Essex Station – Before and during

It’s been a little while since our last update, but its only been because we’ve been so busy with projects!  Here’s an update on the progress of one of Franklin Surveys’ first significant site developments:

Construction is well underway at the Essex Station Luxury Apartment Community on Plains Road in Essex, Connecticut.  The site, which will hold 50+ affordable and moderately-priced apartment homes, is adjacent to the historic Essex Steam Train Station and conveniently off of Route 9.

Franklin Surveys has been involved for land surveying services since the project inception, which is being led by developer Signature Contracting Group of Westport.  Yantic River Consultants, LLC of Lebanon is responsible for site design and permitting and the buildings were designed by Gary B. Coursey, Architect.

Our first task was to examine the official land records for the Town of Essex as required by Article IV of The Standards for Surveys and Maps in the State of Connecticut.  The basis for the research task is that the surveyor is expressing an property/boundary opinion, and includes an examination of the record descriptions of the property being surveyed as well as the record descriptions of the adjoining parcels.  Then, when we visit the site, we know that we might need to look for objects one might not normally expect to mark a property boundary, like this truck axle set vertically in the ground:

An unusual property marker

We were also fortunate to find one of the few remaining base line monuments installed by the predecessor organization to the Connecticut Department of Transportation in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s.  The below snapshot was taken after detecting the presence of the monument with a magnetic locator wand and carefully excavating a post hole about 2 feet in depth.  Markers such as this one are not placed upon the state highway right-of-way line, but rather represent the point upon which the tripod and transit was set up while the highway was laid out.

Base Line Marker

The reconnaissance task, in which we performed a thorough search for boundary markers and other evidence of property lines, is aimed at retracing the maps and deeds on the public record.  This is often referred to in boundary law articles as “walking in the footsteps” of the previous surveyor(s).  For a development project such as this one, a boundary retracement survey must also be accompanied by a topographic and utility survey both on the site and in the frontage roadway.  Based on the research effort, the fruits of site reconnaissance, and the topographic observations, we then put together a comprehensive base map of the site.  In order to better accommodate the proposed apartment buildings, Franklin Surveys also prepared mapping to revise the existing property lines which were internal to the development.

As of this writing, construction is in full swing.  But before shovels went into the ground, our field crew established the limits of vegetative clearing by tying flags around the site perimeter.  Once the interior of the site had been cleared and grubbed, we remobilized to place wooden stakes and hub and tack offsets to the foundation corners.  The State Department of Public Health also requested that we stake out the leaching system area, to avoid unwanted soil compaction which could be caused by moving construction equipment.

Following the completion of building foundations, we perform a Zoning Location Survey, to depict and note the position of the as-built foundations with respect to applicable municipal setback requirements.  More updates to follow as we continue our services by providing as-built mapping for drainage and site components…

Crew member Jake in the background obtaining building corner coordinates



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Willimantic Whitewater Surveying

Restored waterfront

The mission of the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership is to recapture the waterfront of the Willimantic River by developing an urban waterfront and whitewater park, increasing safe access to the river for residents, restoring the environment, and celebrating the cultural history of the Willimantic River in Willimantic, Connecticut.”

Franklin Surveys is on board as the project surveyor for the development of the Willimantic Whitewater Park on Bridge Street (Route 32).  This project will ultimately involve the removal of the old mill dam to facilitate a genuine whitewater kayaking experience through downtown Willimantic.  The site is located in heart of historic Willimantic, in the shadow of Town Hall and within walking distance of most local businesses and Eastern Connecticut State University.

The remains of the arched entrance to the distributary which directed river water to the millwheel



Remediation work has recently been completed at the property to mitigate the long-term effects of the former gas station and carwash that occupied the property for many years after the deconstruction of the mill.  GEI Consultants and Red Technologies were the firms responsible for this phase of the project.

The pictures below are of some of the control measures which have been installed to prevent erosion of the recently moved soils.  In some places, engineered matting and hay bales have been placed to further stabilize the ground surface.

Strategic Boulder Placement

Landscaped earthen berm







The southeast corner of the old mill
A view of the breached dam along the remaining portion of the stone block river wall
We are beyond excited to be on board for this fantastic project!
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Biogas-Powered Fuel Cell, IKEA

When IKEA of New Haven made the decision to install their first biogas-powered fuel cell, Franklin Surveys was called on to provide comprehensive land surveying services throughout the project.  A fuel cell converts chemical energy from fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction process as opposed to one that involves combustion.  As described in the project press release, this will be a 250 kW customer-side distribution plant. For any sizable construction project, the first step is to obtain a survey of the existing conditions within the area of interest.  In many cases, this involves not only a thorough research process and the rendering of a surveyors’ professional boundary opinion but also the collection of detailed information on site topography, elevations of key structures, and the location of visible and underground utilities.  For even a minimally improved small area, this could mean hours if not days of data collection.  In point of fact, an “Existing Conditions Survey” is not one of the types of surveys officially recognized in the Standards for Surveys and Maps in the State of Connecticut.  Existing conditions surveys may be classified as Property Surveys, Topographic Surveys, or General Location Surveys (among others), depending on site-specific conditions and the intended purpose of the survey map.  Surveyors are free to use their judgement to select the most appropriate survey type.

In the case of the IKEA Campus, given its proximity to New Haven Harbor and the recent highway interchange projects (see Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program) adjacent to the site, the initial approach also involved a FEMA Elevation Certificate.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defined flood regions for potentially hazardous areas based upon substantial review of topography, water levels, and surface conditions.  The precise geometric definition of these regions is subject to change over time as one might expect to account for natural and human-caused changes to the landscape and ecosystem.  Also, if an individual property owner feels that his or her property has improperly been classified to be within an at-risk area, there is a formal grievance process that involves land surveyors and other experts, such as Certified Flood Plain Managers.

To prepare an Elevation Certificate, a surveyor must do research to determine the existence of accessible and reliable benchmarks.  A benchmark is a place having a very well known elevation.  It is established by a process known simply as “leveling”, but it is fair to point out that there are actually several methods of leveling practiced by modern surveyors.  Of these methods, utilizing a global navigation satellite system (GNSS, commonly known as GPS) represents the most recent technological advancement.  Using the benchmark as a point of reference, the surveyor then determines the elevations at key points such as building floors, access points, and utilities serving the premises.  The data is analyzed (or “reduced” in surveyor speak) and sent to FEMA on the Elevation Certificate form bearing the surveyors official stamp and signature.

On site for layout

During the construction process, it is the role of the surveyor to lay out or “stake” the locations of proposed improvements as well as to establish the grade at which the improvements are to be installed.  In construction contracts or project documents, this is usually called “establishment of line and grade”.

Setting offset marks for grade beams

Considering the planned live load of the assembled fuel cell, the main platform required grade beams as supporting members.  Some of the pictures are from the day we set a series of drill holes in concrete to indicate the locations at which to penetrate the existing concrete deck.  Franklin Surveys also performed additional leveling and provided scribe-marks and labels so that subsequent “layers” of the project would be built at the proper elevations.  Upon project completion, the survey crew returned to the site for the “Improvement Location Survey” or as-built.  Given the nature of the improvements, we provided both a plan view and a profile view of the work area.  Here is a snip of the profile view along with a picture of the finished fuel cell and related equipment.

Above:  Profile View, Project As-built. Shading has been used to more clearly depict the project features. Below:  the completed fuel cells and related electrical equipment.  You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but this device will be generating massive amounts of clean energy for years to come!




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West River Self-Regulating Tide Gates

Upon completion of a significant construction project, it is prudent (and often, required) to hire a professional land surveyor to perform an as-built survey. In general, the purpose of an as-built is to document the post-construction conditions in a graphic format. In Connecticut, the State Standards for Surveys and Maps classify this type of survey as an Improvement Location Survey. Per the code, the intent of an Improvement Location Survey is to “enable a determination of compliance or non-compliance with applicable municipal and/or statutory requirements”.

Looking North from the  Route 1 Bridge
Looking North from the Route 1 Bridge

In southern New Haven County, the 13.5-mile-long West River is a (mostly) freshwater stream. In part, the West River is the boundary between the cities of West Haven and New Haven. Around the year 1920, New Haven’s government decided to build tide gates in the West River. The intent was to provide additional upland area for development, as well as to control flooding and mosquito issues. The West River Memorial Park, reflecting pool, and dozens of acres of open space were created as a result. Unfortunately, the installation of the tide gates had multiple adverse effects on the environment. By nature, the West River had been a tidal stream with flowing salt water to inland tidal marshes. The alteration to a fresh water system gave rise to conditions sympathetic to the growth of Phragmites and other invasive species. Further, the gates block the passage of diadromous (meaning, those that migrate between fresh and salt water) fish to upstream areas.

A close-up look at the gates from the West Haven side
A close-up look at the gates from the West Haven side

In 2009, the West River Habitat Restoration Project was initiated to restore the West River to pre-1920’s conditions. The project was managed by Save the Sound Connecticut, a nonprofit enterprise of Connecticut Fund for the Environment. One of the primary components of the project was to analyze the existing flapper gate system and engineer alterations that would simulate a migration back to natural stream flow. Upon completion of the design and construction, 3 of the 12 timber flap gates were replaced with Self Regulating Tide Gates. Self-regulating tide gates allow salt water to flow upstream with a system of floats and counterfloats that cause the gates to open and close based on specific hydraulic conditions. During normal operation, the gate is open so that water can either ebb or flow depending on the tide. But the float and counterfloat are set in sucha way as to cause the gate to close automatically at a predetermined high water level. During a flood event, this setting prevents too much tidal flow from coming up the river. Importantly though, it restores the tidal flushing of the wetlands and helps to eliminate invasive species from crowding out natural vegetation.

Working my way upstream at low tide
Working my way upstream at low tide

Franklin Surveys was engaged to provide the as-built, or Improvement Location Survey, for the West River Habitat Restoration Project. The pictures included are actual “live shots” from the survey work. We utilized global navigation satellite systems (GNSSs, commonly known as GPS), in addition to conventional optomechanical instruments (total stations). We also performed direct leveling, with graduated rod measurements from benchmarks. Upon completion of the survey work, Franklin Surveys reduced the field observations in accordance with standard survey protocols to determine the coordinates of all the points of interest. The survey project final deliverable was a complex multi-format mapping product, including plan and profile views, inset photos, and a series of descriptive notes and labels.
According to the local fishermen, the self-regulating tide gates are helping already! There are multiple (admittedly, anecdotal) reports of increased upstream spawning and the West River fish population is on the rise!

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