Leveraging Federal Funds to Revitalize Underutilized Land

June 17, 2024
By Ryan Spencer, Director of Environmental Investigation & Remediation, WSB

With so much additional federal funding coming from legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there are plenty of opportunities for communities to address brownfields and revitalize land. Communities with underutilized land, especially those with documented contamination, must possess a detailed understanding of the grant filing process to efficiently rectify this issue. Grant applications can be a complicated process. However, it is beneficial for communities to pursue grants to not only clean up pollutants and health hazards, but also further benefit residents with projects like affordable housing.

But where to start? Here are some ways your community can leverage federal funding to revitalize and develop underutilized lands.

Funding Sources

Regarding federal funding opportunities, the primary source when it comes to underutilized contaminated land is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Often projects requiring land revitalization stem from brownfield sites where contamination (known or perceived) is preventing the area from being redeveloped. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided a huge influx of funding specifically for cleanup and redevelopment projects, and the EPA announced in early 2024 that over $1 billion in funding was available for new and continued cleanup projects. That provides a huge opportunity for communities across the country.

Other funding opportunities are available at the state and county levels from economic development agencies or pollution protection agencies.

It’s also important to note that most grants are on a schedule and the time of year heavily impacts available funding.  Further, most grants are competitive and only the projects that best fit the grant agency’s goals will be awarded funding in each cycle. Depending on the time of year and how many grants have already been granted, communities may be required to wait until the following cycle before applying. To best leverage federal funding, knowing the goals of the agency, the stated goals of the grants and the funding timelines is imperative for communities with revitalization projects.

The Right Grant for the Right Project

When looking at federal grants, it is important to identify how your project aligns with grant application requirements. Not every grant may be the right fit for your project.

Land use projects that have the most potential for receiving funding are those targeting contaminated brownfield areas, those benefiting environmental justice areas and those that increase tax base, jobs, and affordable housing availability. Federal agencies give grants to the projects that score the highest by need and when communities clearly communicate how a project aligns with a grant’s overall mission. Before applying, interested applicants must understand if their project fits within the parameters of the grants. For example, private developments are typically excluded from grants while cleanup projects that lead to the construction of newer affordable housing have greater potential.

How WSB Can Help

Brownfield assessment, cleanup, and revitalization involves many steps, but WSB works with communities and can help navigate the process. That assistance can include environmental assessment services, assistance with grant applications and securing funding sources, community engagement, helping with project readiness, brownfield revitalization planning and design, and more. Revitalizing underutilized land is an investment that can pay off in big ways for communities. Federal grant funding provided by the Federal Infrastructure Bill can assist with jump starting, assessing, and cleaning up sites across the country. With extensive knowledge and experience, the professionals at WSB are here to help communities identify, apply for, and best leverage federal funding to clean up contaminated land and improve quality of life for residents.

Ryan Spencer is our director of Environmental Investigation and Remediation and has worked in the environmental consulting industry servicing both public and private sector clients. He is proficient in the planning, management, and completion of environmental due diligence, remediation, and brownfield grant writing. 

[email protected] | 612.723.3644

engineer with hardhat using tablet pc computer inspecting

SUE: What Your City Needs To Avert Disaster

June 17, 2024
By Tony Terrell, Director of Utilities Management, WSB

If your city has an upcoming construction project, using subsurface utility engineering (SUE) can provide numerous benefits, while helping avoid potential catastrophe. In any community, but especially in heavily developed cities, not knowing the exact location of subsurface utilities puts projects at risk and could mean unnecessary delays, unexpected costs, and even harm to communities by temporarily depriving it of water, electricity or gas.

With that in mind, let’s review what SUE is and why your city should think twice about forgoing it.

What Is SUE?

SUE is a service that uses pipe & cable locators, electromagnetic hand-held utility locators, ground penetrating radar, and vacuum excavation to locate and identify utility lines buried beneath the ground. The vacuum excavation process is unique and entails the use of a high-pressure sprayer and a 100-to-200-gallon tank that turns the soil into mud. That mud is then vacuumed out to receive a physical line of sight on utilities buried as much as ten feet below the ground surface. Through vacuum excavation, the exact horizontal and vertical coordinate and the depth of a utility can be measured. The ground penetrating radar is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. The GPR can identify different material types underground and is used to locate utilities that are difficult to find, and where the electromagnetic locators had issues. What’s more, SUE uses a quality ranking system that helps construction projects have the right data and a clear understanding of how to avoid colliding with utility lines.

Utility Quality Levels

Using SUE equipment as described above, a utility quality level can then be applied which denotes how precise the location data is. These quality levels fall into four levels of A, B, C and D. Through this quality level scale, design teams and construction teams are better equipped to ensure utilities are not impacted by any excavation work.

The Risk of Forgoing SUE

Forgoing the use of SUE creates the risk of damaging or destroying utility lines. This disruption would not only delay the ongoing project but would also create substantial cost of repairing the utility line and potentially cutting off services to the surrounding community. This is especially critical when working in heavily developed cities with large, condensed populations, and where damaging a utility has the potential of cutting off electrical, water or gas utilities to a large population. Additionally, studies have shown that forgoing SUE services can lead to problems and potential utility damage that will incur costs beyond the initial cost of performing SUE services for a project. On average there is a nearly 5 to 1 cost difference between risking utilities and using SUE to prevent these issues from occurring.

Why is SUE important

  • Provides valuable information from which to make valuable decisions for roadway/bridge projects.
  • Unnecessary utility relocations are avoided
  • Eliminate unexpected utility conflicts typically encountered on transportation projects
  • Improved safety
  • Reduce project delays, saving time and money
  • SUE is a viable technological practice that reduces project costs

How WSB Can Help?

To avert potentially damaging or destroying a utility during construction, cities should reach out to the experienced and talented team at WSB to discuss how SUE will keep costs low and protect not only your project, but the surrounding community. By staying at the forefront of technology and techniques, WSB provides the information and peace of mind cities need to complete their project safely.

Tony has over 30 years of roadway design experience including time at the Oklahoma DOT in the Roadway Design Division. He has worked in bridge design, right-of-way plans, railroad plans, and traffic/traffic signal plans. His work in utility relocation work involved with for all phases of the design, writing right-of-way easements, drawing final utility relocation plans, coordinating the utility relocation, verifying that all utility relocation work has been done and finalized.

[email protected] | 405.808.4127

Recap of the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session

June 14, 2024
By Jacob Ringstad, Graduate Engineer, WSB

The end of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session in St. Paul brought opportunities for communities across Minnesota. With changes to regulations and new grant investment opportunities, now is the time for communities to dive into better understanding of what happened this session and what changes and opportunities resulted from this year’s session. I was able to discuss with Anne Finn, Director of the League of Minnesota Cities’ Intergovernmental Relations, about the impact on cities for this session.

Budgets and Bonding

This year, lawmakers did not pass a capital investment bill. Many communities see a lack of a bonding bill as detrimental to asset preservation and local infrastructure. This failed bonding bill contained building asset preservation, money to remove lead and PFAs from local water systems, and $40 million dedicated to local communities. Additionally, the bonding bill failing to pass this year likely means there will be a large appetite for a bill in the 2025 legislative session. Communities with future construction projects and bonding needs must stay up-to-date and plan for what is to come in 2025. Anne encourages these cities to continue meeting with their representatives about the importance of these funds in your communities.

Efforts to Improve our Transportation

The 2024 session saw an additional $11.35 million investment in the Small Cities Assistance Program. These funds will be evenly distributed to cities with populations under 5,000 starting July 1st. These funds can be used to improve city assets and even include an option to use the money to pay debt service on bonds. One new policy opportunity Anne mentioned was state guidelines were enacted for establishing pedestrian malls. This new law will help to guide communities looking to expand pedestrian transportation and safety in high density areas.

A Focus on Environment

The 2024 legislative session saw massive investment from the Environment and Natural Resources Budget and Policy bill. An additional $46 million will be invested into programs dedicated to protecting Minnesota’s water, air, soil and wildlife. Anne specifically mentioned, “New grant programs created for community tree planting with $8 million for statewide use and another $3 million dedicated to the seven-county metro area.” To maximize use of this new funding, construction projects that can highlight sustainability should keep a close watch on these new investments and be ready as soon as the grants become available.

Expanding Housing Infrastructure Grant Program

Alongside new funding, counties are now able to take advantage of opportunities previously limited to cities. Under the 2024 legislative session, the Greater Minnesota Housing Infrastructure Grant Program was expanded to include county-managed construction projects, creating new opportunities, such as the development of housing, streets, water supply systems, sewers, utilities and more.

How WSB Can Help?

The 2024 session included several new state investments and policy changes that impact communities. With WSB, communities can feel secure with a talented team of experts who will help walk you through finding funding, applying for grants and ensuring every opportunity is on the table for your projects.

Jacob Ringstad has 2 years of experience in the city engineering. He has worked with city and township clients out of our Minneapolis and Saint Cloud offices to assist in improvement planning, design, and construction. Alongside his engineering work, Jacob has joined professional associations that involve the legislative affairs of the industry.

[email protected] | 6120.214.0962

geotechnical surveying

Geotechnical Survey: Three Issues it Can Mitigate in Your Project

June 7, 2024

By Richard Zamora, PE, Director of Geotechnical Services, and Zack Munstermann, PE, Geotechnical Engineer, WSB

A geotechnical survey is a necessity for any construction project to gain an in-depth understanding of underlying soil conditions in order to mitigate costly issues that, if not properly addressed, could damage foundations, walls, pavements and utilities. A good geotechnical survey provides the necessary information like soil strength, depth to bedrock, groundwater levels or slope stability. Knowing what to look for and what to address will improve a project’s design, construction efforts and operations over time. With that in mind, here are a few of the top issues a good geotechnical survey can help to identify and mitigate in your project.

Depth to Bedrock and Related Costs

A geotechnical survey is necessary to understand subsurface conditions and how they will impact a project’s earthwork, structural stability, and costs. Depth to bedrock can heavily influence cost and foundational stability. For instance, if a structure is not designed and built with consideration to bedrock depth, excavation costs could increase and the foundations and walls may experience damage over time requiring future repair work. Shallow depth bedrock is often a benefit for stability and lower project costs. On the other hand, deep layers of bedrock could cause foundational stability issues and will require far more excavation, or a redesign of the foundation leading to higher project costs. What is present in the ground beneath a construction project will dictate potential long-lasting issues that require attention like recurring damages and sinking foundations.

Clay Swelling and Chemical Treatments

Swelling clay, if not properly treated, will drastically increase the risk of structural damage and the need for costly repairs over time. Clay acts like a sponge that cyclically absorbs water and swells before drying and shrinking. After clay soil is properly evaluated through a geotechnical survey and testing, the soil needs to be treated. A survey identifies how much the clay could potentially swell or shrink over time, in order to right-size the treatment plan and not waste valuable resources on excessive excavation, or other costly mitigation measures. One common solution is a moisture treatment, where moisture is mixed into the clay during mass excavation and forced to swell; then, the pre-swelled soil under the foundation is replaced. This ensures swelling does not affect the building.

Chemical treatments are another way to stabilize clay. For shallower structures and pavements, lime and cement can be used and requires less excavation. However, the potential for chemical treatments is also dependent on the presence of sulfates. Sulfates in the soil will react negatively to lime or concrete and worsen the subgrade support. The geotechnical survey will not only help determine whether clay swelling is a problem, but also what treatment is feasible to limit risk and costs.

Presence and Impacts of Groundwater

In addition to soil conditions, a geotechnical survey will identify the potentially detrimental threat of groundwater. Understanding where groundwater is present in the site strata is important, particularly for those structures that have a basement or subsurface utilities. A geotechnical survey can determine groundwater depth at various locations within a construction site. Groundwater can complicate excavations, increase the lateral pressures applied to structures and foundations causing deterioration, and can destroy underground utilities. Proper identification presents the opportunity to develop a subsurface drainage system, or other mitigation alternatives, to keep below-grade utilities, structures, or retaining walls safe. Without a geotechnical survey, the threat posed by groundwater may go unnoticed or be underestimated until it is too late.

How WSB Can Help

At WSB, our Geotechnical team has decades of experience working on projects across the U.S. WSB is prepared to adapt to the needs of local municipalities and to local geology no matter where in the country a project may be. With a highly trained team of experts, clients can expect prepared solutions that mitigate risk and ensure a project’s success.

Richard has over 32 years of experience in the transportation industry of which over 24 years were with the Colorado Department of Transportation. He held various positions throughout his time with the CDOT and a majority of his roles related to pavement and materials including state pavement design and pavement management engineer. In his time at CDOT he implemented pavement design standards, materials quality assurance specifications, and managed the region’s pavement management program.

[email protected] | 719.266.3900

Zack has over 17 years of experience in the Geotechnical profession across multiple states and various levels. Prior to joining WSB, Zack was a project manager and staff engineer coordinating with his team to conduct subsurface explorations, laboratory testing, and preparing geotechnical reports with recommendations for a vast array of projects.

[email protected] | 719.266.3900

St. Cloud Office

WSB announces St. Cloud office relocation as part of national expansion

June 6, 2024

The firm has chosen to relocate to the new office space for improved efficiency.

Minneapolis, Minn. – Design and consulting firm WSB announced today the relocation of their St. Cloud office. The firm is building a national presence and making each office a welcoming space is included in that plan.

The firm’s new St. Cloud office is located at 3051 2nd Street South, Suite 103 and includes 3,998 square feet.

“The St. Cloud office is an integral part of WSB,” said Kyle Klasen, vice president of surveys. “We have had a building in the area since 1998, and we are excited to relocate to a new facility. We look forward to settling into the new space and continuing to build relationships in the area.”

St. Cloud hosts one of the seven Minnesota offices and has helped create the strong foundation WSB has with its Midwest clients and communities.

“Our top priority is making sure we find and create spaces where our staff will thrive and we can best support the community,” said Bret Weiss, president and CEO. “We are looking forward to a future in a new space with resources that reflect our values and brand for staff and clients. This relocation is a testament that we are continuing to invest in St. Cloud.”

With two recent acquisitions, the firm has grown significantly. Expanding its coast-to-coast client base and office locations has been a major focus for the firm. National development has been at the forefront, but the firm continues to prioritize the needs of each region. WSB looks forward to the future of the St. Cloud office in its new location.

WSB Chevron

WSB Ranks 11 on 2024 Hot Firm List

June 6, 2024

WSB was recently named a Hot Firm by the Zweig Group for the eleventh consecutive year. Our firm ranks 11th on the 2024 Hot Firm List, a significant increase from our position last year at 43. This is one of our highest placements on the Hot Firm List, and we are incredibly honored to share this achievement.

Hot Firm #11

The list honors the fastest growing firms in the AEC industry in the U.S. and Canada. The chosen companies have surpassed both the economy and their competitors to emerge as frontrunners in their respective industries. Ranking is based on three-year growth in revenue, by both percentage and growth. 

The Zweig Group is the leading research, publishing, and advisory services resource for firms in the AEC industry. The Zweig Group’s awards programs recognize and celebrate top AEC industry firms in several categories.  Winners will be recognized at the 2024 Elevate AEC Conference in September. 

View the complete list of Hot Firm winners.