Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Inaccurate inspection reports by City Engineering

Update 10/28, 10:00 am: Tim Troester has posted a new inspection for the Greenway project for 10/27.  His accurate inspection adds important detail, including the time and photos.  Therefore, I believe that Engineering is responding to my comments below, and that the situation is improving.

Accurate reporting is essential if our erosion control regulations are to work.  They could provide the feedback that engineers and regulators need to see if their erosion control measures are working. And they are essential to holding contractors accountable to regulations.

Inspection reports are legal documents.  They need to be accurate and detailed enough to stand up in court, under cross-examination.  Inspections by the City of Madison, for the most part, are neither accurate* nor detailed. 

For that reason, some citizens have lost faith that contractors are accountable.  That's why a lawsuit was filed by residents outraged by Speedway's behavior.  And accountability is the reason for this blog.  Our thousands of photos stand as accurate inspections.  Each photo has a time stamp--in contrast to City inspections, which so far lack this basic element.

Yet Contractor Report has found instances of inaccurate inspections.
 The report below, from the Hillcrest-Upland Greenway, is one example.  The online report is copied below in black text.  I will highlight errors by adding what I believe is the correct answer in red, with more general commentary in blue.

Tim Troester is the Permit Authority
John Fahrney is the Permittee and Authorized Inspector

Inspector: Paul Lauby 261-9678
Reason for Inspection: After rainfall inspection
Inspection Date: 10/24/2010
Weather Data Source: Media Report
Last Precip. End: 10/23/2010  It was raining heavily on the morning of 10/24.
Last Precip. Amount: .59 in.
Weather Trends: rain
Construction Entrance: Rock Construction/Tracking Pads
Inspected: Status: Inactive   Active
Required: Yes Condition: N/A  Applicable

These pads are supposed to be 50' long and in place at the start of the project.  The pads were thin and spotty, with patches of soil showing through.   As for N/A (not applicable), about 4 pieces of large equipment were introduced prior to 10/24, and a power shovel was removed from the site on 10/23.

Moreover, the gravel pads are supposed to be underlain with geo fabric.  These pads were not.  It was only on 10/25 or 10/26 that the contractor got around to adding the fabric, then more gravel on top.

The gravel pad at Owen Dr on 10/24, 3:23 pm,** looking inward from sidewalk.  At lower left, you can see it's so thin that grass is showing through.

You can see the pad is less than 50' long.  Same location, 10/23

Construction Entrance: Sweeping/Cleaning
Inspected: Yes Status: Active  
Required: Yes Condition: Correct   Cannot determine.

Inspecting after a heavy rain, how could Paul Lauby know if the street had been swept?  Inspecting a day later on 10/25, Stewart Mael  reports: Status Inactive, Condition N/A.  The two inspectors don't agree.***
Inlet Protection: Filter Fabric Insert
Inspected: Yes Status: Active
Required: Yes Condition: Correct   Incorrect

There was one filter on Owen, and two downstream on Midvale, in the far east gutter.  However, the sediment trap overflowed, sending sediment down Midvale in all four gutters.   So numerous inlets downstream that were unprotected received sediment.  One was completely filled--up to the top--with sandy sediment.
Temporary Slope Stabilization: Erosion Control Mat
Inspected: Yes Status: Active
Required: Yes Condition: Correct    No slope stabilization matting was applied, anywhere.

For this project, the gravel road is the bottom of the ravine.  So the road itself is vital for slope stabilization.  A good layer of gravel on the road can help stabilize the ravine, not to mention prevent equipment from foundering.  Yet the gravel layer was thin and spotty.  This should have been reported.
Temporary Slope Stabilization: Polymer Application
Inspected: Status: Inactive
Required: Yes Condition: N/A  
Dust Control: Polymer/Water Application
Inspected: Yes Status: Active     Status: Inactive
Required: Yes Condition: Correct   Condition: N/A

An inspection after heavy rain would be unable to determine if polymer had been applied.  So why would the inspector certify that it had been applied?   Why not write "Unable to verify?"

Inspecting a day later, 10/25, S. Mael reports Status Inactive, Condition N/A for this and the Slope Stabilization item above.  So again the two inspectors don't agree.  
Perimeter Control: Silt Fence
Inspected: Yes Status: Active
Required: Yes Condition: Correct    Missing.  No silt fences on site.

A silt fence was required to protect a stockpiled pile of soil, at the west end of the greenway.  After the rain of 10/26, this unprotected pile was partly eroded, since it was right next to the channel.  A silt fence would also be a good idea along the N side of the entrance, to protect the Ozanne property.  But there were NO silt fences anywhere on the site.

Perhaps the sediment trap was what this part of the report refers to.  As one of the most important erosion control measures, this report should say more than just "correct" for the sediment trap.  The sediment trap had several problems.  These reports are shockingly short on important detail.
Velocity Check: Stone Check Dam
Inspected: Yes Status: Active
Required: Yes Condition: Correct   One of two dams damaged.

There are two check dams now.  The upper one had been overtopped, but was intact.  The lower one (to divert flow into the sediment trap) had been partly eroded, with fist-size rocks moving into the sediment trap.

  • Besides improvement in accuracy, much more detail is needed.
  • In particular, the time of the observation is needed.  Otherwise, it's difficult to check on the report's accuracy.  Any kind of report should include the time.  It's basic!
  • The report should include comments on what needs to be done to improve the measures.
  • The most common error on reports is reporting gravel tracking pads as "correct," when they are too short.  They are required to be 50 feet long.  If 50' is impossible, the report should state that, and report what alternate method is employed.
  • Adjust the format of the report for each project.  The standard form used for every project is inadequate for the specifics of different projects.
  • It would be helpful, when checking inlet filters, to say if they need cleaning or not.
#     #     #

*  By this rather broad generalization, I don't mean to imply that City inspections are very inaccurate, or even fudged.  What I do mean is that if reports aren't accurate 99% of the time, then their value in enforcement is degraded.  As the example shows, Madison falls short of the 99% level.

**  Update:  On 10/27, I found a photo of the gravel pad closer in time to the inspection it is compared to.  The previous photo, now deleted, was a day earlier.  I also added some comments, comparing Lauby's inspection to the one done a day later by Mael.  I am continuing to update this article, as I refine my ideas, partly thanks to discussions with City officials.

***  Paul Lauby (first inspection above) might reply, "Our two reports about street sweeping don't agree because the inspections were made on different days.  The situation changed."  That's possible, but it shows how an inspection with no time recorded is worthless when it comes to a contested report.  If Stewart Mael's inspection on Monday 10/25 was made before work started, then he saw the same thing as Paul Lauby's inspection the day before, on Sunday.  But if Mael's was made the end of the day on Monday, then, yes, it was a day later.

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