Category: DigClean

Terradex at 20: Keeping the Startup Feeling in Pursuit of Long-Term Stewardship

Can Terradex still be a startup after 20 years? That is the question I ask myself as I reflect on this milestone. A startup is a fast, bumpy, innovative ride to converge on the model, market, revenue, and profit, and is very much the norm in Silicon Valley. Although Terradex is in the business of the perpetual, it remains adorned by the spirit of the startup. So, my answer is yes, and here are three reasons why I keep this startup feeling.

First, the force of Terradex’s mission has never dissipated. The force of the mission is engrained in the startup. Terradex has targeted an essential need: enabling land stewardship through web technologies to protect the public and the environment. I am an altruist and seek to protect the public, community member, or worker, who might unknowingly come in contact with contaminated residuals. While protecting the public, we also serve our customers by protecting their cleanup remedies. The Terradex mission is a “win-win” for everyone.

Second, I get to work in the playground of innovation. In Silicon Valley many amazing tools are being assembled for monitoring land use and activity. Today’s technology, previously unimaginable, now includes satellite constellations, drone capture images, and artificial intelligence, all of which are routinely applied to detect land and structure changes. This tech revolution has enabled the development and deployment of our product offerings. Terradex adapts these new technologies for land stewardship. Satellites can remote sense and apply artificial intelligence. I can then utilize satellites to show a customer new structures on their remote land or a disturbance that might damage an ecosystem or a protective liner acting as a barrier to contain residual contamination. At Terradex, I get to adapt the technology and integrate it into our solutions like LandWatch.

Third, I get to pursue emerging markets to protect vulnerable land. Startups often surprise by creating and then fulfilling a market that is not apparent or by replacing an old paradigm with the new. Our current market is defined by specific areas of interest: land that is contaminated and vulnerable to public use and land that is sensitive, such as a habitat area, and vulnerable to development. In the coming years, land such as forests used for carbon sequestration will be similarly vulnerable to uncontrolled land uses. We further anticipate that efforts tied to climate mitigation and sustainable development will result in a new generation of lands that must be protected. As an experienced startup, we are poised to pursue these new markets as they emerge.

Even as a startup, in our first 20 years Terradex has made an impact. There are two main areas of our impact: 1) building the playbook of land stewardship that has become the industry standard and 2) the resulting impact as our stewardship technologies successfully protect public health and cleanup remedies.

When Terradex started, the industry’s focus was on conducting cleanups and not post-cleanup obligations. We discovered that because most remedies fall short of a complete cleanup, they create an obligation for long-term stewardship. At Terradex, we saw the need to fashion industry and governmental practice to fulfill this obligation. Over the last 20 years, we have been part of establishing a modern long-term stewardship framework, which included:

  • supporting EPA in its development of guidance for advanced methods for long-term stewardship,
  • leading ASTM standard development for Continuing Obligations that serve as long-term stewardship best practices,
  • developing data standards for long-term stewardship with ECOS, and
  • training over 6,000 practitioners via ITRC’s stewardship training, while
  • establishing Terradex’s data methodology now protected in a U.S. patent.

I treasure the impact Terradex’s team of 12 has made on our clients and the tens of thousands we protect. It amazes me that we send nearly 10,000 alerts a month to people moving into a new home, working to repair a sewer line, or installing a new water well. These simple, actionable messages keep people safe and protect our customers’ cleanup remedies from damage. I look back at many of our notable accomplishments with pride. We have successfully:

  • prevented a well from penetrating an aquitard, thereby protecting drinking water supply,
  • alerted a developer about encountering an area of buried ordinance,
  • protected homeowners by preventing an inadvertent vapor intrusion pathway installed by a utility contractor, and
  • supported compliance by alerting our client to a tenant’s activities in breach of an engineered control.

In the past 20 years, Terradex has set a path now encompassed by our three product solutions, LandWatch, DigClean, and WhatsDown. We introduce these solutions on the new Terradex web site emulating the protectiveness we seek to provide in vulnerable settings.

Thank You! We didn’t achieve Terradex’s impact alone. Building Terradex’s stewardship solutions has taken a village, including the Terradex team, our customer partners, and our colleagues in professional organizations. At 20 years young,Terradex has been an impactful and innovative startup and we proudly celebrate that accomplishment with you.

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Bob Wenzlau October 5, 2021 0 Comments

A Proposal To Improve Institutional Control Effectiveness Through Better Mapping

Try to read a typical institutional control (IC) and locate its boundaries. We bet you can’t. You will find a complicated legal description referring to metes and bounds, but not a map of the restricted areas that you can actually see and understand. Only licensed surveyors can decipher these legal descriptions, but all the parties who need to comply with the restrictions – developers, excavators, well drillers, etc. as well as environmental agencies and others who want to build online maps cannot readily know the area where the IC’s health and safety precautions apply.

Consistent with common environmental compliance practice, IC practitioners routinely recognize that communicating ICs to affected parties is the key to success. And at the core of communication is easy access to IC boundary location. Without IC boundary maps, an IC could inadvertently be breached causing health impact or remedy damage. The lack of IC maps weakens the force of ICs and undermines future IC compliance.

In this post, we propose a process for supplementing conventional legal descriptions with the addition of information describing a geographic map, including latitude and longitudes, of IC boundaries. This proposal would not impact the longstanding requirements for legal descriptions, but rather would add the requirement that all recorded ICs also include IC boundary location in a geographic map format. This would enormously improve the ability of environmental agencies and others to make online IC maps widely accessible – a key component for improved IC compliance.

Proprietary Institutional Controls and the Land Recording Process

The subset of ICs called proprietary controls is the most common. These controls are typically short documents that describe restrictions related to environmental contamination, and they are always recorded in the official land records against the property they affect. Common types include environmental covenants and environmental easements and many use the umbrella term “deed restrictions” to describe proprietary controls. These controls “run with the land” – which means they pass from one owner to the next and in the most common situation they can be enforced by environmental regulatory agencies. However, other parties including prior owners, local governments and others can often enforce these controls as well. (See Chapter 1 of Implementing Institutional Controls at Brownfields and Other Contaminated Sites edited by Amy Edwards for a thorough overview of proprietary controls.)

Proprietary controls sometimes affect the entire parcel to which they attach, and sometimes they affect only portions of a parcel. In either case, complicated legal descriptions meaning long paragraphs filled with references to metes, bounds, northing, easting, etc. – describe the area restricted. ICs do not ordinarily include latitude/longitude coordinates to describe the area impacted, nor other types of maps. As a result, the many environmental agencies who build online systems to depict ICs have not been able to map the IC boundaries. Instead, you’ll find point locations estimating IC locations, and in some cases links to the IC where you’ll be lead to complex legal descriptions describing the impacted area.

Why don’t ICs include useful maps? In short, because a maps showing IC boundaries are not required when recording proprietary controls in the land records. The IC recording process abides by the longstanding process (dating back hundreds of years) for recording property rights, and this process relies on legal descriptions. For ICs, the process involves the party agreeing to restrict property (grantor) and the party who can enforce the restriction (grantee) recording their agreed restriction at the County recorder. The County recorder indexes the agreement in a grantor-grantee index. The recorder’s index is not a map-based index, but rather an index of recording parties that allows for searching of all recorded instrument (including ICs) based on the names of the grantor and grantees and the various dates of instrument filings. According to expert property valuers in Melbourne, a title company in a real estate transaction commonly will use these indexes to make sure that new buyers are notified of the ICs. Once identified, land surveyors can then resolve the exact location of the recorded IC based on its legal description. These county-level grantor-grantee indexes maintain a property record system that works even as lots subdivide or join or the land is no longer recognizable to the land at the time of recording. Therefore, the grantor and grantee do not need maps to generate the restriction, merely a description of the property that a surveyor could draw based on metes and bound statements.

This longstanding process serves the legal need to provide “constructive notice” for new purchasers as to the existence of an IC which is the primary purpose of land recording. But ICs pose additional challenges. For ICs, the historical recording process doesn’t serve the need for communicating and notifying the various parties who may perform land activities during the intervening years between transactions we need maps to serve that need.

Geographic Mapping vs. a Legal Description

Including maps with ICs would support the public interest to protect health and the environment in areas encumbered by the IC. A geographic map carries latitudes and longitudes. As noted, the inclusion of a map exceeds the minimum obligations that the grantor and grantee must meet to record the covenant. However, providing a geographic description inside the IC would allow the boundaries to be viewed readily in public mapping systems. Planners, excavators and the public then be able to understand the boundaries of an IC or an assemblage of ICs in a city. For example, shown here to the right are ICs in Palo Alto California, where geographic descriptions of ICs enabled a city-wide IC map. With a good IC map, local planners can make decisions informed by the restrictions in separate ICs. IC boundaries are often complex, and may not coincide to the parcel boundary. This map reveals the advantage of showing the area encumbered by an IC rather than a single point. Also agencies can better inspect an IC if they understand its boundaries. A remote landowner may also take comfort that a local government might detect tenant improvements or development activities that would be impacted by ICs.

A Quick Exercise to Map an Institutional Control

This example compares to the legal and geographic descriptions of an IC. Mosts ICs are mapped in legal descriptions with a Point of Beginning (POB). From the POB, metes and bounds describe the area encompassed by the IC. A geographic description contains latitude and longitude. Compare the locational description for the institutional control for United Heckathorn:

  • POB Using Legal Description: “Beginning on the south line of the 3.39 acre strip of land described in the deed to the City of Richmond, recorded August 11, 1948, Book 1272, Official records, page 161, at the northwest corner of the 8.938 acre parcel…”
  • POB Using Geographic Description: “37.92500, -122.36308”

The general public is at an immediate disadvantage with the Legal Description. Book 1272 is not available online, and a copy must be requested from the county recorder. The maps are not free with fees of $50 to $200 to obtain the copies of the underlying tract maps. By comparison, placing the latitudes and longitudes into Google Maps quickly resolves the location of the POB.

A Proposal for Geographic Institutional Control Derivations

We propose: Any IC recorded shall carry a supplemental attachment describing latitude and longitudinal derivation and include a map. This attachment is called a Geographic Institutional Control Description (GICD). Geographic implies a latitude/longitudinal basis to the description as opposed to a legal description. The GICD would augment the covenant and its legal description; the legal force of the covenant remains embedded in the body of the IC.

The elements of a GICD supplement are as follows:

Latitude/Longitude String. The points are enumerated in decimal latitude and longitude using the WGS84 geographic standard. A minimum of 5 decimal point precision should be applied. With five decimal points, the error in a decimal latitude and longitude point is about 3 feet, a precision adequate to alert a developer, excavator or public of the hazard. The WGS84 projection applicable globally, and should be applied in lieu of state plane mapping coordinate systems.

  • Map. The map clearly delineates the IC boundary with annotation for each of the points. Points on a curve are typically listed at 20 foot intervals.
  • Basis. This is a reference to the authoritative documents for the institutional control and the legal description. The basis varies from conversion of metes and bounds when the POB is known, conversion of metes and bounds with the POB is estimated, matching parcel boundaries when relying on the county recorder maps, assuming an alignment to mapping within environmental documents to the legal descriptions.
  • Derivation. The derivation is a statement of how the map was converted from the authoritative documents to the latitude and longitudinal string. This provides the references to the data standards. Some derivations may be made by placing boundaries shown in remedial documents into the map, with the concurrence of the project manager.
  • Limitations. The legal description remains as the authoritative source of boundary information and supersedes the illustration provided in the geographic description.

The level of effort to make GICD attachments varies. When prepared concurrent with the drafting of the IC and by the same land surveyor that drafts the legal description, the effort to derive latitude and longitudes is minimal compared to preparation of the legal description. The same software that generates legal descriptions also exports latitude and longitude strings. When done retroactively, the level-of-effort increases. Most of Terradex’s GICDs have been prepared long after the IC was recorded. The generation of a “forensic” GICD may require two to twelve hours depending on the site complexity, the nature of legal descriptions, the availability of parties with direct recollection, and access to relied upon tract maps.

Adopting Recommendations for Geographic Descriptions

We believe this GICD proposal could be put into affect immediately by environmental agencies, without the need for any additional legislation. In UECA states, for example, the model Uniform Environmental Covenants Act (UECA) does require deed restrictions to include legally sufficient description of the property.” See UECA 4. However, the UECA statute does not limit the covenant to only that. The UECA statute provides that an environmental covenant may contain other information …” and the explanatory notes specifically describe the use of GICD information (which they refer to as “geospatial data”) for describing areas impacted. With something as simple as the issuance of administrative guidance, environmental agencies could require GICD information as part of recorded ICs.

Agency guidance in at least one state, Colorado, addressed the use of GICD maps though in this case the agency addressed whether GICD information could be used in place of (rather than in addition to) legal descriptions. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in their Institutional Controls Implementation Guidance ( page 13) explained that “[c]reating a valid legal description using GPS technology, instead of using a licensed professional surveyor, is fraught with difficulty,” and instead, favored the legal description approach. While recognizing that GICD information could define IC boundaries, they based their conclusion disfavoring this approach largely on the fact that GICD information is not as precise as metes and bounds-based legal descriptions.

Our proposal, as noted, would retain the precision of legal descriptions while adding supplemental GICD information. This Terradex proposal arose from our experience mapping ICs, where we came to learn first-hand how time intensive and tortuous of a process this can be. In LandWatch, we monitor institutional controls across the US to avert an IC breach. Knowing the location and restriction of an IC is prerequisite to monitoring for a breach. A GICD would enable rapid mapping, and then monitoring of IC effectiveness. As Terradex would benefit, responsible parties, landowners, agencies, developers and the public would also enjoy more reliable and effective ICs, and the derived health, environmental and remedy protection benefits.

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Bob Wenzlau April 20, 2015 0 Comments

DigClean is Protecting Excavators Across Delaware From Buried Chemicals

Excavations are a common event around contaminated sites as each flash of light signifies.  This map shows flashes for each excavations around contaminated sites in New Castle County, Delaware.  Try  adjusting the map, the date may be adjusted on the slider, and the coverage area adjusted by the zoom control.  

You are watching about 3,500 excavation clearances resulting in over 1,000 advisories automatically sent to excavators by Terradex’s DigClean service. Terradex’s client since 2012 is Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (DNREC).  A one minute video overviews how the excavation clearance system can not only protect buried pipelines, but also convey health and safety information to workers about to dig.

Construction excavations threaten remedies, breach institutional controls, create circumstances where contaminated soils are mismanaged, and introduce health hazards to construction workers.  The value of DigClean is to bring tangible information to excavators so that they can make timely, smart decisions to control these threats.  Avoiding chemical contamination in the field is manageable once DigClean transmits an advisory.

The advisory provides links to general soil management plans, but can also provide a link to a site-specific soil management plan. There are also links to NIOSH Pocket Guide and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Toxic Substances Portal for chemical specific hazard information. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals, while ATSDR provide guidance to non-work related public exposure scenarios. For  a spill containing benzene, the respective chemical links in the advisory would include:a NIOSH benzene link and a ATSDR benzene link.

The flow of an excavation ticket from the excavator, through the excavation clearance system, Terradex and DNREC, and then back to the excavator with an advisory.

An excavator makes an obligatory 811 telephone call to provide 48-hours advance notice of an excavation.  The excavator provides the location, description, timing as well as contact information.  The excavator’s provided contact information may be a phone, fax or email address.   The excavation center upon receiving the incoming notice from the excavator will only forward those excavation notices to Terradex that are near contaminated sites (as mentioned below, the locations of the sites were provided in setup of the program).  Terradex provides an additional geographic screening after receiving the incoming notice. For the sites within 50 feet of a contaminated site, an excavation advisory is transmitted to the excavator.   The advisory is sent via email, SMS text or fax depending on the contact information originally provided. The excavator is directed to followup with DNREC when there are questions.

At the beginning of the DigClean in Delaware, the excavation clearance center was provided with a GIS map prepared by DNREC with the boundaries of contaminated sites.  If a extent of contamination was not known, the parcel boundary around the contaminated location is used instead. As DigClean operates, DNREC uses DigClean’s web management console to view the advisories transmitted, and those excavations where based on a distance evaluation an advisory was not transmitted.  DNREC can choose to override the distance screening, and send an advisory.

Terradex developed an analysis of California excavations near sites with institutional or engineering controls. The California analysis  revealed a correlation between urbanization, the area of the impacted site and the frequency of excavation.  This analysis in Delaware complements the California analysis by visually presenting the DigClean service as it expands within Delaware. The DigClean service is also provided to Idaho, West Virginia and California.

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Bob Wenzlau November 22, 2014 0 Comments

Mobile Web Tool for Excavators in Delaware Helps Plan for Subsurface Chemical Hazards

Terradex is testing a mobile web tool to assist excavators and engineers working near spill sites. Now under testing by several utility companies, the web tool permits an excavator to learn chemical information at cleanup sites in Delaware.

The tool addresses a common need in the field:  “How in advance of an excavation, can we learn of chemicals of concern, an thereby bring appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to the job site?”

This DigClean mobile and desktop web tool differentiates chemicals of concern, and provides links to NIOSH and ASTDR to highlight chemical-specific health and safety information. As the application can be used in the field, even emergency excavations can be informed of chemical information or the presence of institutional or engineering controls.

A short demonstration as a webcast follows. The web application can be requested by email.

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Bob Wenzlau October 28, 2013 0 Comments

Forecasting an Engineering Control or Institutional Control Breach, A Study of Third-party Excavation Activity

Excavations by third-parties are inevitable near any cleanup site. Of concern to cleanup site managers, these unexpected events can breach institutional or engineering controls relied upon in a site’s cleanup remedy. Third-party excavators include utility companies, developers and contractors whose work is not part of the site cleanup process.

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Bob Wenzlau September 25, 2013 0 Comments

Dig Clean Excavation Advisory Begins in Delaware

As another step towards increased environmental agency integration into one-call systems, on December 17, 2012 Terradex expanded its Dig Clean service on behalf of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (DNREC).   Terradex Dig Clean builds near real-time advisories that it sends to contractors and designers after they submit “locate requests” but  before they actually begin any excavation work.   The DNREC deployment of Dig Clean began as a pilot covering the City of Newark, Delaware.

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Admin December 17, 2012 0 Comments

Slowly But Surely: One Call Systems Increasingly Used for Environmental Cleanup Sites

Slowly but surely, often with close involvement of Terradex, the power of one-call helps manage cleanup sites.  In every state, call-before-you-dig or “one call” laws require a phone call (or increasingly an electronic notice) of the planned dig.  State one-call centers route the resulting “excavation tickets” to the people and companies who own or operate underground lines who, in turn, send back “all clear” messages or mark the lines so excavators don’t hit or damage them.

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