Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Commuter Hell in Seattle

It took me four and a half hours to get home to Edmonds last night. All looked good when I left the office in Redmond at 5 pm. As soon as I got up Avondale Road a short way it started snowing heavily. The traffic was barely moving. It took me two hours just to get to Cottage Lake. I then heard on the radio that Interstate 405 north was totally blocked. I turned around and went back to the office and grabbed my laptop and some files. I checked the traffic map and decided on a 520 bridge west crossing. That worked well. As soon as I got on I-5 northbound, I got off the very first exit at 45th and headed west to Ballard hearing that I-5 from Lake City Way north was not moving. From Ballard I went north via 15th and then Greenwood. Greenwood got more crumbly icy the further north I went until finally at 145th it was a skating rink. Where Greenwood turns into 155th and meets 99, it was Zamboni time, smooth ice on a slight hill. Two Metro buses were off to the side. The young gal in front of me hit her breaks and went sideways. I gently eased to a stop and watched her slide away. Once stopped I noticed that I was very slowly, almost imperceptably sliding. The gal in front of me was cleared out so I let off the breaks and kept on a straight course to the flat. Once on 99 it was OK all the way to Edmonds. I made it home about 9:40 pm. The family was waiting up for me. My wife made me a couple egg burritos …mmmmmm.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Salinas Valley Redux - California Dreamin' Part VIII


I covered my trip northward through the Salinas Valley in Part II. In this last segment of California Dreamin' I'll cover it again, only with a few photos and some additional details.

In Part VII, I had just pulled into Paso Robles on a Wednesday night after traversing up and over the Parkfield Grade. I had one more medical office building to look at in Templeton for a mold assessment, part of my whirl-wind week-long tour of California with sites in San Leandro, Los Gatos, and Manteca. Templeton lies between Paso Robles and Atascadero. I was booked into a Hampton Inn on the southern edge of Paso Robles for Wednesday and Thursday nights. It was a brand new hotel catering to the Central Coast wine tour crowd. With that theme in mind, I picked up a bottle of Castoro Cellars Fume Blanc from the local supermarket along with some other food items to stock in my room's pony fridge.

I met my site contact Thursday morning and went through the small building of medical office suites, mostly vacant. The site contact obviously had more important responsibilities, being the facilities manager at the local hospital, but he was polite and made sure I saw everything I needed. He was a younger good old boy who grew up in Bakersfield, a chunk of Oklahoma dropped into the center of California. He had a real nice rig, a Toyota Tundra in bright metallic blue, lifted and tricked out, and too nice to thrash off road. I was the only consultant (among several disciplines on this project) who had called ahead and scheduled an appointment for a site visit so he gave me some credit for that. My years of doing these things have taught me to head Murphy off wherever you can and confirming site visits is plain old Consulting 101. It surprises me to hear about consultants who just show up expecting to walk through. I couldn't afford any schedule glitches on this week-long tour.

I wrapped up the site visit in about an hour. I supposed I could've made a flight out of Oakland later that day. But the San Leandro draft report was due the following day (Friday) and I would've have lost a precious day driving up to Oakland. I sequestered myself in my room the rest of the day and into the night working on the San Leandro report. I finished it and emailed it off that night.

I didn't get to see much of Paso Robles except for driving around looking for places to eat and buy a latte at anyplace but Starbucks. I vaguely remember Paso Robles from passing through there on family vacations on the way up to Oregon for camping. We stayed in a motel there once. I had a shoebox full of wooly bear caterpillars that my mother allowed me to bring along on the trip or else they would starve. As a kid I always had some captured creatures I would keep like caterpillars, spiders including black widows, and lizards. Caterpillars were most fun because they eventually pupated and emerged as moths or butterflies. As it turned out, the shoebox of caterpillars was left behind outside of the motel room. When I realized we had forgotten the caterpillars we were already well down the road. I think my parents were secretly relieved of having to deal with a box full of caterpillars through a whole family camping trip.

I left Paso Robles Friday morning heading north through the Salinas Valley to catch a flight out of Oakland back to Seattle. I made several stops along the way as I mentioned in Part II.


My first stop was Mission San Miguel Arcangel. Early morning low clouds added grayness and mystery to the mission buildings. The history of the mission includes the tragic murders of the Reed family here in 1848. I walked all around the perimeter of the mission, the gift shop and museum not opening until later in the morning. The church was closed indefinately, undergoing repairs from a December 2003 earthquake. The cracks in the front church wall are readily obvious. The repair operations are much in evidence around the church and associated buildings.

Rios-Caledonia Adobe

Across from Mission San Miguel is the Rios-Caledonia Adobe. I was the only there this morning except for the still slumbering caretaker. I feely walked the grounds without another soul to disturb my thoughts.

Feed Mill

I stopped to photograph an old feed mill in San Miguel. It reminded me of the old CC Stafford feed mill near where I grew up as a boy, the mill already in decay as suburbia grew around it.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

My last stop was at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. The mission sits out in the middle of the Salinas valley lettuce fields, isolated, with no adjacent town or city. I pretty much had the run of the place being the only tourist present. From my readings I recognized one of two marked graves as that of Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga.

Grave of Jose Arrillaga

"As soon as we were informed of the arrival of the gobernador [Arrillaga], Lieutenant Davidov was sent ashore to welcome the company and extend our warmest acknowledgements for the friendly manner in which we had been received. On the following morning, when we expected our visit to be returned, there came two religiosos tendering apologies of the gobernador that, being advanced in years and of feeble constitution, he hoped to be excused from returning the visit, and at the same time requesting Rezanov, with all of the officers, to visit him at the presidio. The invitation was accepted, and we all went to the presidio, where we became acquainted with the gobernador, a venerable looking man of sixty years. He had come a distance of no less than twenty-five German miles, solely for the purpose of showing respect to us and making our stay as agreeable as possible."

Georg von Langsdorff - 1806

Lettuce Field

John Steinbeck describes the essence of California and the Salinas Valley the best in the opening of East of Eden.

"The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in summer - and what trees and seasons smelled like - how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.

I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding - unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and love of east. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains."

John Steinbeck - East of Eden

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Birthday My Son

Yesterday was my youngest son's eleventh birthday. He's such a wonderful kid - handsome with his loosely curled blonde hair and blue eyes, polite, great vocabulary and a vivid imagination. He had three friends over for a sleepover plus older brother, who managed nicely not to pound or humiliate his little brother in front of his friends. Fun was had by all - electronic games, pizza, soda, pancakes and bacon for breakfast, followed by backyard potato gun fights. Nobody got hurt and nothing got broken.

Parkfield Grade - California Dreamin' Part VII

I had looked over a number of California state road maps at a Barnes & Noble in Tracy. I was exploring a number of ways to get from Manteca to Paso Robles the long way. One map, and only one of the maps I looked at showed a sliver of a road that left Highway 198 just after Coalinga and headed south through Parkfield connecting with Highway 46. Naturally, this was the map I bought.

In Part VI, I had stopped at a BLM pull-out for a leg stretch and snap shots. From there, I headed west again on Highway 198, vigilant for a side road to my left that would take me to Parkfield and beyond. Sooner than I could blink, I spotted a side road with a small sign that read "Parkfield Grade." Well that had to be it so I turned left.
The road traversed over a broad rolling oak-studded plateau, dipped into a couple dry washes, then began twisting and climbing up into the rounded ridges of the central California Coast Ranges. I found a pull-out on the narrow road that afforded a grand view of the plateau I had just crossed. I loved being here. This was the real California with all the sights, smells, and familiarity of growing up and tramping through the golden hills of California. This time of year, they were truly baked to a shimmering gold. Were this March, these hills would be emerald green, teeming with wildflowers and buzzing insects. On this day life slumbers here beneath the withering late summer sun and twisted live oak branches.

I past interesting rock formations composed of ophiolite and serpentine, oceanic crust that was squeezed up by colliding crustal plates. The rocks were covered with a brilliant red lichen.

Climbing further, digger pines appeared, and then the pavement ended. I was sure that I was lost now, having seen only one other vehicle. The road became dirt and gravel yet still well graded enough for my rental car. On I went. I had plenty of gas.
I crested at the county line leaving Fresno County and entering Monterey County. The road, still dirt, wound it's way down. I could see down the to Cholame Valley. I stopped just after the crest for more pictures of vistas and oak trees.
I finally reached valley bottom at the V6 Ranch that later research told me was a bit of a working and guest ranch. From here the road was level and relatively straight, crossing the dry Little Cholame Creek on standard box truss bridges.

I pulled into Parkfield and it might as well have been a ghost town. The inn and restaurant were both closed. I had been looking forward to a lunch stop here. There's a small USGS building and an information board, Parkfield being the locus of earthquake prediction study along the San Andreas fault because of the regularity of earthquake occurrence.
Just south of Parkfield, I stopped at the bridge where every tourist stops, the bridge slightly contorted by the slow creep of the San Andreas fault. One side of the bridge is the Pacific plate and the other is the North American plate. Whichever side you're standing, the opposite side will be moving to your right, assuming you're facing the other side. Therefore, as is well known, the San Andreas fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault.
My little country road adventure finally came to an end at the intersection with Highway 46 under the low late afternoon sun at the bottom end of Cholame Valley. I stopped for a couple more snapshots before heading on to Paso Robles for the night. It was very near here where James Dean was killed on September 30, 1955 in a head-on collision at the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 41. I was 6 months old at the time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dude, what are you reading?

Air travel gives me the time to do pleasure reading, especially if I'm stuck in a middle or aisle seat. I'm baffled by people who can seemingly sit for two hours on an airplane staring off into space. Oh sure, they'll pick up the airline magazine and quickly thumb through. A few people pull out their laptops and catch up on work or play a game. I seldom pull out the laptop except on longer cross-country flights, which for me are rare (last one was February 2004 to the Carolinas, into Charlotte and out Raleigh-Durham). Most of my air travel is western US, with flights under three hours. I'm usually not very chatty and most other people aren't either. Every once in awhile I sit next to an interesting chatterbox. Really, I prefer to read or stare out the window.

So what am I reading now? I just finished up "A World Transformed - Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush" edited by Joshua Paddison. It's a collection of writings from early California explorers and adventurers like Juan Crespi, George Vancouver, and Richard Henry Dana, with Dana being the most interesting. I'm reading now "Bear Flag Rising - The Conquest of California, 1846" by Dale L. Walker. This book is about that short timeframe when Americans began streaming into California as the vangaurd of manifest destiny and Mexico lost control of her far off and neglected territory. The book has a great cast of real characters, the most infamous of course was John Charles Fremont.

I have been reading these books mostly because of my frequent travels to my native state. Sure, I picked up a lot of California history just growing up and going to school there. The history is worth refreshing and expanding, especially the colorful history of California. I so love history.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Couple Days Off

I'm taking a couple days off at the end of the week to recharge. This has been an almost non-stop busy year and I haven't taken much vacation time. The boys are off school for these two days and it's youngest sons birthday, turning 11. He's having some friends over Saturday for a sleepover, where they will "Destroy all Humans" and other fun electronic games.

I managed to push my Renton Phase I, the Silicon Valley parking lot Phase I, and the noise assessment reports out the door. We are also working on a much larger parcel in Silicon Valley that we're already into Phase II subsurface investigation for the usual suspects - gas stations and dry cleaners. I added my site visit findings to the OC Phase I report and sent it down to my colleague in Irvine.

I prepared a proposal for some additional contamination characterization at a Seattle Central District redevelopment project and we got the go-ahead for that. Now I need to schedule the drilling and find staff.

I prepared a proposal for remedial action services for a redevelopment site near downtown Tacoma to address lead contamination in surface soil. When old houses are demolished they usually leave behind traces of lead paint and that's what happened here. This is a soup-to-nuts project - workplan, excavation oversight, sampling, and closure report. We work with the Washington State Department of Ecology through their Voluntary Cleanup Program. We submit a Workplan that spells out how the lead soil will be removed, how and where we'll collect soil samples for analysis, and what criteria we'll use to confirm the site is cleaned up. I did a similar site just two blocks up the hill and obtained a "no further action" determination from Ecology. This new project is essentially the same as the one I did last year.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The OC in One Day

I flew down to John Wayne early Monday morning catching a 6:40 am flight out of SeaTac on Alaska. The line was long at Qdoba so I didn't have time to grab one of their decent breakfast burritos. The Starbucks line was long, too, and I usually try to avoid the homogeneity of Starbucks. So I stopped at Dilettante Chocolates & Mocha Café, across from Starbucks in Pacific Marketplace. I ordered my usual 20-oozer latte and a cranberry scone. The scone was soft and so unsconely uncrumbly. It sucked, but I ate it anyway.

The plane was full and I had a middle seat. At least on Southwest, I can usually score my coveted window seat 20F (or 20A) by checking in on-line and scoring the "A" group boarding pass. At least I got in a lot of pleasure reading over the two hour plus plane ride.

The last time I flew into John Wayne was a few years ago (I can't remember the exact year). It must have been not too long after 9/11 because I recall National Guardsman patrolling the terminal with M-16s.

The site I was visiting for this project was a large industrial/warehouse building located in northern Orange County. It was totally vacant but in its former life had been a carpet factory and most recently occupied by an aerospace company. Other consultants were running around the place, some I knew well, others I was meeting for the first time. I spent the better part of the day working my way around the property from the roof, to the inside, and around the outside. I collected samples of building materials for asbestos analysis, looked for indications of mold growth, stains, spills, and other indications of environmental problems. The place was swiss-cheesed with soil borings, some were hollow-stem auger borings and others were direct-push probe borings. Someone had characterized the site very well. But I had none of the data in hand.

I finally wrapped up my site work around 4:30 pm, finishing with a review and drive around of the surrounding properties. I didn't have enough time to review building permits at the city. I had wanted to finish the day with a walk around Upper Newport Bay, but the days are too short this time of year and when the sun goes down in these southerly southern California latitudes it gets dark quickly. Picture the sun diving into a pool. In Seattle, the sun dives into the pool at a low angle, not quite a belly flop but more a racing dive. In southern California, the sun dives almost straight down.

I was starving having milked that soggy scone for all it was worth for the whole day. I decided to head over to Costa Mesa to see if that sandwich place was still there at 17th and Orange that I used to stop at after a day at the beach (Newport Beach). Sadly it's a dry cleaner now. But Chester Drawers was still there tucked in the corner of that neighborhood shopping center, a great little spot with beer, burgers, dancing, and shuffleboard. The clientele going in was young and beautiful, just like it was 20 years ago when I would hang out there with my Orange County friends. I'm not so young and beautiful anymore, so I grabbed a sandwich from a nearby Panera.

I checked in early for my non-stop flight home to Seattle, which as it turned out was canceled. The ticket agent was having a bad day and so it made me have a bad day. Being nice comes easy for me and it usually results in reciprocating niceness. When people are not nice I can be just as not nice or even more so. Not getting much help from the Miss Not Nice, I went over to another to another ticket agent who was very nice and pleasant, who booked me on a flight stopping in Oakland then on to Seattle.

I had a window seat but it was already nighttime, which did make for beautiful city light views. I sat next to a father and his five year old daughter. She was a delightful and intelligent child. They were returning from a trip to Disneyland.

I finally walked in through the door at home around 12:30 am. I scrounged for a little snack food, crawled into bed, kissed the wife, rolled over and fell asleep.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Parkfield Junction - California Dreamin' - Part VI

I left Coalinga heading west into the California Coast Ranges on a curving Highway 198. The golden hills opened and closed on the winding road. Each turn in the road offered a new vista. I was looking for the junction to Parkfield on a road that would take me south through Parkfield and eventually to end up in Paso Robles later in the day. A small dirt parking area caught my on the right and I jammed the breaks to pull in. It was a BLM access for a place called Curry Mountain. It was nice to stretch a few minutes, smell the air, admire the views and take a few photos.

Upcoming Events - The OC

I fly down to The OC Monday morning catching a very early 6:40 am flight into John Wayne. I'm picking up a Phase I site visit of a warehouse building in north Orange County for our favorite client. My Irvine office colleague who would normally do this is buried in work. I fly back out the same evening, getting back into SeaTac at 11:14 pm. It looks to be a long day with plenty of time to catch up on my pleasure reading. I'm not one to unfold the laptop on the plane and work. I read or look out the window. It's likely I'll have time for a walk around Upper Newport Bay before I fly out - a great birding spot and close to the airport.

We completed a one-day internal training course last week on the new ASTM E 1527-05 standard practice, updated for the new All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) rules coming out. I was one of the course instructors. I had a fun time doing it.

I have some outstanding reports to work on also - the Silicon Valley parking lot Phase I, a workplace noise assessment report, and a demolition-level asbestos survey report I did of a building undergoing interior renovations for a Microsoft move-in. Jeez, I wear a few hats.

The noise survey was interesting. I hung noise dosimeters on two employees and spent the rest of the day walking around measuring noise levels of different worker tasks using a hand-held sound level meter. Now the report is way overdue. Ugh!

I have a soil and groundwater investigation coming up in southern Oregon. It's for a national client buying a neighboring property at one of their facilities so they can expand. This is an interesting site with interesting problems. More on that later when it comes up. I have one of my Portland colleagues pegged for the field work.

The Best Laid Plans

Most of the soil and groundwater results came in for our Phase II project down in Silicon Valley. All looked initially good. We had some low level hits of diesel and motor oil range petroleum hydrocarbons in the groundwater, but no VOC hits in soil or groundwater. This is a bit unusual. Why no VOC or gasoline hits? You always expect some VOCs with a petroleum release. On face value this looked like a manageable problem - long term groundwater monitoring at worst was what I was seeing. I was still troubled by the source of the contamination. Where could these low level petroleum hits be coming from? Our investigation was really just a set of pin pricks into the ground. A potential source could lie under the buildings, which we could not access.

The other concern was we didn't yet have the parking lot results. They went to the lab late Friday. When those remaining results came in late Tuesday it was a shocker - big diesel and motor oil petroleum hits in groundwater. Again, nothing in soil and no VOC hits. The source was likely off site somewhere and potentially on the adjoining property that we initially investigated earlier in the week. We had no way to conclusively determine groundwater flow direction at this point. We had a notion of groundwater flow direction. However, below-ground parking garages were located on the neighboring properties. If these garages have sump pumps to keep groundwater out, then the pumping could locally influence groundwater flow direction.

Now we just have to wait and see where this goes next. It's in the hands of the buyer and seller, their attorneys, the lenders, and the insurance people.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fall in Skagit County

Last weekend I drove up to the Skagit Valley with my parents and youngest son. It's becoming a fall tradition. First we stopped for donuts at my favorite donut place anywhere - The Donut House in Anacortes (2719 Commercial Ave).
After we pigged out on donuts we took the short hike to Whistle Lake in the Anacortes Forest Lands. The bigleaf maples were at their peak color.

We stopped at Tulip Town to buy bulbs. The best, biggest, and choicest bulbs are had right here from the grower.

We finished the day at the Skagit River Brewery for dinner and beers. Quality time with my folks who aren't getting any younger.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pleasant Friday

I had a field day out of the office on Friday doing a site visit at two office parks in Renton. This was for a new client referred to us by a property condition consultant we cross paths with often. Typical site visit it was with a number of consultants running around the properties, most I've known for years. The tenants were all nice. The weather was gorgeous, a clear autumn day. It was a perfect way to end the week.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Back Pages

I dropped the car off for an oil change at Toyota - every fourth change free. Yeah, you change your own oil, I know. Well I've changed a ton of oil and it doesn't get any more pleasant. I take advantage of the time and go for a long walk, snap a few photos of things that catch my interest. I strolled into the supermarket espresso place and ordered up a 20 ozer latte. The Byrds "My Back Pages" was playing. Man I love that song, written by Bob Dylan. I found a You Tube video from Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary tour, with Roger McGuinn leading things off accompanied by Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Neil Young.

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

Half-cracked prejudice leaped forth
"Rip down all hate," I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

Girls' faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

A self-ordained professor's tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
"Equality," I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I'd become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Added Scope

All was going well down in Sunnyvale, albeit a little slow. A number of factors were slowing us down. We had to increase our target depth beyond 20 feet to intercept and collect groundwater samples from about 28 to 32 feet. We were hand augering the first 5 feet to clear utilities. We encountered a layer of gravel that collapsed into the hole each time we tripped out. Gravel can also have a camming affect on the rods and core barrel that can make it hard to pull them out of the the hole.

Our client called late in the afternoon and to let us know that they were also buying an adjoining parking lot that reportedly had a gas station. I quickly checked Sanborn Maps and found no gas station, but I did find that the lot had a truck repair facility in the 1940s and a print shop in the 1950s. Bad enough. We now needed to investigate soil and groundwater quality on this lot. The downside is we couldn't start for another two days. The one-call utility notification requires 48 hours before you can start drilling. This gives all the underground utilities time to mark the locations of their buried utilities. Hitting underground utilities can ruin your day and maybe get someone injured or killed.

I got the wheels in motion. I called the one-call underground notification system. I called the drilling company and fortunately they had Friday open, the soonest we could start after the 48 hour waiting period. I called our field geologist to mark out the new locations in white marking paint and to have her prepare for Friday. I love it when a plan falls apart and then comes back together nicely in a new form.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On to Phase II

The preliminary information we gathered on the Silicon Valley site revealed that the site historically had a dry cleaner tenant and, before the development of the existing buildings in the late 1960s, had two gas stations located on the property during the 1940s and 1950s. This information came from a prior Phase I report provided to us when we started the project. Other corroborating sources we looked at were Sanborn Maps and old city directories. Polk's and Haines directories are the common ones we find. You can find them in your local library.

The thing about dry cleaners is that they commonly use a chemical called tetrachlorothylene, synonymously known as perchloroethylene - PCE for short, or simply "perc." PCE is a chlorinated solvent that can adversely affect health with enough exposure, typically through inhalation or direct contact in an occupational setting. PCE is also a carcinogen. Usually dry cleaner sites that have been around a number of years have caused some PCE contamination to soil and even groundwater. Once it gets into groundwater, it's a bitch to cleanup. PCE gets into the ground a number of ways, usually through the mishandling of the chemical, chemical waste, and by dumping down the drain, storm drain, or out behind the store. PCE can find its way through a crack or expansion joint in the floor slab and leach out from a sewer line. Finding a dry cleaner during the Phase I assessment is almost an automatic Phase II subsurface investigation. Or it can just kill the deal.

Gas stations store their fuel supply in underground storage tanks. These tanks and the related piping have leaked more often than not at old gas station sites. Old gas stations also may have had auto service with hydraulic hoists in the service bays. The below ground mechanisms can leak hydraulic oil. Used oil is often stored in underground tanks. Solvents may have been used to clean parts. Gas stations, as you can see, have many potential sources for contamination to get into the ground. Gasoline, diesel, oil, and, in some cases, solvents are the potential contaminants.

Compared to PCE, petroleum contamination is relatively easy to chase. It usually smells and petroleum contaminated soil is usually discolored. Petroleum products float on water such that when a release of say gasoline or diesel filters down through the soil and encounters the water table it flattens out and floats. Of course, some fraction also dissolves into the groundwater. PCE, on the other hand, is volatile and the vapors travel along preferential pathways through the soil such as sandy zones, utility trenches, and under pavement. It is not obvious by smell or color in soil at trace but still hazardous concentrations. We use a hand-held organic vapor monitor to screen soil for PCE and other solvents. PCE is also heavier than water so it sinks rather than floats in groundwater. PCE is nasty stuff.

Based on these findings, I put together a scope and budget to sample and analyze soil and groundwater samples at the former dry cleaner and two gas station locations. We will use direct-push probe methods ("Geoprobe"). Direct push probing is basically driving a hollow core barrel into the soil and retrieving a core sample of soil. When we hit groundwater, we will collect a groundwater sample using a number of methods. The most basic method is to drop a slotted 3/4 inch PVC casing down into the probe hole and pump out the sample. Another method is to drive a hydropunch to the desired sampling depth and pump out a water sample. A hydropunch is a stainless steel well screen with a retractable sleeve.

As of today, we completed two probe borings. I had selected a target depth of 20 feet, expecting we'd encounter groundwater before 20 feet. I got a call from the young geologist in the field "20 feet and still no water." I told her to go another 10 feet and call back. As it turns out we hit groundwater at 28 feet.

No signs of contamination, but we'll see what the laboratory finds in the samples. We're doing a 24-hour turnaround, which is extremely fast and pricey. But the client needs results quick so they can make a decision on purchasing the property. Real estate transactions have become fast-paced, almost too fast-paced.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Silicon Valley Phase I

Monday and Tuesday of this week found me in Silicon Valley doing that Phase I project. I met one of my colleagues from our Sacramento office who came out to lend a hand. She's a young woman who impressed me with her initiative and intelligence. Our company hires some remarkable young people. We spent the day going through the property. I had budgeted two days for two people. But toward the end of the day I realized that I could wrap up the field work the following day by myself. With that I dispatched my colleague to head back to Sacramento. She was quite happy to be heading back home, being a newlywed with a new house and working on her Master's thesis.

Tuesday I met with the roofing consultant and two roofers to run around the roofs shagging roof core samples for asbestos analysis. The roofing consultant is a friend who I see on all these jobs we do for this client. He had just returned from Cabo and so we told our favorite Baja stories. I probably wouldn't recognize Cabo from when I was last there in the late 1980s. Even the barren beaches of Todos Santos are being developed.

We were joined later in the morning by the property condition consultant, another friend seen on these jobs. I joined the PCA consultant for a two beer lunch at the Firehouse Brewery. After that, I skipped over to the library to review city directories, a tedious task made more efficient with a digital camera.

I packed up and caught the 8:30 pm flight from SJC to SEA. I walked into the house about 11:40. My wife had made a delicious apple cake that made the perfect midnight snack.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Jesus is Lord of Coalinga - California Dreamin' Part V

Continuing on with my California tour, I left Manteca, the town of Lard, and headed south on Interstate 5, the aorta of California. My destination was Paso Robles. In order to get there I chose to take the long road. The long road went through Coalinga. I'd grown up and lived in California most of my life and somehow avoided Coalinga, or more likely it avoided me.

The road from I-5 to Coalinga passes through a low range of hills peppered with oil well pump jacks, resembling overgrown grasshoppers, similar to their smaller, lowly cousins that rattle up and away in advance of any hiker strolling through these hills willing to chance rattlesnakes and a sockful of foxtails.

Coalinga is actually set in a beautiful valley of pasture, hayfields, and a gravel pit. The town itself is rather bland and on this warm Wednesday afternoon it was unhurried and quiet. I was in need of a big latte and found a local coffee spot just off the main street in what could oxymoronically be called the shopping district. Three teens, a boy and two girls, were sitting around chatting. One of the girls actually worked there and whipped up a 20 ouncer for me. The inside had a smattering of decorative Christian paraphenalia and slogans. I left a nice tip and hit the road.

As a side note, Coalinga was struck by a major earthquake in 1983 that destroyed 800 homes in the town. The quake was felt over a wide area, as far away as Los Angeles and western Nevada.

USGS - Coalinga Earthquake
SeismoWatch - Coalinga Earthquake

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pombo Country and the Washington Connection - California Dreamin' Part IV

A leg of my California tour last week took me from San Leandro in the East Bay Area to my next project in the San Joaquin Valley farm town of Manteca, which means lard in Spanish. I had a hotel reservation in Tracy, just west of Manteca.

A steady stream of traffic flows eastward on Interstate 580 during the late afternoon commute. The Bay Area extends its reach east all the way to Tracy and beyond, where workers priced out of the market in the Bay Area find more affordable cookie-cutter squeaky clean tract homes in the flat farmlands of the northern San Joaquin Valley. Tracy, it seems, is evolving into a bedroom community. Large tracts of land around Tracy are for sale and the signs facing the freeway are all Pombo Real Estate.

At the heart of it all is Richard Pombo – “Rancher and Congressman,” which is the slogan one sees everywhere on the campaign signs as the November election approaches. It’s the kind of slogan you would expect would ring solid with the electorate of this agricultural area. Pombo is the powerful Chairman of the House Committee on Resources and is running for his eighth term in Congress. He is known as a strong advocate of private property rights and not exactly a friend of the environment.

I first heard of Richard Pombo in 2004 when the Wild Sky Wilderness Bill was being discussed in the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. The bill would have designated as wilderness 106,000 acres of lowland forest and high mountains of the western Cascades area around the Skykomish River. The bill had broad bipartisan support and input from many stakeholders, including snowmobile and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. The bill twice passed the Senate, only to get stalled in the House Resources Committee, never being voted on in the full House. In a committee hearing, Chairman Pombo expressed reservations about 16,000 acre portion that the Forest Service did not want included as wilderness.

Back then in 2004, Representative George Nethercutt, a Republican from eastern Washington was contemplating a run for Senator Patty Murray’s seat. Senator Murray was a prime sponsor of Wild Sky in the Senate. Nethercutt needed to show he had the environmental credentials with the voters of western Washington. He took it upon himself to work with Pombo to make changes to the bill that would get it out of committee and onto the floor where passage was assured. The whole thing turned ugly when the compromise proposed by Nethercutt was unacceptable to the bill’s original sponsors, primarily Representative Rick Larsen, Democrat, in whose district the Wild Sky Wilderness would fall. Chairman Pombo withdrew the bill and said he acted after being told that the Washington congressional delegation couldn't resolve their differences.

As it turned out, Nethercutt did run for U.S. Senate in 2004. He was thoroughly trounced by Murray, losing by 12 points, receiving only 43 percent of the vote to Murray's 55 percent.

Richard Pombo is quite a controversial figure in his own right. Besides being a forceful advocate for private property rights, supporter of drilling in ANWR, and a reformer of the Endangered Species Act, he’s also paid significant amounts of money to family members out of campaign funds, supported the construction of a freeway to enhance the value of real estate he owns, and had links to Jack Abramoff. Currently Pombo is running against Democrat Jerry McNerney for his congressional seat. The race is becoming a close one. A recent poll showed McNerney leading by two points.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rumblings a Reality

Sunnyvale is go. The site historically had a dry cleaner and two gas stations. Sweet. I have a probe rig penciled in a week from this Monday. I'll be in the field Monday morning in Sunnyvale, meeting a colleague from our Roseville office. I'm working late wrapping up reports from last week's California tour.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Silicon Valley Rumblings

Another project in Silicon Valley, a large retail center, practically vacant. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Rebuilding New Orleans - California Dreamin' Part III

I know precious little about what is going on in New Orleans these days, other than the dire tidbits of news coverage showing the place essentially still devastated. My company is a subcontractor to Fluor doing FEMA work, mostly damage assessment and engineering. I haven't had a chance to really talk to some of our people who went out there. It required a three month commitment so I never signed on for FEMA work.

Flying down to Oakland last week I struck up a conversation with the flight attendant in back, an African American. He liked the fancy metal luggage tag I had on my computer bag and wanted to know where he could get one. He asked me what I did and we talked a little about geology and mold. His girlfriend studied geology at the University of Louisiana. When we hit on mold, he told me he had bought eight houses in New Orleans and was in the process of gutting and rebuilding them. He'd had mold abatement done. But his optimism about New Orleans was what really struck me. "It's coming back" he said, "better than ever." I believed him. It gave me a lot of hope and optimism about the future prospects for New Orleans. I wondered how many others like him were doing the same thing. Perhaps this is how New Orleans will come back, from the grass roots. And the Saints are undefeated so far.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday Work

I had to go into the office today and put together some materials for an upcoming in-house training class called "Fundamentals of Environmental Due Diligence." It's all about Phase I stuff and the new USEPA All Appropriate Inquiry rules and the corresponding revised ASTM E 1527-05 Standard Practice. I hate working Saturdays but I'm swamped and I couldn't put this off any longer.

Through the Salinas Valley - California Dreamin' Part II

I started to leave Paso Robles around 8 am Friday morning, with a quick stop at Starbucks. Did you ever step into a Starbucks that had an attitude about it? Kind of an uppity, not very friendly attitude? This one had it. It's the Starbucks at the south end of town in a brand new shopping center that has all the same stores I've seen in about 10 new shopping centers going up in Gilbert and Chandler, Arizona. I found a nice coffee place in town, Jax Coffee House, but I didn't want to go through downtown Paso again. Jax has great tasting coffee, but $4.10 for a venti nonfat latte is a bit steep.

I headed north into the Salinas Valley - Steinbeck Country. John Steinbeck and Wallace Stegner are two of my favorite authors.

I stopped in San Miguel and toured Mission San Miguel Arcangel, the Rios-Caledonia Adobe, and then photographed a little at an old feed mill on the north end of town. It was all old California and I savored every exposed adobe brick minute of it.

I took a slow drive through King City, following the trace of old 101 as it does a 90 degree turn through the town, just to try and conjure up memories of family camping trips to Oregon when we followed this same route.

Another mission, Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, out in the middle of the lettuce fields. Blissfully silent in its isolation. No one else there to disturb my solitude.

Looking at the clock I realized I could make a 4:55 pm flight out of OAK instead of my later 8:30 pm. I took the slow River Road to Gonzales. There I phoned Southwest and booked the earlier flight. I drove straight and fast up to Oakland and made it in plenty of time to get a "B" group boarding pass. I can usually get an "A" group pass by going on-line the day before. I just hate the whole gamesmanship and lining up thing about Southwest's A-B-C boarding group B.S. I still snagged my favorite seat - 20E. It's way back but comfortably uncrowded if the flight is light. You know, everyone wants to crowd upfront. That's fine by me. Plus, 20E is behind the wing, offering good views and photography out the window.

Home in time for pizza and an X Files DVD with the family. Can't beat that.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

California Dreamin' - Part I

It's been a good long while since I've posted on this blog. I have promised myself that I'll work harder on this blog and post more often. Much has happened as DudeDiligence - Denver, San Francisco, Ontario (CA), Portland, a wonderful backpacking trip to the Olympic Coast with my oldest son and a wonderful walk on Dungeness Spit with my youngest son, more hikes, a family vacation to Coeur d'Alene, and on and on. I visited Chaco Canyon during a trip to Albuquerque for a meeting. Chaco Canyon is powerful in its beauty and mystery.

This week finds DudeDiligence in California, currently in Paso Robles on the tail end of a whirlwind tour of California beginning San Leandro at a cookie and muffin factory followed by mold assessments of medical office buildings in Los Gatos, Manteca (means lard in Spanish), and Templeton. Tomorrow I cruise slowly back up to Oakland to fly back home to Seattle.

On the way I have found tons of topics I want to explore further:

The rebuilding of New Orleans: met a Southwest flight attendant (an African American) who bought and is in the process of gutting and rebuilding eight houses in New Orleans. He gave me a lot of hope and inspiration.

Congressman Richard Pombo, Pombo Realty, and the Pombo family: I stayed in and traveled through Tracy, California - it's Pombo country and Richard Pombo is the man - rancher and congressman.

Coalinga, California: "Jesus is Lord of Coalinga" I kid you not.

Parkfield Grade: A scenic and remote drive through the heart of the California coast ranges oak savanna.

Parkfield, California: Earthquake headquarters - population 16.

James Dean: died in a car crash somewhere near Cholame.

Paso Robles: a boy and his wooly bear caterpillars.

Castoro Cellars 2005 Fume Blanc: tasty

I'll see if I can explore a mission or two on my way up to Oakland.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Last and Final

The worst of the Big Project is over and now it’s just a matter of taking all 34 draft reports and creating the final versions (“finaling”). It came down to the wire. The insurance underwriters had some concerns about eight of the properties and had proposed some exemptions on the policies. Well the deal wasn’t going to happen with these exemptions. On a conference call we had to talk our way through these issues with the underwriters so they could get comfortable. And at the end of the day it worked out.

One critical piece to deal with was the underground wastewater treatment tank at one of the properties (actually re-termed a “vault” which somehow makes it more palatable). I flew down to San Jose last Monday and Tuesday to watch the tank be pumped out and cleaned. By the time they got to the bottom of the tank there was a foot thick layer of sludge that reeked of solvent. It didn’t look good. We had dropped a couple borings around the tank earlier and the groundwater had some limited impact by TCE (trichlorothene), a chlorinated solvent once used extensively in the electronics industry and as a degreaser. The concentrations of TCE in groundwater were four times higher than what is allowed in your drinking water. Not screaming hot but enough to raise a concern.

After the tank was cleaned, the contractor cored through the concrete bottom of the vault so a soil sample could be collected. The owner’s consultant grabbed a soil sample using a slide hammer to drive a core barrel into the soil. I took a split sample. The soil sample turned out to have some low level impact, but nothing above actionable levels.

Tuesday we began a Geoprobe soil and groundwater investigation to determine the extent of impact from the vault and also to see if any contamination was moving on or off the site. The results of the investigation showed a localized impact to groundwater around the vault but also showed that there was a regional impact to groundwater. In other words, we found groundwater contamination across the site. This part of Silicon Valley has extensive regional groundwater contamination caused by several former electronics manufacturing facilities.

I flew back to Seattle Tuesday evening and left the rest of the Geoprobe work to one of my colleagues from our Irvine office. Meanwhile, the vault was still in the ground and the owner was planning to close it in place. Our client wasn’t very happy about that and he came unglued at me on the phone. Well the contractor wasn’t working for me and my client didn’t own the property yet. And we had told our client what the owner’s plans were for the vault – close it in place if the soil is clean (I had an email documenting that). I grabbed the contractor and told him the vault had to come out and to tell me how soon he could do it. The contractor was a great guy and we had gotten along real well. He pulled out all the stops and made it happen within two days, permitting and everything. He had even pulled one of his key excavator operators off a big job at Fort Ord to make it happen. My colleague from Irvine took care of all the observation and split sampling. It went like clockwork.

When all was said and done the tank came out of the ground, some soil was overexcavated, and the confirmation soil samples came back at less than actionable levels. Our client was happy, the insurance underwriters were comfortable, and the deal closed on all 34 properties – a billion dollars worth of real estate changed hands. It was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve ever had at work.

Last weekend I took a short overnight backpacking trip with my oldest son out to the Olympic Coast. More on that later. Suffice to say it was a great trip for both of us, just hanging out with number one son, no TV or video games, just a billion stars and the sound of the waves.

Next week I’m in Denver to do a Phase I on a downtown office building and hotel. Then the week after that I’m in Albuquerque for a sector meeting with all my other colleagues who do this nutty work. I plan on spending a couple days at Chaco Canyon before the meeting. I am totally fascinated by the Anasazi. And Chaco is the center of the Anasazi universe.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Almost There

The Big Project just keeps on rolling and our other clients and projects don’t stop because of the Big Project. Between the Big Project I wedged in an easy Phase I. The Phase I was of a site down in Sumner, WA currently in the grade and fill phase of development for two large warehouse buildings. It was good to be out of the office walking this site on a gorgeous spring day, sunny blues skies with clearing clouds from the overnight rain. If only the cell phone would shut up.

We went to Phase II soil and groundwater sampling on several of the Big Project sites for various reasons, potential solvent releases, potential former landfill use, potential leaking tank, etc. We also did a geophysical survey of a couple of the sites looking for potential underground storage tanks. We have an expert group of geophysicists in our office and stuff like this is really a cakewalk compared to some of the exotic things they do. Basically they survey the site using a magnetometer looking for large buried metal objects and they also use ground penetrating radar (GPR). A buried cylindrical tank leaves a nice parabolic signature on the GPR scan.

One of the sites has a wastewater treatment tank that, based on our sampling results, has released some chlorinated solvents into the soil and groundwater. The owner (the seller) had scheduled the closure of this tank before the transaction closes. But now the presence of chlorinated solvents in soil and groundwater potentially originating from this tank has the potential to crater the whole 34 property deal. Our client (the buyer) needs to obtain environmental insurance before they can purchase the property. The insurance underwriters won’t issue a policy if the extent of contamination is not characterized. The deal closes April 25.

Again I am finding myself jumping onto a plane Monday morning for San Jose so I can observe the tank closure activities and collect split samples. The owner has a contractor who in turn has hired a consultant to collect samples. The owner has also hired a consultant to watch the contractor (and us). This should be fun – consultants watching each other.

We’re also doing some soil and groundwater sampling to characterize the impact around the tank. We’re using direct-push probe equipment (“Geoprobe”) to collect the samples. Basically this involves driving a core barrel sampler into the soil and retrieving a nice soil core. Groundwater samples are obtained using a PVC well screen inserted into the hollow drive rods or a hydropunch (basically a stainless steel well point driven into the water table). A small bailer lowered into the well screen is used to collect the water sample or the sample can be obtained using PE tubing and a peristaltic pump. There are many variations on this theme.

I’ll be kicking off the soil and groundwater sampling on Tuesday with one of my colleagues out of our Irvine office. I’m sure we’ll have Mr. Owner’s Consultant watching over us. I’ll fly home Tuesday evening while my colleague wraps up on Wednesday.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Home Again

Finally home again. In reality, I’ve been home for almost two weeks. But now, it really feels like I’m back. After a full week down in Silicon Valley, a short weekend at home, I flew back down for some wrap-up work for a Monday and Tuesday. Then, for the last almost two weeks, I’ve been catching up with other clients and projects plus tackling five of the 34 property reports for Silicon Valley. All of these properties had “issues,” either historical on-site releases or contamination from off-site. I had to wade through a stack of prior reports and documents in order to glean relevant information and flag the “red flags.” We’ll be back for some Phase II soil and groundwater investigation on several of the properties.

Over the last week I’ve been at my desk until 11 or 12 at night, reviewing documents, reports, maps, photographs, and hammering out reports. I finally wrapped up late last night. My ass hurts and I’m exhausted. But it’s good to be home this weekend. The crocuses are fading and the daffodils are peaking. Spring is here in the beautiful Northwest. Spring weeds are here, too. I’m looking forward to pulling them. I’m home.

“Home, home again.
I like to be here when I can.
When I come home cold and tired
It's good to warm my bones beside the fire.
Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.”

Breathe (reprise) – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Big Project

The last two weeks have been extremely busy. We were awarded a huge portfolio project down in the Bay Area consisting of over 30 industrial properties with over 5 million square feet. The work is standard Phase I ESA with asbestos sampling and visual mold assessment. Our client is one of the largest real estate investment advisors in the country. This potential acquisition exceeds $1 billion and our fees alone are somewhere in the quarter million dollar realm. The due diligence period runs to the end of March. This is a huge project with a fast burn.

We did a lot of preparation before going in the field. We set up field folders for each property that included property information, map and directions to the property, a site plan, an aerial photograph, an environmental database report, tenant review forms, and asbestos bulk sample logs. This way each field team had everything they needed for the field – just grab a folder and go. We also set up a website on our company intranet where we could store and dump documents, photos, and other relevant project information. Everyone on the team has access to the website so information is easily shared and accessible. And this not only includes the field team but also support staff back in the office.

We assembled a team of 10 for the field that included folks from three different offices. We have four teams of two for the site visits and a project manager and admin person for support. I’m on one of the field teams and also acting as an assistant project manager. I have years of experience working with this client and on these types of portfolio projects. The assembled team is truly the “A” team with experienced senior professionals and talented staff.

I’ve been down in the Bay Area for the last week. I flew down last Sunday to get a good jump on the project. I had bruised or cracked ribs as a result of a fall during my CityLeague recreational ski racing on Thursday night. I went skiing again Saturday afternoon with my boys. Needless to say, by the time I left Sunday, I was in a little bit of pain. The wrong move, a laugh, a cough, or a sneeze would induce a knife-like pain in my side. To make matters worse, I was lugging two file boxes in a big suitcase plus a smaller suitcase for my clothes, my laptop case, and a daypack with my personal gear including a jacket, water bottle, snacks, book, and other stuff to get me through a delay or lost luggage. At SeaTac, I tipped the Doug Fox Parking shuttle driver extra. I asked him if he could give me a hand with my luggage. He said “I have two hands.” Good answer.

The Bay Area had wind warnings up and it was a bumpy thrilling ride on approach to SJC. I dislike SJC. It’s a cramped terminal despite expansions. It’s a far walk to get the rental car shuttle (wheeled luggage – best thing since sliced bread). The shuttle buses are always stuffed with people. I have Budget FastBreak – show my drivers license and go to my car - this time a Pontiac Vibe hatchback wagon. Perfect.

For the site visits I’m teamed with a younger guy project engineer from one of our other offices. We hit it off from the start and I knew the week would go well. And it did. We fell into an easy groove going from property to property, building to building, and tenant to tenant. He does the tenant interviews and I collect samples of suspect asbestos-containing building materials (he’s not qualified to collect samples). I chime in a few questions to the tenant where appropriate to focus and keep things moving. He’s thorough and detail oriented, maybe a little too much for the pace we need to keep. But he’s personable and good so I let him go with it. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I size up tenants quickly and focus right in on the important information. We don’t have a lot of time and we need cut to the chase, figure out the deal killers or what will need further investigation.

We’re all staying in a fancy-schmantzy suite hotel for a really good government contractor rate. There’s a happy hour with free drinks and breakfast made to order. The rooms are large with a front room, kitchenette, and a bedroom. There are even two TVs, one in the front room and one in the bedroom. My room was on the fifth floor with a great view looking east to the front hills of the Diablo Range.

The weather was good for the most part, with a mix of short-lived showers and sun breaks. On Friday a cold air mass invaded the Bay Area dropping the snow level to around 1,000 feet. It was beautiful seeing the green hills topped with a dusting of snow.

The team all gathered on Friday afternoon to put together property summaries for the client. I focused on one of the properties that had a historical release of organic solvents. The property owner (seller) is listed as a responsible party (RP) in the cleanup. If our client buys this property, they could also become an RP. These are the types of “big picture” items that are important to convey to the client.

The hard part about these huge projects is that the other work and client responsibilities don’t stop. I drafted two proposals during the evenings, responded to many emails, and fielded phone calls. With my laptop I’m always connected. We have a company VPN that ties me in to our system. My laptop also has IPass that allows me to connect from just about anywhere in the world with a hotspot, plug-in, or phone jack.

I flew out Friday evening back home to Seattle for the weekend. Some of the team are staying over the weekend. I’ll be back Monday morning as we wrap up the field work.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


I finished up the field work looking in all the nooks and crannies for mold and water intrusion. I had the report pretty much wrapped up that evening. The site contact was a good guy, a native Utahn, hunter and outdoorsman. We hit it off pretty well, especially when I noticed the LED conversion on his Mini-Maglite. I must do the same with my own flashlight.

Wednesday I played a little hooky and headed up to Solitude for some skiing. I rented some Nordica Hot Rod all mountain skis and proceeded to tear it up. It was lightly snowing with some sun breaks. I stayed mostly on black groomed runs carving big fast GS turns. I did some exploring on the fringes and hit a few turns of untracked and windpacked – nice and deceivingly light snow. I did inadvertently run into some soft bump runs and managed to turn through them and managed some OK knees absorption. I couldn’t do that all day, especially with the altitude (gasp!). I saw some enticing double-blacks that required some traversing but I was by myself and the mountain was pretty uncrowded. It would have been nice to ski with someone who knows the mountain. But all in all it was a fantastic day of skiing. I realized just how much I love skiing and how I miss those 30-day seasons of my youth. I skied pretty well for an old fart.

I returned my gear to the shop, CanyonSports and grabbed a bite to eat before catching my plane home. I found a nice little place called Wriggles across from my hotel in Murray. They roll up a tortilla with a variety of meats and veggies and call it a Wriggles, a wrap by any other name. Like a homeless person, I had to change out of my ski clothes in my car.

I made it to the airport in plenty of time to put the finishing touches on my report. We took off from SLC and leveled off prematurely. The pilot came on and said a landing gear light was stuck on and that he’d lower and raise the gear and that would probably cure the stuck-on light. He did that and came back on and said the light was out. Very soon the engines revved up to take us to cruising altitude and home to Seattle.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Return to the Scene of the Crime

I've worked on several projects over the years in Salt Lake City. Like a serial killer I always return to the scene of the crime to relive those past experiences. Past project locations have a strange lure for me. I enjoy returning to see how things have changed over time and to walk the same ground I walked years before.

One of my first projects I worked on in Salt Lake was a couple of Phase I ESAs down around West 2100 South between Bangerter Hwy and I-215. This is an industrial area of concrete tilt-up business parks, warehouses, and factories. This is also near the former Remington Arms Company site, a small arms plant where 30- and 50-caliber ammunition was manufactured during World War II. Many of the old plant buildings are still present and in use for other purposes these days. The old alum ponds are also located nearby where Engelhard discharged wastewater from their catalyst manufacturing operations. Both the Remington Arms and Engelhard sites have known contamination.

I once did a quick one day in-and-out site visit of a vacant parcel in this West 2100 South industrial area. It was a wet day and all I had for protection was a rain jacket. I had to walk the site through wet grass and shrubs. My jeans and hiking boots were soaked by the time I finished walking the 20-acres. I didn't have a change of clothes and had to fly home in my wet clothes. It was a miserable flight back in wet jeans. This vacant parcel is now developed with three big concrete tilt-up industrial buildings.

One of the more fun projects was at the FAA Regional Air Traffic Control Center next to SLC. We pulled a waste oil underground storage tank and replaced it with an aboveground tank. The waste oil was from four huge diesel emergency power generators. I had hired a local subcontractor who was fortunately top-notch. The FAA had resident engineer to watch over us. His name was Cody out of Pocatello, Idaho. He was a real cracker. He looked at first like he was going to be a real asshole but at the end he turned out to be an OK guy. So I watched over the subcontractor and Cody watched over all of us. This turned out to be a nice little project.

I also did a Phase I ESA of the Triad Center, an office building complex at North Temple and South 300 West. The main tenant in the center is Bonneville International Corporation, a media company who owns a number of television and radio stations across the country, but mostly in Utah. Bonneville International Corporation is, I believe, owned by the LDS Church.

Back in December 2004 I did a Phase I of a facility that manufactures diamond core drill bits. It was interesting to see the manufacturing process. During that trip the whole of the Salt Lake Valley was covered in a thick layer of low clouds. It was cold and everything was covered in hoarfrost. I made a side trip out to Antelope Island and, except for the bitter cold, it was a beautiful area.

Whenever I'm in town again I'll swing by these old project sites, returning to the scene of the crime.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Salt Lake City

Up at 4 am - shower - shave - load - kiss my wife goodbye - hit the road to SeaTac. I've done this routine countless times. I've brewed a latte for the road. The home espresso machine has paid for itself many times over. I park at Doug Fox and hop on the bus with my fellow road warriors. Silence rules.

The airport is not too crowded considering the holiday. The security line is only a few minutes wait, plenty of TSA today. They are always refreshingly and thankfully cordial. Laptop out - shoes off - belt off - walk through. I am now in the enchanted land behind security. My gate is on the far end of the A Concourse. Plenty of time for a grande non.

The plane is full. I'm sitting next to a women about in her sixties. We exchange pleasantries and then become lost in our thoughts for the rest of the flight. A baby cries in the next row for nearly the entire flight. I'm immune. I'm a dad, though my boys are way beyond baby stage.

Is it me or are the female flight attendants all getting older?

I catch peekaboo views of Rainier through the clouds - the Wallowas, Hell's Canyon, the mountains of Idaho, and finally the relict shorelines of ancient Lake Bonneville tell me we're almost there. We pass SLC airport on our left and head south for what seems like a considerable distance, finally turning 180 degrees to the north for a smooth landing at SLC.

The car rental is a bit of a zoo. Harried are the attendants with cars coming in off the long weekend. A line is forming. I'm finally off in a utilitarian Ford Focus.

Salt Lake City is crisply cold, sunny, and covered in several inches of snow. The roads are clear. I make my way to my meeting.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

From the woods to Salt Lake City

The family (wife, the two boys, and I) took a stroll in the woods behind our house, a 120-acre park undeveloped except for a few trails. The walking was easy since we’ve had freezing weather the last few days. The usual mud this time of year was frozen and all the leaves are gone except for the tall firs, cedars, and hemlocks that form the bones of these woods.

Early tomorrow I fly to Salt Lake City to do a mold assessment of a shopping mall. The client acts as a fiduciary for accredited investors and small pension funds and this project is for one of their acquisitions. We do most, if not all the due diligence mold assessments for this client. One of our competitors does the Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.

I’ve checked the aviation forecast and it looks like a smooth flight. The weather in Salt Lake looks good, with a clearing and warming trend through the week.

I’ve scheduled the work for Monday and Tuesday having made arrangements with the site contact whose name sounds like he should be an actor in Westerns. This should be interesting. Unfortunately, Monday is a holiday and likely to be a busy shopping day. That might hamper the work somewhat. The place will be crowded and the retail tenants will be fussy.

I’ll be staying over into Wednesday to pick up a day of skiing. This is one of those little side benefits of trips like these. How can you travel to Salt Lake City in February and not ski? I haven’t skied there since the 1980s. I’m not sure where I’ll ski but I’m leaning to Solitude or Brighton. The weather for Wednesday looks perfect.

Now I just have to finish packing.

The Opening

The focus of this blog is my life as an environmental consultant and the environmental consulting industry, primarily die diligence with respect to commercial property transactions. This has been an exciting career over the last 18 years. I’ve traveled all over the country and met many interesting people. No one day is the same and a day can change with a phone call. It’s not as exciting firefighting but at least I’m not chained to a desk.

So come along and join me if you will.