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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 15 Nov 2016 8:42 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Sam Shamsi, PhD, PE,

    View from the outdoor amphitheaterLocated in Richland Township, PA (about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh) and home to the Falk School of Sustainability, Chatham University's Eden Hall Campus is far more than a 388-acre plot of land.  It's the embodiment of a commitment Chatham makes every day to support sustainability and environmental education.  At Eden Hall, the campus doesn't just house classrooms, it is the classroom. The 20- to 25-year development plan for the residential campus aims to:

    • Be self-sustaining in every way,
    • House up to 1,500 students,
    • Achieve zero carbon emissions,
    • Produce more energy than it consumes, and
    • Manage all stormwater and wastewater on site. 

    View from the outdoor amphitheaterOn October 24, 2016 the Section’s Continuing Education Committee provided an opportunity to see these sustainable facilities.  As the Section’s Continuing Education Committee Chair and a Director, I attended the event along with dozens of other people. The event began with a guided walking tour of the campus led by the Dean of Falk School of Sustainability, Dr. Peter Walker himself. 

    Eden Hall’s Stormwater Management is especially unique, and earned the ASCE-Pittsburgh’s 2015 Sustainability Award in the annual Engineers Week Awards Banquet held on February 20, 2016.

    Eden Hall’s Stormwater is managed by:

    • Five rain gardens that collect and direct water flow,
    • Gravel walkways that allow rainwater to flow to the underlying soil, and
    • A rainwater harvesting system that gathers and cleans the water.

    The collected rainwater is then utilized for crop irrigation. Eden Hall also treats wastewater onsite through a six-step process that mimics nature. The system can handle up to 6,000 gallons each day. Read more here.

    Dr. Shamsi lectures on Green Stormwater InfrastructureFollowing the tour, I delivered a lecture on Green Stormwater Infrastructure.  The attendees and I discussed both the opportunities and challenges of green infrastructure, and I related them to region’s interest in using green solutions for solving local wet weather problems such as combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and flooding.  Our first canon of ASCE’s Code of Ethics requires compliance with the principles of sustainable development.  I encouraged the audience to share their green infrastructure concerns, and challenged the civil engineers to address those issues.  Civil Engineers, after all, are the best problem solvers. They believe every challenge is an opportunity in disguise.

    The lecture was followed by a panel discussion.  The expert panel included the following members:

    • Deborah Gross, City of Pittsburgh Councilwoman (District 7) andPanel discussion on sustainable developement PWSA Board Member and Assistant Secretary / Treasurer
    • Tim Prevost, PE, Manager, Wet Weather Program / Green Infrastructure Projects, ALCOSAN, Government Engineer of the Year Awardee, ASCE-Pittsburgh, 2012.
    • Mark Wolinsky, Deputy Director, 3 Rivers Wet Weather, Inc.
    • Dr. Peter Walker, Dean, Falk School of Sustainability and the Environment, Eden Hall, Chatham University
    • Carol Hufnagel, PE, National Wet Weather Practice Leader, Tetra Tech
    • John Buck, CPSS, Certified Professional Soil Scientist, Eden Hall Green Infrastructure Project, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. 

    The lively panel discussion conducted by these distinguished members included a variety of perspectives on sustainable development.  

    • Pittsburgh Seventh Ward Councilwoman Deb Gross indicated that City of Pittsburgh’s newly released wet weather plan is based on green infrastructure.  In addition to stormwater management, green infrastructure will also help with community building, safer streets, and people-scaled development. 
    • Tim Prevost mentioned ALCOSAN’s Green Revitalization of Our Waterways (GROW) program that provides matching grants to service area municipalities for green infrastructure projects.
    • Mark Wolinsky indicated that continued funds must be set aside to maintain green infrastructure
    • Dr. Walker indicated that “my right or my responsibility” issue makes the green infrastructure governance challenging. 
    • Carol Hufnagel said green infrastructure helps restore civic pride but can be more expensive than gray infrastructure if planned and designed improperly. 
    • John Buck talked about the design of Eden Hall’s green stormwater infrastructure and stressed the importance of soil testing before design and green infrastructure performance monitoring after construction.

    The panel discussion was followed by audience questions, which led to a thought-provoking discussion among attendees and panel members.  The event was concluded by a buffet dinner prepared onsite by Eden Hall’s chef Chris using ingredients from Eden Hall’s own certified organic farm.  No disposable tableware were used.  In fact, a disposable plastic water bottle I brought with me magically disappeared somewhere!

    For questions or comments, please contact event organizer and chair of Continuing Education committee Sam Shamsi at

    A tour group gathered by the amphitheater

    Dr. Shamsi on stage at the outdoor amphitheater

    A tour group in the coffee shop

    Dr. Shamsi and Dr. Walker answering questions

    Campus food grown in the greenhouse

  • 07 Oct 2016 8:32 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Vishal Patel, Edited by Brian Heinzl

    From Seattle TimesMore than 30 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Bettis Grille Restaurant on Friday, September 23rd for a ASCE Pittsburgh Section Geo-Institute (GI) Chapter meeting.  As part of the meeting, Dr. Timothy D. Stark, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE., F.ASCE, presented the lecture “Stability of Natural and Man-made Slopes.”  The presentation focused on the March 22, 2014 Landslide near Oso, Washington, discussing the geotechnical aspects of the slide and its potential triggers.

    This major and tragic landslide exhibited some interesting geo-mechanical behavior, including a runout of over one mile from the base of the slope that devastated the adjacent Steelhead Haven Community.  The presentation focused on the events that occurred before the landslide, the triggering of the landslide, and the initiation and run out of the landslide.  Dr. Stark focused on the geotechnical investigation (field investigation, lab testing, and analysis) after the landslide to determine the triggering mechanism of the 2014 landslide, as well as the shear strength and dynamic analysis used to explain the flow slide volume and runout distance.  The results provided a better understanding of risk and hazard assessment of this landslide.

    The Pittsburgh Section GI was also honored to have Mr. Brad Keelor, the National Director of the Geo-Institute, attend our meeting. Mr. Keelor introduced himself to the audience and provided brief remarks regarding goals being pursued at the national level.  We appreciate the interest and support of National GI members at our local functions.  The Geo-Institute Chapter provided 1.0 PDH for the presentation along with great venue for social hour.

    Following the conclusion of the presentation and network-building hour at Bettis Grille, many attendees including Dr. Stark and his wife were able to attend the YMF’s Pirate tailgate and the baseball game.  The following day Dr. Stark acknowledged our hospitality by sending a note: “Thanks for a really enjoyable day, which was capped off by a "Walk-Off Win" in the 11th!!!!  Great game!!!”

    A special thanks goes out to all of the GI and YMF committee members for making this a successful event.

  • 30 Sep 2016 9:01 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By Scott Duda, PE (YMF Budget Chair)

    From left to right, Scott Duda, Emily Eichner, and Azekah GiffithsOn August 5-7, 2016, ASCE Headquarters in Reston, VA hosted the 2016 Younger Member Leadership Symposium (YMLS). Younger Member Forum (YMF) members Azekah Giffiths, PE, Emily Eichner (YMF Social Co-Chair), and I had the opportunity to represent the ASCE Pittsburgh Section at this year’s event. The conference was organized by the ASCE Committee on Younger Members (CYM), and it brought together over 40 YMF members from across the U.S.

    Over the course of the weekend, attendees participated in workshops designed to improve leadership abilities, refine communication skills, and identify areas for further personal growth and development. Attendees were also given the opportunity to network with ASCE members from other regions of the country. We exchange of ideas for improving individual chapters and discussed solutions for common issues faced by civil engineers every day.

    One focal point of the two-day symposium was identifying different types of personal communication styles, both within ourselves and within others. No two individuals communicate ideas the same way, and a clear set of directions for one person may be a confusing jumble of nonsense to another. The types of communication that truly resonate with people are governed by their personality type. By learning to identify an individual’s unique personal style, one is able to determine the most effective means of communicating an idea among any audience.

    In general, an individual’s personality style may be characterized as a blend of four broad behavioral types:  

    • Analytical,
    • Driver,
    • Amiable, and
    • Expressive.

    Each individual’s unique combination of behavioral types is also known as social style. This framework for classifying individual personalities was pioneered in the 1960’s by psychological researchers David W. Merrill and Roger H. Reid. You can learn more about their work here.

    While an individual’s social style tends to favor one or two of these behavioral types over the others, all four may come into play when describing someone’s unique character. Identifying which behavioral types best describe a person requires careful observation of the person’s typical patterns and means of communicating. Once an individual’s behavioral type has been identified, one is able to tailor their message to meet their specific needs, improving the overall effectiveness of communication. Learning how to effectively communicate with people from a wide range of different social styles is an essential skill for leaders of all types, especially civil engineers.

    During the training, I learned that my social style can be classified as Analytical-Driver. I tend to prefer systematic and precise communication, and I favor facts over feelings when making decisions. In order to communicate more effectively with my Expressive-Analytical co-workers, I can focus on developing a relationship with them, presenting them with ample data to support my statements, and providing testimony from others to further bolster my assertions.  

    In addition to learning about communication and personality styles, symposium attendees also worked on improving presentation and speaking skills, developing a unique personal vision, and managing change in the workplace effectively.

    YMLS is held annually at ASCE Headquarters in Reston, VA. You can read more about Pittsburgh’s participation in the event last year here

  • 15 Sep 2016 8:46 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Published in Pittsburgh Post Gazette

    The Pittsburgh region recently experienced several intense rainfall events that caused flooding in many areas. In neighborhoods like Whitehall, we have seen this happen “too many times.” In Connellsville, flooding was so extreme the school year had to be delayed.

    The primary cause of flooding is our aging infrastructure, resulting in decreased abilities to respond to intense rainfalls. Our combined storm and sanitary infrastructure was built over 50 years ago. Unfortunately, clogged and undersized storm drains are all too common in our region.

    Storm and sanitary infrastructure is located underground, out of sight and out of mind, not easily showing its age. These systems must work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to bring clean, safe water to us and take away used water to be treated before it is safely released back into the environment. What happens when these systems fail to keep up with our needs?

    Imagine a day without water. You would not be able to provide your dog with water, or make your coffee. Forget about teeth brushing, flushing your toilet or taking a shower. Nonresidential enterprises, from schools to corporations, breweries to hospitals, factories to power plants, car washes to aquariums, also need water.

    The Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Pittsburgh Section, has joined the nationwide effort “Imagine a Day Without Water.” Hundreds of organizations across the country, including water agencies, mayors, engineers, schools and business and labor leaders are joining forces today to raise public awareness and spark action to solve water and wastewater problems. 

    Without your voice advocating this work, our water systems will continue to be ignored. Please visit​projects/​45997-imagine-a-day-without-water to sign the petition. Demand investment in water systems. Pittsburghers can imagine a day without water if needed, but should never have to live it.

    Vice Chair
    Environmental and Water Resources Institute
    American Society of Civil Engineers, Pittsburgh Section
    South Park

  • 16 Aug 2016 8:24 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    From ASCE News

    ASCE has honored Angela M. Mayer, EIT, A.M. ASCE with the 2016 Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement. She is recognized for professional achievement in service to the advancement of the profession, evidence of technical competence, high character and integrity, and contributions to public service outside their careers.

    Mayer was the 2015 Pittsburgh Section Young Engineer of the Year and was nominated for the 2016 ASCE Eastern Regional YMC Outstanding Young Engineer in the Private Sector Award.

    She serves as the director of the Pittsburgh Section, supporting numerous committees including the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Survey Committee. Furthermore, Mayer served as the point of contact and national judge for the National Concrete Canoe Contest at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown in 2014.

    Mayer is a graduate of the Leadership Development Initiative and an active member of Toastmasters International. Mayer also volunteered to be a civil engineer role model as part of Wow! That’s Engineering! For Girls and Parents, an outreach event for middle school girls held by the Society of Women Engineers.

    The Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement is made to younger members of ASCE (35 or younger) who are judged to have attained significant professional achievements by the degree to which they have served to advance the profession; exhibited technical competence, high character, and integrity; developed improved member attitudes toward the profession; and contributed to public service outside their professional careers.

  • 11 Aug 2016 11:13 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By ASCE Awards Committee

    Congratulations to Timothy O’Loughlin, P.E., ASCE-Pittsburgh’s 2015 Young Government Engineer of the Year.  Timothy has demonstrated the depth of experience and knowledge required to successfully complete a variety of significant government-based civil engineering projects in the Pittsburgh region.  Timothy began his career with the Pittsburgh District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an intern in 2008 following his graduation from Penn State University. He quickly moved into positions of leadership and was soon assigned Senior Design Engineer for the Monongahela River Charleroi Lock chambers. This project consisted of constructing a new gated dam on the Monongahela River at Braddock, PA, and constructing two new locks at Charleroi, demolishing the old Locks and Dam No. 3 at Elizabeth, PA.  For the project, Timothy also had to manage utility relocations, dredging of the riverbed and subsequently raising the Braddock pool five feet, and lowering the pool below Charleroi three feet to maintain navigation.

    Timothy obtained his P.E. license in 2013, and was the Project Engineer for the completion of the River Chamber.  As Project Engineer, he coordinated the development of plans and specifications for the new 84’x720’ river chamber and over twenty monoliths for the dam, among other key features. The overall design package consisted of 700 drawings, 3,000 pages of specifications, and 5,500 pages for the design report.  Timothy coordinated with the eight separate Corps of Engineer Districts that were involved in this monumental design effort with much of the design coming from the Pittsburgh District. Timothy’s work with Project Management, Construction, Environmental, Real Estate, Contracting, and the Office of Council was essential to the successful award of the Base Contract and Awardable Options totaling $241 million.

    In addition to performing his role a Project Engineer, Timothy served as the Senior Structural Engineer responsible for the design of drilled shaft foundations, monolith wall reinforcement, high mast light anchorages, and quality control for several design features.

  • 04 Aug 2016 12:11 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By ASCE Awards Committee

    Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA), recipient of the 2015 ASCE-Pittsburgh Merit Award.

    PWSA’s Department of Sustainability works to foster an authority-wide culture of sustainability with respect to environmental enhancement, economic development and civic engagement. The PWSA strives to be a world-class utility and set the benchmark for sustainability in the industry.

    As a water and wastewater utility, PWSA employees are dedicated stewards of one of the most valuable resources on the planet. PWSA’s Green Infrastructure (GI) Program is a regional leader in efforts to improve the water quality of our rivers, streams and tributaries. Green infrastructure can be used to meet water quality standards and save ratepayers money while providing social, economic and environmental benefits. Through the GI Program, the PWSA is committed to making green infrastructure part of their solution to improve water quality affected by stormwater runoff. The GI team focuses on planning and implementing stormwater management projects in the places where they can provide the most benefits.

    The PWSA Green Infrastructure Grant Program provides grants of $5,000 - $50,000 to non-profit organizations, community and civic groups, and property owners for projects in the City that advance the objective of attaining Clean Water Act compliance for water quality. The grants support local, grassroots efforts that employ green infrastructure practices to improve water quality, enhance conservation, restore habitat, stimulate economic growth, and educate people about stormwater issues and associated stewardship actions. Find out more information about PWSA’s grant program

  • 26 Jul 2016 9:42 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By ASCE Blog Editor and ASCE Awards Committee

    John W. Schombert is 2015 ASCE-Pittsburgh recipient of the Service to the People Award.  John is the executive director of the 3 Rivers Wet Weather (3RWW), a non-profit organization, created in 1998 to help municipalities in the Pittsburgh region to address their aging and deteriorating sewer infrastructure. Funded by federal, state and local governments and private foundations, 3 Rivers Wet Weather helps communities by benchmarking wet weather technology and creating regional solutions to sewage and stormwater overflow issues.

    “John was instrumental in establishing this organization which assists local municipalities address their aging sewer infrastructure needs,” says colleague, Ralph Gilbert. “He initiated the 3RWW Conference, an annual event that brings representatives of government, industry and the consulting community together to exchange ideas and highlight successful projects from across the country.”

    “He is an outstanding leader with years of experience who has toiled tirelessly on the wet weather issue that is critical to the vitality and sustainability of our region,” adds colleague, Jonathan Shimko.  “I truly believe that the regional wet weather progress has been so significant, in great part, because John is at the helm.”

    Prior to joining 3 Rivers Wet Weather, John worked for nearly three decades in the Allegheny County Health Department’s (ACHD) water pollution, public drinking water and waste management programs where served as Program Chief in his last 12 years with ACHD. John is chairman of the Coraopolis Water and Sewer Authority, chairman of the Riverview Sanitary Authority and a member of The Pennsylvania State Board for the Certification of Sewage Treatment Plant and Waterworks Operators.

    “He has been a champion in our region for reducing Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows, promoting the clean rivers campaign,” Mr. Gilbert says.

    John is a graduate of Theil College with a B.S. in physics.  He also serves on the Board of the Local Government Academy in Pittsburgh.

    “John exudes enthusiasm in all he does, from meeting with civil engineers and regularly serving as guest speaker in local university environmental classes to providing input to elected officials,” says Mr. Shimko.  “He inspires everyone around him.”

  • 21 Jul 2016 11:24 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By ASCE Award Committee

    Founder Anthony M. DiGioia, Jr., Ph.D., P.E. Founder Richard E. Gray, P.G.DiGioia, Gray & Associates, LLC (DiGioia Gray), is the recipient of ASCE-Pittsburgh’s 2015 Employer Recognition Award.  DiGioia Gray is led by internationally respected engineers and geologists. The firm provides comprehensive consulting services by using an interdisciplinary approach to provide full-service expertise from planning and design through construction, operation, maintenance and rehabilitation. Their commitment is to provide practical, economical, reliable and, when appropriate, innovative project life cycle solutions that exceed their clients’ expectations.

    In addition, as part of the firm’s commitment to their employees’ professional development, DiGioia Gray proudly sponsors ASCE memberships, attendance to conferences, one-day seminars, technical dinners and special events such as Engineer’s Week and the ASCE Pittsburgh Section Kick-Off dinner. DiGioia Gray’s founding fathers, two ASCE Distinguished Members, Anthony DiGioia and Richard Gray, were the organizers for the 2008 ASCE National Conference, past Section leaders, and have contributed to several one-day interactive seminars and technical dinners.

    DiGioia Gray actively promotes publications in several technical journals and newsletters, and through the years has sponsored senior technical staff s’ leadership in ASCE at the local and national level.

    “It has been through DiGioia Gray’s encouragement and support that several of my colleagues and I have been so active within ASCE at various levels,” states past Pittsburgh Section president N. Catherine Bazán-Arias. “Our founders advocate and foster our participation.  Moreover, they lead through example; I can only hope to someday achieve their ASCE level of involvement.”

  • 14 Jul 2016 10:38 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    By ASCE-Pittsburgh Awards Committee

    The Eden Hall Campus is situated on 388 acres in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Originally a farm and retreat for working women of Pittsburgh, Eden Hall was gifted to Chatham University in 2009 by the Eden Hall Foundation. The 20- to 25-year development plan for the residential campus calls for it to be self-sustaining in every way; housing 1,500 students, achieving zero carbon emissions, producing more energy than it consumes, and managing all stormwater and wastewater on site.

    University president Esther Barazzone proclaimed that “… Eden Hall [would] be the first community in the world built from ‘below the ground up’ for the study of sustainable living, learning, and development.”

    Critical to realizing this endeavor has been the management of that which falls on the ground from above.  Unique to the project was the implementation of a decentralized “treat it where it falls” approach to stormwater, preventing any singular large concentration of runoff.  The stormwater management system is comprised of a series of separate rain gardens strategically placed around the site to manage small individual drainage areas. Each rain garden discharges excess water over a concrete level spreader to further mitigate concentrated runoff. Captured roof runoff is connected to a 50,000-gallon underground retention tank and later reused for landscape irrigation. Stormwater is also infiltrated into the north parking lot by using a permeable surface and underground stone infiltration beds.

    Stormwater is not the only source for reuse applications. A biological wastewater treatment system is utilized for sanitary sewer waste produced by the campus. This system includes a series of primary treatment tanks at each building and secondary treatment consisting of a trickling filter, subsurface wetlands, a sand filter for polishing, and UV filter disinfection.

    The primary tanks dose effluent to a trickling filter for nitrification. This effluent is then directed into two subsurface constructed wetland cells. Treated water is stored for reuse as flushing water in campus buildings. Any excess water is safely disposed of via an underground drip irrigation system. The treated water is also connected to a campus greenhouse for use in limited applications.

    The overall system allows for extended contact times for the effluent at each stage of treatment. This increases the effectiveness of treatment and overall water quality. The system is designed to be expandable by simply adding additional wetland cells as needed.

    The incorporation of these best-management-practice approaches has enabled Eden Hall to meet its project goal of having no point discharges from the developed site.  The Eden Hall Campus masterplan allows for flexibility in design and engineering solutions so that future technologies can be integrated into the existing infrastructure. The campus acts as a living laboratory for sustainable design and operations.

    Find out more about the Eden Hall Campus or to take a tour of the site.

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