project – A Collaborative Effort Amongst Many

By: Matthew Montecalvo, P.E. Principal

Since I arrived in Northeast Ohio nearly 20 years ago, the Cuyahoga River and its story has interested me.  Its history tells of industry, success, and beauty, but it also describes the impacts of decades of deterioration, suburban sprawl, and pollution.  That juxtaposition of experiences is fascinating to me.  Now add the pride I have for my adopted city, and you begin to get an idea of the passion I have for my community and what drives my desire to have a positive impact on where I live and work.

Our River in particular has seen a resurgence over the years. The implementation of environmental laws has helped clean up the waters being sent downstream, and 30-years of monumental efforts by some stalwart supporters of the River have made improvements along its banks virtually everywhere it passes.

But how did all this happen?  Not by accident, right?  Nope.  It was the people! People with a passion for the river and a desire to collaborate and problem solve. Any of us might all be able point to an example of how this passion and collaboration resulted in a positive impact on the river and its community.  The example that is most personal and most recent for me is the Habitat for Hard Places working group, which was started by an organization called, the Cuyahoga River Restoration.


To understand the significance of the story, though, it may be helpful to know a little history.  As a result of significant pollution and degradation, the Cuyahoga River was designated as an area of concern by the U.S. EPA via the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  Since that designation, various groups have been working to improve its water quality and the lands and communities contacts.  Almost 20-years ago, one such group embarked on a journey to change the face of the Cuyahoga River and provide habitat for the many species of fish known to roam the crooked expanse of steel and concrete that is the Cuyahoga River ship channel.


Several field trials later, with past designs, prior partnerships, and a renewed interest in hand, The Cuyahoga River Restoration organization (previously, the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan) convened the Habitats for Hard Places working group. This group dove into the problem at hand: “How do we provide a ‘natural environment’ in such an unnatural, manmade landscape?”

Around our work table sat engineers, scientists, landscape architects, business people, non-profit administrators, and government entities.  We all had a couple of pretty significant things in common.  We were users of the river, and we all cared about the river.

That shared spirit was not necessarily enough, though.  We needed to work together, and to collaborate effectively.  We needed to use our strengths within the structure of the group to contribute.

The group collected and analyzed data to learn more about what fish were most prevalent in the river already were important to the success of this project. We were organized into sub-groups to attack specific elements of the problem such as the best location for our habitats or addressing access or property issues.  Everything was moving forward with our passion driving us and our talents revealing the important “bits” of information that would be later translated into design.  But it was not always smooth.  Not everyone agreed, and communication was sometimes challenging – we all had “day jobs” after all.  However, in the end, a mutual respect for each other likely fostered by our mutual passions, led us through the challenges and allowed us to get behind the ultimate designs.

I am sure that this description sounds a bit “utopian,” and I may have even insinuated that it was “easy.” However, the hallmark of the Habitats for Hard Places group was that real work was done, and progress was made.

In the spirit of true Edisonion Invention, prior projects were dug up and thrown back on the table.  All the old challenges were reviewed.  New data was collected and analyzed.  Failures were evaluated.  Goals were revisited.  New designs and locations for habitat were brainstormed.  The result of the tremendous amount of collaboration was another version of the manmade habitats for the Cuyahoga River Ship Channel.

The design constraints were fairly basic.  Structures needed to be made of steel and wood.  All the designs needed to be extremely durable, and each needed to be small enough to be managed by one person.  Each of the designs needed to be able to function at virtually any river water level.  And perhaps most important of all was it needed to be very cost effective, and it could potentially be mass-produced.

Environmental Design Group was awarded the honor of translating those many hours of design discussions into functioning prototypes for five future habitat structures to be installed, tested, and monitored in the Cuyahoga River Ship Channel.  Through the process of fabrication and testing, eventually two designs were determined to be the best and had the highest likelihood of success.

Each design provided a potential for debris collection (for shade), refuge for fry and small fish from predators, and provided features that mimicked natural habitat like root filaments, and the potential to add other habitat elements like aquatic plants or gravelly material.

The collaboration had produced solid designs with a reasonable consensus around their function.  At this stage, installation became the order of the day.  Collaboration took hold again, and the stakeholders jumped in with support lending their expertise.  The team set out in boats to install these newly-constructed structures on the bulkheads of the upper three-miles of the Cuyahoga River Ship Channel.

With massive support from the Habitats for Hard Places group, almost 500-habitat structures were eventually installed in the river. Amidst equipment challenges, coordination of volunteers and weather that did not always cooperate, we achieved the goal that we set for the pilot program.

video-1-print-screenVideo showing the installation of the fish habitat

As time goes on, I have no doubt these designs and installations will be improved and enhanced.  That is the very nature of a project like this.  However, it will be the collaboration and communication that the Habitat for Hard Places team has established that will drive those changes and improvements. Environmental Design Group is looking forward to a long future supporting Cuyahoga River Restoration, the Habitats for Hard Places team, and the health and well-being of the Cuyahoga River.

In the end, I think this story of passion and collaboration is a story equally as fascinating as the story of the Cuyahoga River because it is that story that can be applied over and over again within the context of improving our Crooked River.  And I, for one, am looking forward to using the example and pressing ahead with new projects that I hope will equally impact the communities we serve.

second-video-print-screenVideo showing fish using the new habitat



Imagine a Day Without Water

Most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. They turn on the tap, and safe drinking water reliably comes out. They flush the toilet, and they don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment.

But could you imagine a day without water? Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service?

A day without water means no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth. When you flush the toilet, nothing happens. It means firefighters have no water to put out fires, farmers couldn’t water their crops, and doctors couldn’t wash their hands before they treat patients.


A day without water is nothing short of a crisis.

While unimaginable for most of us, there are communities that have lived without water, without the essential systems that bring water to and from their homes and businesses. The tragedy in Flint, Michigan has dominated news coverage for months. Epic drought in California has dried up ground water sources, causing some residents to relocate because they couldn’t live in a community without water. Overwhelmed wastewater systems have habitually forced beach closures along the Great Lakes because of unsanitary sewer runoff. Flooding and other natural disasters have knocked out water and wastewater service in communities from Texas to South Carolina to West Virginia. America can do better.


The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. Systems have been underfunded for too long. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our water and wastewater systems. Different regions face different water challenges, so the solutions to strengthen our drinking water and wastewater systems must be locally driven. But reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.

The good news is while the challenges are great, our capacity for innovation is greater.

Investing in our drinking water and wastewater systems, secures a bright and prosperous future for generations to come. We need to invest in our local water systems. Public officials at the local, state, and national level must prioritize investment in water, because no American should ever have to live a day without water.


Public private partnerships play an important role in building the drinking water and wastewater systems of tomorrow. Innovation is driving the water sector, and will allow us to build modern, energy efficient, and environmentally advanced systems that will sustain communities for generations to come.

None of this will be easy work, and nothing can be taken for granted. But water is too essential to ignore the crisis in front of us. We need to prioritize building stronger water and wastewater systems now so no community in America has to imagine living a day without water.

As a partner in the Imagine a Day Without Water movement, please check out this video to learn more about how American’s can come together to save our most precious resource.


Crown Point Ecology Center – Improving the Wastewater Wetland Treatment System to Expand Business

By: Jim Demboski, P.E. Project Manager

In the spirit of solidarity, I have been involved in numerous projects that help protect our environment by utilizing sustainable practices. Whether it be a camp design, a watershed study, or a gray infrastructure design, using best management practices and working with our landscape architects to preserve or enhance the environment has been an exciting addition to my 30-year career as a professional civil engineer. Environmental Design Group has the unique ability to combine gray and green infrastructure internally because of the diversity of our engineering and landscape architectural staff.

Recently, Environmental Design Group worked on a project for the Crown Point Ecology Center located in Bath, Ohio. The mission of Crown Point is to demonstrate the practical applications of ecology and to connect spirituality, social justice and environmental protection. As a nonprofit organization, they rely on many volunteers and the financial support from benefactors. As part of their master plan which included the expansion and construction of buildings, they needed to also expand their wastewater treatment system.


With new meeting rooms and restroom facilities slated to be built, and the conversion of an existing farmhouse to a meeting facility, there were some challenges EDG needed to help Crown Point overcome.


The first problem was providing an adequate wastewater disposal system for the increased use by students and visitors. In addition, providing restroom facilities in the renovated barn for large group events was a necessity.

Sanitary sewer services were not available in the area because there was a restriction on providing a conventional wastewater treatment plant discharging to a local waterway. EDG designed an innovative, sustainable, on lot discharging system, which was closely tied to the Crown Point mission of sustainable practices.

Our project team of engineers and landscape architects spent some time thinking outside the box and collaborating with the Ohio EPA to develop a wastewater treatment system that would work efficiently and be acceptable to the regulating agencies.

With a goal to make the system as passive as possible and keeping to Crown Point’s mission, EDG determined the maximum allowable flow, and was able to design an acceptable system using two 5000 gallon septic tanks, two constructed wetland cells, and a large mounded leach field. No electricity, heavy management or complex components were included to ensure the mission of Crown Point was reinforced. We were fortunate to find enough usable land downstream from the existing septic system to make the new system work for their needs, and new gravity sewer lines were installed to the farmhouse and barn.


The Second problem was providing food service for the students and visitors to the center. Since the on-site system would not be permitted to handle food waste, the decision was made to cater all meals. This direction enabled us to proceed with the design of an on-site wastewater treatment system.

The third problem was obtaining funding for designing and building the infrastructure. For the detailed design, EDG provided pro-bono engineering services, and the Crown Point executive staff obtained an educational grant for the construction work. However, the detailed design had to be completed quickly so that the construction bids could be obtained before the grant expired. Time was of the essence and the project team stepped up their design efforts to expedite regulatory approvals and to prepare construction documents.

Underground infrastructure is a crucial piece to the long term success of any major construction project. By creating a better system for Crown Point to further their education outreach, EDG helped make a lasting impact for a non-profit to continue to change the lives of those that utilize the ecology center for health and wellness.

For me, the most inspiring part of this was experiencing the network of teams and agencies to make the project come to life. The impact this will have on future generations makes it worthwhile, especially as they learn to protect and sustain our environment. In a collaborative effort, we were successful, and a system was installed and is fully operational today! Many thanks to all who participated in this worthy cause!