How important is community engagement in construction or remediation projects?

Including the local community in construction or remediation projects is extremely beneficial for all involved and can result in acceptance versus opposition. Although this may not always be a regulatory requirement or even considered to be “critical” to a project’s success, often times this type of proactive inclusion can result in time and money saved, and reduced liability.

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Environmental remediation at a Langan project

Most individuals are curious about ongoing construction projects that are taking place in their own (or neighboring) towns and they wonder about the rationale or ultimate purpose of the project, yet they rarely have any information. Individuals potentially impacted by remediation projects have greater concerns and fears.  The lack of knowledge frequently raises questions, doubts, or even cynicism about the project, especially if the project causes inconveniences that disrupt their daily routines, such as commuting or even being able to send a child out to play.  On the other hand, if the impacted community has the facts about the nature of the project, and understands the benefits or risks to their families, friends, and lifestyle they are less likely to be frustrated and confrontational.  For these reasons, any type of proactive information sharing and allowing residents to feel included in major project stages is of key importance to project management success. Additionally, proactively sharing information (possibly in the form of a fact sheet) also allows the party conducting the work control of the message and can dispel concerns.

Gaining greater project acceptance, and more importantly, obtaining the least community resistance, is your goal. This can only happen by voluntarily sharing information. While it is important to do so with the general public, it is equally, if not more, important to include community leaders – both elected and those who are simply well known and trusted civic leaders. Communication may occur formally (newspapers, planning committee meetings) or informally (social media, social gatherings). Taking steps to proactively educate supporters and opponents will help garner support for your project.

The key components to be communicated include, but are not limited to:

  • The nature of the final project, such as new stores, office buildings, a park or housing
  • The reason for the project, the ultimate purpose/rationale
  • The temporary impacts of construction regarding inconveniences, detours, delays, etc.
  • Permanent changes beyond the construction phase including land use/loss and transportation issues such as roadway changes, traffic, noise
  • Benefits such as increased jobs, easier access to stores, better housing, a cleaner environment, increased revenues and improved transportation
  • The most critical component of community relations is allowing for open discussions, and truly listening to concerns as every community has different needs and issues
  • Ultimately providing feedback on a timely basis, and incorporating appropriate components of their recommendations into a final project

By building strong relationships within your project’s community and easing concerns, the project team can save time, money, unwanted bad press, reduce liability, and pave the way for future successful projects in neighboring communities.

About Irene S. Kropp, Senior Environmental Consultant 
A universally respected leader in the New Jersey environmental community, Irene Kropp brings 30 years of regulatory, technical, administrative, and management experience in all areas of environmental protection to Langan’s environmental practice. Prior to joining Langan, Kropp served as the Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, she managed multiple offices in the NJDEP including Water Resources, Compliance and Enforcement, Information Resources Management, Management and Budget, and Science and Site Remediation. She has worked closely with other state agencies, the legislature, local governments, the USEPA, other state environmental agencies, developers, corporations, and many New Jersey business and industry associations.

What challenges have you faced applying SWPPP regulations to projects?

The initial challenge is ensuring our clients understand what a SWPPP (storm water pollution prevention program) is and how it affects construction.

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Langan provided Qualified SWPPP Practitioner (QSP) services during the construction of the Equinix SV10 development.

SWPPP provides instructions on how to treat stormwater prior to leaving a construction site. This isn’t new. For many years, cities have required sites to have SWPPPs, however the programs were unenforced and remained unopened throughout construction.

In 2009, the state’s General Permit mandated a SWPPP monitoring and compliance program. Every construction site that disturbs over one acre must have a project-specific SWPPP that the state has reviewed. Also, the construction team is responsible for appointing someone to monitor the site for SWPPP compliance throughout construction. SWPPPs may remain in effect for a few months up to several years, depending on the project’s construction timeline.

Some requirements are as simple as collecting trash and storing it in covered bins; while others require intricate systems to divert stormwater and remove sediment prior to entering the storm drain system.

While SWPPP is a great tool, it has created some confusion. Misunderstandings among different levels of government, contractors, and the property owners have placed us, as the consultants, right in the middle.

Part of our “middle man” role is ensuring clients and property owners understand their responsibilities as well as ours. For example, the party who develops and writes the SWPPP does not have to be the same party monitoring and inspecting the site for compliance.

Whether it’s writing the SWPPP, obtaining state approval, or overseeing the contractors during construction, Langan can play all roles, relieving the client from the burden of keeping up with the evolving regulations and staying on top of multiple contractors.

Even though we may be in charge of SWPPP, we still stress that all involved parties know what it is and its intent, which leads to the most common question we get asked: what’s up with all the acronyms? While there are too many to list here (the state’s General Permit lists them all), I provide a few key ones below:

SWPPP­­ — Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program

QSD — Qualified SWPPP Developer (writes the SWPPP)

QSP — Qualified SWPPP Practitioner (oversees the SWPPP inspections)

LRP — Legally Responsible Person (usually the owner or contractor; cannot be QSD or QSP)

REAP — Rain Event Action Plan (instructions for the contractor to follow prior to a rain event)

SMARTS — Storm Water Multi-Application and Report Tracking System (the state’s portal for submitting SWPPP documents)

Answer provided by Vitina Mandella, PE, LEED AP, QSD/P, Senior Project Manager
Vitina manages project teams from design through construction for land development, site design, and infill projects. She has extensive experience with stormwater management throughout the construction process and after completion as well as designing and implementing stormwater controls. Vitina has prepared stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPPs) as well as site and off-site plans for street improvements, traffic, LEED designation, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, and historical preservation.

How can consultants help clients reduce costs and tighten schedules on Latin American development projects?

Through more effective and efficient designs that are tailor-made for developers’ specific needs. 

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Santa Maria Golf & Country Club, Panama City, Panama

While geotechnical engineering principles are the same in Latin America as in the rest of the world, it is important to understand that each site has its own set of unique challenges and solutions. At Langan, we have helped clients save time and money by evaluating and recommending the most up-to-date and suitable ground improvement procedures for their specific site conditions. Examples of cost-effective considerations include re-evaluating seismic site conditions and improving the design criteria, modifying foundation support systems to more efficient designs, and re-evaluating and improving slope stability and stabilization procedures.

It is also imperative that consultants provide designs that are not only efficient and technically sound, but constructible in the region of the project.  This requires in-depth knowledge and understanding of local construction practices and limitations.  When you combine these key ingredients for project delivery, it helps clients in Latin America tighten schedules and reduce costs.

About Roger Archabal, PE
Roger has over 30 years of geotechnical engineering experience throughout the United States and abroad, focusing on the Gulf of Mexico regions, Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean. He specializes in complex foundations in coastal environments, performing hundreds of geotechnical explorations of varied size and scope.