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    Putting the VALUE into Engineering

    In today’s economy, we are all on the lookout for products and services at the best possible price.  With multiple suppliers for every need, we the consumer can afford to take our time and shop for the best product at the best price – right?  Except that isn’t always what happens.  Many times we just grab the lowest cost item, forgetting the painful lesson learned when the last ‘cheapest’ thing we bought didn’t last or hold up to the test of time.  Three years ago I bought my first smart phone…. And unfortunately I went for the least expensive option.  It only took me 6 months to give up and move on after reminding myself once again that ‘cheap’ isn’t the way to go.

    So how does this lesson apply to Civil Engineering you ask?  Well, cheap isn’t the way to go.  When looking for services we need to remind ourselves that, much like a finished tangible product, the end result of the service has to be made up of quality.  Does the service the Civil Engineer provides bring value to the project?  Do they provide the service you need?  Do they have long term relationships with clients indicating continued quality service?  Do they have a solid reputation?   Are they good at explaining the issues as well as troubleshooting to find answers?   These are all excellent questions that need to be answered to ensure that you don’t end up regretting your decision.   Every project has issues that need to be resolved, but with the right team, the project moves ahead and you end with a quality finished product.  Choose your consultant poorly and the road along the way can become a bitter battle.  These key components are not just for a Civil Engineer either…..they are tools to keep in mind as you look for the best firms to work with on any project.

    3 Keys to picking the right Consultant:

    Value:  Are you getting your money’s worth?   You picked a consultant that wasn’t the cheapest and probably not the most expensive one either.  Are you getting what you expected?   Many companies including consultants, construction firms, architecture firms and more sell you their top level employees and then divide that work out to lower level employees and interns within the company.  Is that fair?  While it is common practice to spread the workload some firms are better at it than others.   At MeritCorp a Principal is assigned to the Project from start to finish overseeing, reviewing, and quality checking the entire process.  We want to ensure that there is a single point of contact for our client that is ultimately responsible for the quality and value you receive.  Our Staff attend weekly project status meetings, receive training and are internally mentored to provide a consistent product to our clients.

    Integrity:  Integrity is defined as: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; the state of being whole and undivided”… in the business world this means:  what you see is what you get.  At MeritCorp, integrity is a core part of our business.  While it feels good to get a ‘deal’ on the price tag, it is even better when that product or service holds up to the test of time.   Does your consultant or contractor have integrity?  What is their reputation?  MeritCorp strives to provide service that stands the test of time.  Integrity is all about doing what is right because it is right.  That is why we have long term clients.  They have learned the value of working with a company that adds value to their projects and has integrity that stands the test of time.  We encourage you to ask us for our references and to contact them.

    Price:  Pricing is a hard topic for any industry.  Our pocketbook begs us to go cheap while our head reminds us of the disaster that could have been avoided had we only spent a little more for a quality product.  At MeritCorp we can provide hourly or fixed pricing, but in the end what you see is what you get.  When we provide a fixed cost proposal the pricing is exactly what it says ‘fixed’.  That’s it.   No second guessing, no games, no added cost.  And when you need to add scope, we can provide you with a lump sum cost for that too.  Instead of trying to ‘sneak’ more past our clients we want you to know up front what to expect so that at the end of the project the total cost doesn’t come as a surprise.  We are happy to review the scope and fees with our clients at any time.  It is part of what we do to make sure you know what you are paying for – to give you the end product at the price you expect.

    After the disaster with my first smart phone, I considered my needs, re-evaluated my pocketbook and chose a new phone that has lasted the test of time.  These same principals can guide us to a whole new outlook on shopping in this economy.   When we remember that Cheapest isn’t the best we free ourselves to shop for a quality product at a fair price.


    At MeritCorp our goal is to provide you with quality services, Integrity, and Value….an end product with Merit.

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  • When The Retention Pond Fails

    In July of 1996, the Fox River in Illinois flooded at an alarming rate after almost 17 inches of rain.  In April of 2013, we are again seeing major flooding in Illinois, this time affecting a broader area, but still causing the same kind of damage and chaos.  There are no rules about when and how flooding can happen – it happens anywhere it rains.  However as developed areas grow, they can become more susceptible to flooding due to outdated drainage and growth that exceeds the planned need for retention or has too much area covered with hard surfaces preventing natural drainage.

    Factors for Flooding: When designing, we don’t design for events greater than the 100 year storm.  The recent flooding in the Chicagoland area would be considered an extraordinary event where much of the flooding was not due to design failure, but rather current conditions.  There are several factors to consider when flooding happens to determine what, if any improvements can or should be made based on cost and potential risk.  These factors can include things like soil saturation, current pond and river water levels [is there room for more water?], rate at which the water comes down and flows into the current retention system and whether or not the drainage systems are maintained correctly.  [Is there a pile of leaves or other junk obstructing the path of the water?]

    100 Year Storm:  As news crews report the flooding that happens the phrase ‘100 year flood’ or ‘100 year storm’ can be used to describe this extraordinary event.  This can be confusing… since this doesn’t truly reference how often such flooding occurs, but rather the likelihood of it happening.  The term “100-year flood” is used in an attempt to simplify the definition of a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year. Likewise, the term “100-year storm” is used to define a rainfall event that statistically has this same 1-percent chance of occurring. In other words, over the course of 1 million years, these events would be expected to occur 10,000 times. But, just because it rained 10 inches in one day last year doesn’t mean it can’t rain 10 inches in one day again this year.

    Stormwater Runoff:  Impervious surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground.  As precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground it can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, wetland, or coastal water. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the water bodies used for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.   During times of flooding that same runoff can quickly become a dangerous moving body of water causing damage and gathering ever more pollutants as it travels over areas not typically covered in water.

    Poorly managed stormwater causes three big problems:  Pollution contaminating water, Damaging Floods, and oddly enough – Water Shortages especially in developed areas with more impervious surfaces.  These surfaces can keep rainfall from soaking into the ground and replenishing groundwater and streams used for drinking water or fish habitat.

    Retention Ponds:  Retention ponds are one of the most common forms of stormwater management.  Retention ponds or “wet ponds” are ponds constructed to manage stormwater runoff, prevent flooding, limit downstream erosion, replace tree absorption due to development, and improve water quality in adjacent bodies of water. Retention ponds are permanent pools of standing water, many times with plantings and sometimes even walking paths to make them more enjoyable or even creating a ‘feature’ to a developed area.  These ponds provide a buffer allowing the stormwater to be ‘treated’ by allowing the water to go thru the natural cleaning process of sedimentation and nutrient uptake.  As with any stormwater management strategy, some maintenance is required.  Regular inspections for pests and erosion are recommended and the areas around the pond maintained.

    A detention basin, commonly called a ‘dry pond’ is an area that temporarily stores water after a storm, but is not meant to stay wet and eventually empties out at a controlled rate into a body of water.  An infiltration Basin is similar to detention areas, but instead of going to a body of water, it is designed to direct stormwater through a permeable area to groundwater.

    Flood Plains:  A flood plain is an area of low-lying ground adjacent to a river, formed mainly of river sediments and subject to flooding.  In the real estate market, a home in a legally defined flood plain is eligible for purchase of federal flood insurance. In this case, the broad definition of flood plain, also known as a flood zone, becomes more specific and detailed.  Lenders use the process of flood zone determination to evaluate the property and structures that secure mortgages. Federal banking regulations require certain flood zone properties to carry flood insurance as a condition of extending the loan.

    The National Flood Insurance Program was established in 1968 to reduce the costs of emergency assistance in flooded areas. By the law, lenders had to require that buyers purchase this insurance on properties that fall within a Special Flood Hazard Area.  A Special Flood Hazard Area, also known as the 100-year floodplain, is a zone that has a 1 percent chance each year of experiencing a greater than normal flood. These zones are shown in detail on the National Flood Insurance Program map.  Owners or buyers whose property falls within a Special Flood Hazard Area may contest this determination by applying for a Letter of Map Amendment, Letter of Map Revision or Letter of Determination Review. The forms needed are offered for free on the Federal Emergency Management Assistance website. Having the designation removed allows the buyer to purchase the property without the legal requirement of federal flood insurance, though a lender may still require the insurance by its own guidelines.

    When the Retention Pond Fails…

    So what happens after the floods come and the damage is done?  That’s when municipalities take a look at their flood plans, ordinances are reviewed and Civil Engineers get to work continuing to make improvements and look for ways to control the water so that next time maybe the damage won’t be quite so bad.  Do you have flooding issues?  Need to get it looked at?  MeritCorp can help.

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