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.