Pipeline inspections: What communities should know

John Gerlach, Director of Pipeline Field Operations, WSB

Learn how inspections and monitoring can keep your utilities running smoothly and safely.

Whether filled with natural gas to fuel and heat homes and businesses or transporting liquid fuels from one location to another, most communities have miles of pipes embedded underground with other critical infrastructure. There’s a misconception that these lines are primarily located in remote areas. In reality, pipeline infrastructure can be found beneath our roadways and sidewalks or near homes, businesses, landmarks, parks and other natural resources. Pipeline infrastructure can range from large, high-pressure steel lines that serve cities and powerplants, to small plastic lines, used to transport gas from the street to your home or place or business. These complex networks require expertise to ensure the safety of people and the environment, as well as reliable access to the fuels we need to enjoy hot showers, drive to work and keep the lights on.

With increasing federal regulatory standards, now is the time to become more focused on pipeline integrity and safety. WSB offers inspections that help utilities and cities understand the condition of their infrastructure, reduce costly and inefficient repairs, improve safety and maintain the long-term integrity of these important pipelines.

Why hire a third-party inspector?

Pipeline inspectors can add value and security to any project near utility lines. Most commonly, inspectors are hired to oversee the contractors working on infrastructure projects such as roadway improvements or utility replacements. When these projects interfere with the natural gas system, pipeline inspectors who can recognize and mitigate potential risks are invaluable. 

Third-party experts can also be utilized to verify the results of other inspections, like performing audits that identify pipeline locations before a project is started. A second opinion can identify costly errors before the damage is done. In our experience, an audit of locate work finds mistakes roughly 30% of the time.  

A new regulatory environment

Investigations into high-profile pipeline releases over the past decade have prompted new regulatory recommendations and standards. Pipeline releases can have devasting consequences to people and the environment including fatalities, injuries, forced evacuation and damage to properties and natural resources. In many cases, regulators – like the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board – require independent, third-party inspections of pipelines and pipeline projects. 

Technology advantage

New technologies have made evaluating pipeline integrity more efficient. Rather than digging up pipelines under a densely populated area to check for deterioration, a device can be sent through the line that shows anomalies like corrosion and damage from past construction. Most pipes should be replaced every 15 to 20 years. Since pipeline replacement projects are typically planned in coordination with other infrastructure improvements, this type of check can help communities identify which projects should be prioritized first.  

WSB also offers real-time reporting on pipeline status through an ArcGIS platform. This technology can detect an increase in pressure or corrosion on the line and send notifications to technicians in the field.  

At first glance, hiring an outside expert to ensure compliance and verify accuracy can appear costly. In the end, pipeline inspectors can make your project run smoothly, reduce issues in the field and reduce the risk of releases, accidents and other safety hazards. Reach out to WSB’s utility and pipeline experts today to learn more.

John Gerlach is a Director of Pipeline Field Operations with more than 30 years of experience. His expertise extends to pipeline design, construction inspection and safety and risk management.

WSB adds fish logistics company to create FisH2O

August 28, 2019

FisH2O will coordinate the removal and sale of carp to sustainably close the loop on WSB’s water quality management service

Minneapolis, Minn. – Design and consulting firm WSB today announced that the company has acquired the commercial carp logistics arm of Blair Fish to enhance its innovative invasive species management services. WSB will rebrand this fully owned subsidiary under FisH2O. The acquisition will allow WSB to implement a sustainable approach to its growing fishery business, water quality management and carp management. By tagging, capturing, diverting, transporting and selling carp to markets that will utilize the fish, FisH2O closes a sustainability gap that doesn’t currently exist in the marketplace.

“We are excited to launch FisH2O and expand our aquatic invasive species management program to tackle water quality issues across the United States,” said Bret Weiss, CEO at WSB. “Our clients benefit from an integrated approach to the management of carp and other invasive species to improve the ecology of lakes and other bodies of water. Finding an eco-friendly solution to the disposal of this invasive species is something we’re proud of.”

An abundance of carp can result in poor water quality due to reduced aquatic vegetation and excessive biomass. WSB has offered aquatic invasive species and carp management services since 2014. The firm works with watershed districts, lake associations, cities and tribes to improve water quality through the development of an integrated management plan, based on rigorous data collection, and removal of invasive species.

At WSB, a carp integrated management plan begins by quantifying the scale of the carp population through the development of a population and biomass estimate. This data helps clients determine whether populations are having a detrimental impact. WSB utilizes proven approaches for the management and removal as well as innovative techniques to capture the invasive fish, such as electrofishing, box netting, acoustic herding and barrier technology.

 “Many communities are currently struggling with carp populations and invasive species are changing the way we enjoy lakes,” said Tony Havranek, WSB senior ecologist leading the program. “By combining FisH2O with our services at a larger scale, we are able to bring the cycle full-circle and find uses for these fish.”

Now with FisH2O, clients can expect that WSB offers a one-stop-shop for water quality management, removing the hassle of coordinating multiple vendors. WSB and FisH2O will scientifically manage, remove, transport and sell the fish. Some invasive species are edible and can be sold to restaurants and grocers. The fish is also used for bait, fertilizer and pet food. “I’m excited to hit the ground running to grow FisH2O throughout the U.S.,” said Tim Adams, FisH2O fisheries logistics manager. “We want to be known as a friendly fish company that is taking sustainability to the next level – a solution that was much needed in the management of invasive species.”

Municipal Engineer

What does a Municipal Engineer do?

Brandon Movall, Graduate Engineer, WSB

Creating a livable city space for residents to enjoy is no easy feat.

Civil engineers who dedicate their careers to supporting a specific city or municipality are known as municipal engineers. You may only know of one main city engineer in your community. However, there is likely a team of municipal engineers working behind the scenes to ensure all city operations are running smoothly.

Here are five things that municipal engineers do to support your community.

1. Design

One of the most noticeable things that municipal engineers do is design the public infrastructure in a community. Local streets are designed to get you around town. Public utilities are designed to provide drinking water and indoor restrooms to homes and businesses. Trails are designed for recreational enjoyment. Storm sewer systems are designed to properly manage storm water runoff and prevent flooding. All the above and more are designed by municipal engineers.

2. Review

Developers and residents rely on municipal engineers to review developments within their city. Large-scale developments, usually done by a developer for a residential, commercial or industrial area, take thorough reviewing by municipal engineers to ensure the development is compliant with city rules and regulations and adds value to the community. Similarly, residents with plans to modify their land seek approval from municipal engineers to ensure their design and modifications meet community standards and avoid potential issues for neighbors or future residents.

3. Plan

Municipal engineers are always looking to the future. They develop Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) to identify the most crucial needs of the city and plan for future projects. These plans typically project 5-10 years into the future. Additionally, municipal engineers work with city planners and regulatory agencies to establish comprehensive plans for the community. Most comprehensive city plans typically project 10-20 years into the future.

4. Budget

Managing a city’s infrastructure budget is an essential part of being a municipal engineer. Cities often operate on a limited budget so they must think carefully about where to allocate their spending. Likewise, municipal engineers assist cities with applying for state, regional, and federal funding.

5. Collaborate

Municipal engineers collaborate with invested stakeholders to improve their communities. Through public engagement and speaking with residents, city officials, regional and state agencies, they gather input and analyze the best course of action to create a viable city that works for everyone.

Brandon Movall is a Graduate Engineer on our municipal team with experience in project design and bringing creative solutions to community problems. Learn more about our civil engineering services and recent community projects.

Q&A – Lee Gustafson

Lee Gustafson is our Vice President of Municipal Services. Lee oversees the growth and management of the municipal market. He is a respected municipal engineer and a great example of what it means to be committed to our clients. Recently, a member of our marketing team spoke with Lee to gain his insight on client relations and the future of our firm.

Q: You’ve been with WSB for four years now. What about WSB keeps you coming through the door every day?

What keeps me coming through the door is what got me here in the first place. I had options and chose to come to WSB because of the culture and the ability to be creative and innovative. I’ve been told by my peers that I’m not a typical engineer and I think that’s true. I like to push boundaries and be inspired. At WSB, I’m able to blend my passions and come up with cool solutions. I use the word ‘cool’ a lot because I’m not sure how else to describe it. I feel energized when I walk through the door and it’s one of the reasons I’m still here.

Q: You spent 20 years working as the City Engineer for Minnetonka. How is your role at WSB different?

It’s similar and different in many ways, but that’s what I like most about it.  It’s similar in the way that I get to work on some challenging and exciting projects, but it’s different because I get to work throughout the state of Minnesota. At this point later in my career, I need excitement and want to be kept on my toes. My role strikes a nice balance between all of it.

Q: Where do you see the engineering industry heading? What do you think will be different in 10 years?

Wherever it’s heading, I’ll be looking at it from a seat on my boat! But seriously, technology is going to, and is already, change everything.  Someday in the future, I envision that we will be able to drive a corridor with some type of device and by the time we return to the office, we’ll have everything digitally downloaded and ready to start designing. I don’t think we’ll depend on paper plans as much and I think that we’ll really rely on 3D technology. Access to information from anywhere is going to become increasingly important. I love change, but it can be scary to some. Change creates tremendous opportunities and I’m excited to see a younger generation of engineers embrace what’s next.

“We work together to understand our clients’ needs and mentor our new staff to set them up for success in the same way.”

Q: What has made the most impact on you throughout your career?

Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to have been deeply involved in professional organizations. These organizations have provided benefits to both me and my employers. My employers have supported my involvement and I’ve been given the opportunity to participate at a high level both regionally and nationally. The relationships and knowledge I’ve gained from these experiences has been invaluable.

Q: We’ve made a lot of changes in the past year – how do you think that is setting us up for success?

The changes that are occurring within WSB sets us up for continued success and growth. This growth will extend to the services we provide for our clients, the tools we use, and the teams we can form. Growing our staff will give us access to new ideas and a diversity of thoughts and applications. As we grow, we can carry our brand of customer service with us wherever we go.

Q: Our culture is important at WSB. What gives it that special something?

Our ability to be creative and the encouragement our staff gets to be bold really drives our culture. WSB needs all types of people to be successful.  We need people who understand the ins and outs of traditional design and engineering, and we need people who understand how to take the traditional way and push us one step further. These people can understand and implement strategies and continue to push boundaries. One thing remains constant: we all rally around our clients. We work together to understand our clients’ needs and mentor our new staff to set them up for success in the same way.

Q: We really value our strong client relationships. How do you hope we can maintain these as we continue to grow?

This is easy! Our commitment to good customer service. Having been a client of WSB for 20 years and being a client of other firms for nearly 30 years, I have a unique perspective on what good customer service is and how to form solid client relationships. We’ve cornered the market on that.  Customer service is everything from how we invoice to how we partner to provide long-term strategies. It’s imperative that every staff member who comes through the door at all of our offices understand this. Every client is different, and no two clients are the same. We need to continue to inspire each other to discover creative and thoughtful solutions that look beyond the needs of today to the opportunities of tomorrow.

“We’ve dedicated ourselves to the value of strong relationships and I think it shows in every project and every connection. ”

Q: What are you most looking forward to this year?

Going to Hawaii! But-work-related, rolling out all our new IT applications both internally and externally. I think our clients will be amazed at some of the applications we’re developing and how it can assist them in their day-to-day operations. We’re taking technology to the next level with our IT, GIS and Visualization service offerings. It’s a really exciting time and I’m glad we’re at the forefront of this.

Q: What do you wish you could tell our clients about working with us?

I wish I could tell every client that we believe in partnerships. We’re not promising there won’t ever be a bump in a road and we’re not perfect, but as a firm, we’re committed to working with our clients to smooth out those bumps and work together to solve infrastructure challenges. We’ve dedicated ourselves to the value of strong relationships and I think it shows in every project and every connection.

Q: We talk a lot about the future here. It’s unknown and it’s exciting. What do you think that says about WSB?

Throughout my career, the next five years into the future has always brought something new.  New trends, tools, technologies and more importantly – ways to do our jobs better. The future that I’ve seen and the future that I believe is coming allows us to take our projects to the next level. Demonstrating our projects and why they are or will be successful in an easy to understand manner will become increasingly important to the public and decision makers. I think we’re well-prepared and I can’t wait for what’s next.

How visualizations are changing the engineering industry

Jeff Christiansen, WSB Visualization Studio Manager

In a technology-driven society, we are challenged to adapt and prepare for the changing technologies of tomorrow. As a Visualization Studio Manager, helping clients see the big picture and visualize completed projects drives curiosity and reveals the potential impacts of our work. Creating visualizations plays a crucial role in helping communities and clients evolve. In the past few years, visualization capabilities have changed rapidly, allowing renderings to be completed in minutes. To stay on top of this cutting-edge technology, we must understand the software and carve out new markets from existing industries.

New developments in ray tracing

Up until last month, real-time and ray tracing couldn’t be used in the same sentence without a bank of 10 GPUs and 2500 watts of power. Ray tracing makes renderings dynamic and realistic and thanks to powerful GPUs, shortens the amount of time spent on each frame. This recent advance in technology allows clients and the public to see reflections, higher quality shadows and experience the creation for themselves. Today, we’re utilizing these technologies to create stunning visualizations for our clients. Once the projects have been modeled, iterations are produced in minutes, instead of days or weeks.

For some, classic visualization techniques and development are still the only way to produce the highest quality imagery when secondary shadows, complex caustics, and very high resolutions are required. In real-time, there is an abundance of data creating the visualizations of skyscrapers or roadways. In some cases, classic visualization allows an audience to see specific renderings that assist beyond the scope of just engineering. Ray tracing, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) allow us to visualize how things work from transportation and infrastructure to medical devices and demonstrative evidence.

Applying AR and VR

Immersive technologies, both AR and VR, allow clients to become part of their projects months or years in advance. Specifics such as material schedules, lighting, and species-specific landscaping create a three-dimensional rendered experience for people to become immersed in before it becomes a reality. From using VR to drive through a road design or using AR to see a properly placed medical device from any angle, visualizations reveal findings in a way anyone can understand. These technologies provide an unparalleled tool to investigate or market the feasibility and accuracy of a product or service.


Jeff is a visualization studio manager with more than 22 years of experience with many types of visualization projects, including over 400 miles of roadway with design elements that include five-level interchanges, bridge aesthetics, and complex roundabouts. He is an experienced project manager in the development and final production of disparate visualizations for municipal, state, and federal projects.

Brownfields: The land of opportunity, not blight

By Ryan Spencer, Senior Environmental Scientist

The term “brownfield” describes property that has the presence or potential presence of hazardous materials, pollution, or contamination. Generally, brownfields consist of current or former industrial, manufacturing, or recycling sites that are vacant and underutilized by the community. However, they can also include current/former gas stations or drycleaner sites located in residential neighborhoods. Brownfield sites are often an eyesore and contain dilapidated buildings, poorly kept grounds, and miscellaneous trash. Cities usually obtain ownership of brownfield sites through tax forfeiture which causes concern due to unknown environmental risks and pressure to redevelop. Rather than viewing a brownfield site as a liability, experienced cities and developers see them as an opportunity.

In recent years, brownfield redevelopment has become more common due to infill redevelopment and the shortage of developable land in urban areas. Through up-front work and investments, communities can take steps to ensure their brownfields are attractive to developers and ready for redevelopment. Additionally, there are numerous investigation and cleanup funding sources available along with additional avenues to obtain liability assurances, which help curb redevelopment costs and reduce contamination liability.

Do your due diligence
Performing environmental due diligence on a brownfield site uncovers potential environmental risks and contamination liabilities. Investing in the upfront due diligence is an important step in any successful redevelopment project. Typically, this is achieved by completing a Phase I Environmental Assessment (ESA), subsequent Phase II ESA (if warranted), and an Asbestos and Regulated Materials Survey on buildings (if present). The potential environmental risks are always scarier than actual risks. Once the environmental risk area is understood, the site is one step closer to redevelopment.

How do I fund this?
Investigation and cleanup funding are critical components of brownfield projects. If you don’t have the money, where do you start? There are many local, state, and federal funding sources available for brownfield projects in Minnesota. This is great, but can also be overwhelming. It’s important to understand the funding source application requirements, schedule, and scoring criteria. Funding is typically awarded in cycles (often biannually), resulting in vigorous competition among projects. The projects that best meet the funding source’s criteria will be awarded funding.

Upcoming funding opportunities
In Minnesota, two major investigation/cleanup funding sources include:

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Contamination Cleanup and Redevelopment Grants – Applications Due May 1 and November 1 each year.

These grants are available to both public and private redevelopment sites and can be used for environmental investigation and/or cleanup. Applications are eligible if known or suspected soil or groundwater contamination is present. Key scoring criterion include; creating and retaining jobs and affordable housing.

Additional information regarding DEED funding can be found at:  https://mn.gov/deed/government/financial-assistance/cleanup/contamination.jsp

Metropolitan Council Tax Base Revitalization Account (TBRA) – Applications Due November 1 each year.

TBRA provides $5 million annually to investigate and clean up brownfields for public and private redevelopment sites. The funding is limited to sites located within the 7-county Twin Cities metro region and key scoring criteria include; increasing tax base, preserving livable wage jobs, and producing affordable housing.

Additional information regarding TBRA funding can be found at:  https://metrocouncil.org/Communities/Services/Livable-Communities-Grants/Tax-Base-Revitalization-Account-(TBRA).aspx

Brownfields – a path to prosperity
A successful brownfield redevelopment can have a substantial impact on a community. It spurs economic momentum while showing commitment to continuous city improvements. Surly Brewing in Minneapolis was once a blighted underutilized property and is now a booming social attraction with rapid development occurring around it. Similarly, Kaposia Landing in South St. Paul – a popular waterfront park and recreation area – was once a landfill with little to no community value.

The next time you drive by a vacant underutilized property, think of what could be. Chances are, you are not the only one who has a vision of the site being repurposed, revitalized, and an asset to the community.

Ryan Spencer is a Sr. Environmental Scientist on WSB’s Environmental team. His expertise extends to Phase I & II Environmental Site Assessments, construction soil screening and documentation, contamination disposal and other hazardous material mitigation. He consults closely with both public organizations and private developers on their environmental needs.

WSB announces new Vice President of Transportation

Jody Martinson joins WSB from Minnesota Department of Transportation

Jody Martinson, VP of Transportation

Local engineering firm WSB today announced that Jody Martinson has joined the organization as the new Vice President of Transportation. As the former assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT)’s operations division, Martinson joins the firm with more than two decades of experience working in transportation engineering and project management.

“We are incredibly lucky to be able to call Jody a member of the WSB team,” said WSB President and CEO Bret Weiss. “Her depth of experience and incredible record at MnDOT will serve as an asset to our organization and to our clients.”
Martinson will lead WSB’s transportation efforts, a position previously held by Jon Chiglo who was recently promoted as the firm’s chief operating officer.

“Jody is a true leader and innovator in the world of transportation, and I know she will support our staff and clients as we grow our portfolio in new and exciting ways,” said Chiglo.

Martinson spent 25 years at MnDOT, starting as an engineer. In her time as assistant commissioner, she was responsible for managing overall operations including transportation program development and delivery, maintenance, legislative and policy development, strategic and business planning, and organizational change management. She also served as co-chair of the Guidestar Board of Directors and was a member of MnDOT’s Executive Inclusion Council and Advisory Council for Tribal Transportation.

“WSB is a valuable partner helping clients accomplish extraordinary, cutting-edge work in transportation. I look forward to hitting the ground running as the new vice president of this team,” said Martinson.