Canadian Consulting Engineer

What’s New… (November 01, 2004)

November 1, 2004
By Canadian Consulting Engineer



Engineering to find our origins

AMEC’s Coquitlam office is to design and build an astronomy telescope to probe into the origins of the universe. The company won a $3.8-million contract for the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, which will be sited on the Cerro Toco mountain range in the Atacama Desert region of Chile at an altitude of 5,200 metres.

The 6-m diameter telescope will be used to study cosmic microwave background radiation — the remnant heat left over from the Big Bang. It will scan a patch of sky back and forth, creating an overlay of information. Dr. Lyman Page of Princeton University who is directing the project says it will enable scientists to observe how all structure — galaxies and clusters of galaxies — formed.

AMEC’s Dynamic Structures unit in Coquitlam under David Halliday, P.Eng. has already begun the work of designing the 40-foot structure which will be built and tested in Port Coquitlam and then shipped for re-assembly in Chile.

The Universities of Toronto and British Columbia are part of the group sponsoring the telescope.


Engineers start to take building code examinations

Despite resistance from the architects’ association, the Ontario government is committed to having all building design professionals pass its proficiency examinations by July 2005.

Professional Engineers Ontario says that approximately 15% of its members who will be required to take the examinations have done so already.

The architects’ association campaigned to have its members excempt from the examination program, but the Ministry in charge of the program — the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing — decided against the idea. It did agree that the professional bodies could administer a parallel system if they met the government’s objectives, but that has not happened.

The last provincial government enacted sweeping amendments to the Building Code Act under Bill 124, which the new government is now carrying out. Among the changes are the requirement that anyone involved in designing buildings of any size must pass technical examinations and examinations to show their knowledge of the building code.

The new legislation also requires design firms to have insurance coverage. Contractors, however, are not being made to carry insurance — something which deeply bothers the design community.

Ontario’s new regulations are also bringing major changes to the building permit process, with rules that will apply across all municipalities by July next year. Plans for even the most complex buildings, such as post-disaster buildings, highrises and buildings with interconnected floor spaces, must be processed within 30 business days.


UMA merges with U.S. giant

UMA Group is merging with AECOM, a giant U.S. firm that employs 17,000 people. The $1.5 corporation has its headquarters in Los Angeles, California and is employee-owned. It was named in Forbes magazine’s most recent list of Top 500 Private Companies.

Vancouver-based UMA has 1,000 employees and 19 offices across Canada. It will keep operating under its own name.

Stantec buys Dunlop

Stantec of Edmonton is buying one of Toronto’s top architecture firms, Dunlop Architects. Dunlop has 100 employees, was established in 1953 and has been active recently in the design of health care, justice, laboratory, education, entertainment and high-tech facilities.


Lytton is longer

Re. “Coaticook footbridge is the longest” (June-July 2004), a letter in response to “Scenic Caves Suspension Bridge” (January-February 2004).

The Fraser River Pipeline Bridge at Lytton, B.C. is a 200-m long suspension bridge designed as part of the Lytton First Nations Water System. The bridge provides pedestrian access across the Fraser River during flow conditions that prevent the operation of the highway ferry.

The bridge carries water from the Stein River to the east bank of the Fraser River. It supports a 273-mm diameter water pipe which is insulated and heat-traced to ensure continued operation during winter months. A cable catenary type structure was selected as the most efficient solution for the required span. The bridge was built in 1997.

Buckland & Taylor was the bridge consultant for the project and provided detailed design, construction management and site supervision. The general contractor was Wibco Construction.

Peggy Riley

Buckland & Taylor, North Vancouver.

(The Scenic Caves Suspension Bridge near Collingwood, Ont. is 126 metres long; the Coaticook bridge in southern Quebec is 169 metres.)


Ontario engineers’ salaries grow

Salaries in the consulting engineering sector in Ontario are becoming more competitive. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers released a detailed compensation report in September. They compared salaries for 2003-4 against the previous 12 months.

The median base salaries for engineers employed by consulting firms grew 3.8%, better than the rate for employed professional engineers generally at 3.5%. The salary rises all outstripped the 2.4% rise in the consumer price index. The only down side was that entry-level salaries dipped slightly across all sectors.

The average take-home pay package for professional engineers was $84,384. This compares with $64,572, the average take-home pay recently reported for members of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT).


Manitoba fights diversion of U.S. water

Manitoba is working with Minnesota and Missouri to stop water being diverted from North Dakota and eventually into the Red River.

A 35-kilometre outlet is already being built to drain water from a North Dakota town called Devil’s Lake, which has lost 28,000 hectares of farmland due to flooding over the past few years.

The Devil’s Lake scheme has been likened to the Garrison Diversion project which Manitoba succeeded in halting a few years ago. TetrES Consultants of Winnipeg played a major role in stopping that project. The consulting engineers critically reviewed the environmental approval by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which would have seen water diverted from the Missouri River Basin into the Hudson Bay.

TetrES is now involved in efforts to have the Devil’s Lake diversion halted and subject to a U.S. environmental review. Manitobans are concerned not only about foreign organisms infiltrating the Red River, but also about levels of pollutants entering their water system from the U.S.

Circus on the fringe

Chapiteau des arts, Canada’s only performance space devoted entirely to the circus arts, opened in August in Montreal. The 1,000-seat complex is part of the TOFU Cit des Arts du Cirque complex and Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters on the outskirts of the city, at Jarry and d’Iberville streets, next to a former garbage dump.

The landfill site is now being developed as a park, with a recycling centre and biogas plant. The Chapiteau theatre building will play a double role as an interpretive centre and showcase for the technologies. Martin Roy & Associates was the mechanical and electrical consulting engineer, Martoni & Cyr did the structural engineering, and architects were Scheme/Marc Blouin, Jacques Plante and Jodoin Lamarre Pratte.


Slow burning danger?

Flame retardant containing the chemical polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) has been found in B.C. farmed salmon and in endangered killer whales on Canada’s West Coast.

PBDEs are manufactured chemicals used to slow the burning rate of many products, including computer monitors, textiles and plastic foams. Related to polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) which were prohibited in the U.S. in the 1970s, PBDEs are colourless or off-white particles that eventually settle into soil or water. There are no tests of how PBDEs affect humans, but in animal tests they have been found to affect the thyroid glands and the liver.

Cogeneration club

A new organization has been formed to promote the
benefits of cogeneration. COGENCanada was incorporated in June 2004 as a not-for-profit organization and held its first conference in Ottawa at the end of October. COGENCanada’s European counterpart was created in 1993 and has 160 power companies and national organizations as members.

The advocacy organization wants to clear the belief that cogeneration is too expensive and encourage governments to promote combined cycle, biomass, fuel cell and other forms of cogeneration.


Engineer … Around the World in Fifty Years

By C.O. Brawner.

BiTech Publishers, Richmond, B.C., 2003

Review by Mike Ghenu

Engineer… Around the World in Fifty Years is a look-back by C.O. Brawner, P.Eng. at a half-century of consulting engineering work he has done in more than 40 countries throughout the world.

Raised on a fruit farm in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, Brawner is one of Canada’s foremost geotechnical engineers specializing in transportation and mining. In the 1960s he became president of Golder Brawner and Associates and then later taught geomechanics at the University of British Columbia. As a specialist with his own firm based in North Vancouver, he has reviewed projects around the world and has received many awards.

Though the book is largely episodic, and at times laden with jargon inaccessible to non-specialists, Brawner’s narratives are interesting. He describes a constant stream of consulting assignments. While it is sometimes difficult to understand why he chose to include those particular cases, the book affords a glimpse into the workings of a consulting engineer’s mind and is a source of inspiration and advice to young and practising engineers alike.

Three of his great skills stand out. First and foremost, Brawner is a great communicator, a talent he perfected in university with Toastmasters. Time and again on his projects he is able to carry his point across to others, highlighting the merits of his plans in a persuasive and tactful fashion. Second, on assignment he makes use of all possible sources, engineers or not. Third, his grasp of fundamental principles allows him to recognize similarities between disparate situations. For instance, he extrapolates his knowledge of soil mechanics to the field of rock slides, a field he then knew little about. He arrives at the conclusion that proper drainage is the most adequate way to stabilize and prevent both soil and rock slides.

A noteworthy chapter relates a series of frustrating experiences at a mining conference in Moscow in 1974. Brawner is struck by the shortage of essential goods and inefficiency of the Soviet system — by then in headlong decline. In another chapter, Brawner offers a memorable glimpse of China in the early 1980s, at a time when the country was just beginning to open up to the outside world. He is invited to lecture at a Chinese university, and has the honour of meeting then-vice chairman Deng Xiaoping.

Overall, Brawner’s 71 case studies provide ample evidence that a good engineer must draw upon a varied set of skills, many of which are not — and indeed cannot — be taught in school. That is a worthy lesson for engineers, consultants and educators young and old.

Mike Ghenu (B.A.Sc.) is a graduate in engineering science from the University of Toronto, currently studying journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.


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