Meet Our Crew: Wetland Specialist and Civil Engineer, Fred King

Meet Our Crew: Wetland Specialist and Civil Engineer, Fred King

Fred King DGT wetland specialist

Fredric W. King, PE, LEED® AP is a Senior Engineer, and Senior Wetland Specialist based out of our DGT Framingham office. Fred is a local celebrity when it comes to wetlands and is known throughout Greater Boston for his wetlands expertise. Fred joined DGT through our acquisition of Schofield Brothers back in 2015. Since then, he’s been an invaluable member and leader in the DGT civil engineering department. Fred has been in the field for over 40 years and will be semi-retiring at the end of 2019. We sat down with him to learn from his wealth of knowledge and experience.

Tell us about your role at DGT.

I’m a licensed PE, Senior Project Engineer and Manager, and I’m also a wetland specialist. I specialize in stormwater management and wetland issues for DGT. I take the lead on many projects coming in — commercial, residential, industrial — that have to do with site planning and wetlands. Nowadays, most projects include that.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Well, it’s totally different from one day to the next, which is why I really like the job. One day, I could be soil testing with our project engineers and other colleagues. Another day, it’s delineating wetlands. Today, I was reviewing as-built surveys from a contractor. I’m also currently working on site planning for a new residential development in Newton.

What drew you to engineering?

I started in 1974 with a degree in forestry from UMass Amherst and worked with town conservation commissions. I served in conservation administrator roles for the towns of Acton, Billerica, and Wayland from 1974 to 1984. While doing that work I was often reviewing development projects coming into the towns, including stormwater designs and hydrologic calculations, and it really piqued my interest. In 1976, I went back to school to take night courses in hydrology and civil engineering. I really started to like it and just kept going. Next thing I knew, I graduated with a civil engineering degree, in 1987, from UMass Lowell.

Then you started work at Schofield. Tell us about that.

Yes, I started working for Schofield Brothers in 1984. A senior engineer from Schofield Brothers, whose work I had reviewed over the past couple of years, knew I was taking engineering classes and wasn’t far from graduating. They needed a wetlands person at the company, but back then, it was hard to a hire a wetlands person because there’s not always enough work to keep them busy. Fortunately, I had both the wetlands skills and civil engineering skills. He took a chance on me, and I’m glad he did. I really enjoy both the wetlands/environmental work and the engineering. It has been great being able to use both my forestry and engineering education.

How was the transition to DGT?

Seamless. It worked out for everyone. The president and vice president of Schofield Brothers retired. The rest of us stayed. The only thing that changed with DGT was the name. We just kept doing what we were doing. DGT has really great skilled and experienced people working here. Honestly, I’d say it was a perfect fit.

You’re known in the Boston and MetroWest area as an expert on wetlands. To what do you credit your success?

There are a lot of wetlands people, but I think my past experience and connections in conservation and planning helped me. I was constantly going before boards to present the plans for wetlands filings and site plans. Still today, in my work at DGT, I’m going before boards to present for wetlands hearings and permitting. You really get to know people and their requirements that way. Putting together good plans, and seriously addressing the regulations and the concerns of the regulatory agencies, helps to build a good reputation and trust.

Conservation is also a small community. I was the chair for the Maynard Conservation Commission, my hometown. The current agent for Newton’s Conservation Commission used to work for me, as an agent, in Maynard and as a Wetlands Specialist at Schofield Brothers for about two years. And, the current Administrator of Wayland’s Conservation Commission is also a former Maynard Conservation Administrator. I also always try to stay active in the industry and go to the Mass Association of Conservation Commission’s annual meetings and continue to take workshops to stay current. That’s always great, because it’s good to see old friends and to network.

It’s really about connections and getting to know the towns and their different regulations. It pays off.

What are some of the different types of work you’ve done?

Too many to recount. But right now, we were actually just hired by a town to write their stormwater bylaw regulations. We’re also working with a local conservation land trust on a small project to expand a parking lot. I’ve done work for them before so I’m glad to return to their site. It’s nice to have people calling me back years after my work is done.

You’ve been in the field a long time. What has changed? What hasn’t?

The regulations that we work under are always changing. That’s a constant. Complying with regs and bylaws is an ever-evolving practice. What we did two years ago would never fly now. The latest is stormwater management. It’s huge and everyone is catching onto that. The federal government set a bar with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) rules and regs. The final rule went into effect in June.

Now all the towns have to comply and change to meet federal guidelines. The caveat is that every town handles it in different ways. Massachusetts has “home rule,” meaning the state can dictate— to a degree— how they comply, but each town has its own final say. Because of this, stormwater regs can be tricky to work with from town to town, but it’s challenging in a good way. It keeps us on our toes.

What stays the same are the agencies and processes. We’re always dealing with the same agencies. Any project that has to do with site plans, zoning and wetlands, you may have to please 50 or 60 people on all of these boards and agencies to get these things through. Personalities are different, but the process is the same. Longevity is a good advantage.

What’s your proudest moment in your career so far?

When I got registered with my PE license. That was huge. I had been working on it for so long. I went to school at night while I was working full-time. Then, I worked hard to study for the EIT and PE tests. It was a great moment when I passed and got my stamp.

We know you’re a humble guy, but what does leadership mean to you?
It’s just something you do. You fill in where you can. If people consider it leadership, then that’s great.

What advice would you give someone stepping into your shoes, or any leadership position in the engineering field?

With civil engineering, you have to really love it, or it can get tiresome. One week you’re working overtime, the next week it’s racing to hit deadlines. Every project is different and has its own set of issues you need to deal with, which can be a challenge. You also have to get comfortable at public speaking with going before the boards. The only way to get that is in practice. We train all new engineers for those communication and presentation skills through gradually putting them in those situations. At first it can be nerve wracking, but ultimately it has to be fun for it to last. There is great satisfaction in walking out of a public hearing where your project was just approved and your client is thanking you and your company for your hard work. If you enjoy that and enjoy seeing your projects get built, you will do fine.

You’re retiring soon. Congratulations!

Well, semi-retiring, but yes, thanks. I’ll still be working for DGT in a part time capacity. It will keep me busy and it is fun, so I don’t want to give it up. It is time though that someone else step up to lead our civil engineering projects. The company is growing and I’m excited to see where they take DGT next.

Which Sea Level?

When it comes to determining sea level, it is not a matter of “what,” but rather “which.”  At the foundation of any flood resilience strategy is the project’s ascribed datum, or zero-elevation plane.

Nationally, there are two datums commonly used as reference points for flood resilience: the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD’88) and its predecessor the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD’29). But, most cities and states, particularly those whose development predates the adoption of the national datum, have their own datums that account for regional factors. In Boston, the most commonly used datum for development projects is the Boston City Base (BCB), which uses a NAVD’88 conversion factor of 6.45’. A solid flood resilience strategy in Boston begins with a land survey that considers and cross-references all relevant datums before ascribing which one will guide the project and foundation of the flood resilience strategy.

Factoring in Variation

National and municipal datums are not the only ones to consider. In old coastal cities like Boston, there are often other datums that may have been historically associated with a development site and others around it. For instance, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority uses a datum that is 100.00’ below BCB that is critical to factoring in underground sewage systems when inspecting a site for development.

Additionally, tidal datums, which include average lows and highs as well as historic lows and highs, play a major role in flood resilience. Boston’s zero elevation is set at the mean low necessitating that cautious development projects consider the highest possible tide when making their site plans.

Expect the Unexpected

While most flood resilient site plans account for the typical, such as tides and municipal water systems, the best plans also account for the atypical.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it brought devastation to residents, businesses and institutions across New Orleans and Louisiana, including the hospitals meant to care for those in disaster. Watching from another coastal city, Partners Healthcare of Boston determined to make flood resilience a top priority for its new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital site in the Charlestown Navy Yard, just steps from the Boston Harbor seawall.

Using BCB as the zero-elevation, the project also accounted for the FEMA 500-year flood elevation point that predicts the water levels in the event of a flood so severe that it is only probable to occur once every 500 years.

Partner’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital now sits at 19.0’ above BCB and 30” above the FEMA 500-year floodplain level – both far beyond any city, state or federal requirements. With additional flood resilience strategies deployed—such as green roofs and strategic placement of critical infrastructure—the building is a national example of resilience in development.

“Everyone we interacted with in The Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital project was aligned in prioritizing flood resilience, and we are proud to have been a part of such forward-thinking and innovative work,” said Co-founder & Principal of DGT Associates, Michael A. Clifford, PLS. “Coincidently, the BCB datum used for this project has its historic origins in the Charlestown Navy Yard, close by where the Spaulding stands today.”

Flood resilience in development projects begins with a deep understanding of all the datums and sea levels associated with a site. With a comprehensive site inspection, coastal city developers and the companies that hire them can lay the best foundation upon which to build their visions for a resilient future.  DGT Associates works with design and construction professionals to survey development sites and deliver recommendations before plans are made or ground broken. Contact us for help with a site inspection.