Monday, December 16, 2013


The thing about companies that makes a company more than just a name and a logo is the people who work there.    At MeritCorp we have Engineers, Surveyors, and Environmental Professionals, but these same people are also fathers, mothers, friends, brothers, etc.  If you have met Jim Meier on a professional level you will know he has a bevy of letters after his name [PE, PLS, CFM], but did you know he is also a ‘food engineer’?
As our ‘in-house’ foodie we often look to him for our entertaining needs, menu suggestions and more.  This month when I announced I needed more blog content, Jim offered up one of his favorite recipes for the holidays.  As he said it is one of his favorite ‘go-to’ items for those big family gatherings during the season.
This recipe is sure to please the most discerning taste buds and even the fussiest eaters in your family. It might look like a lot of work, but it is really not and cleanup is a snap! It’s a one-pot dish and all of your guests will think you are a master chef when they are done devouring your holiday offering!

We hope you will enjoy this meal with good friends and family and have a safe and Happy Holiday Season and New Year!


A 4 quart heavy-bottomed oven safe cooking vessel is essential, such as a Dutch oven or large pot, with a tight lid, A baking sheet
Utensils, including a slotted spoon, spatula, whisk and tongs
Kitchen basics, including salt and pepper, corn starch, butter, grape seed (or canola/vegetable) oil, water and aluminum foil
Stovetop and oven

Ingredients for 12 servings:
8 ounces of bacon, minced
6 pounds of stew meat - 1” cubes
2 carrots, finely diced
2 sweet onions, finely diced
1 teaspoon of dried thyme, or 1 tablespoon fresh
1-750ml bottle of good Cabernet Sauvignon
1-32 ounce box of beef cooking stock (not broth)
16 ounces of Sautéed mushrooms - optional
16 ounces of Boiled and peeled pearl onions  - optional

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Place a 4 quart heavy-bottomed cooking pot over medium heat, add a little bit of the oil and then the minced bacon.   Sautee until crispy and the fat is rendered.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the rendered fat behind.

Pat the stew meat dry, liberally season it with salt and pepper and Sautee in the bacon fat until browned on all sides. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding, otherwise the meat will not brown. Add additional oil, if necessary, as you progress with the batches. Remove the meat and set aside.

Add the carrots, sweet onions and thyme, along with a little more oil if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee the vegetables until soft, being careful to not brown them, this should take approximately 7-10 minutes.

When the vegetables are soft, add the wine to deglaze and scrape the bits off the bottom. This will flavor the sauce. Return the bacon and stew meat to the vessel, stirring the mixture to combine thoroughly. Add the cooking stock to completely cover the meat. Cover the vessel with the tight lid, and if not tight enough, cover with foil and then the lid. Place the vessel on a baking sheet (for ease of handling) and then into the oven.

Cook at 325F for 2 ½ hours or until the meat is fork-tender but not falling apart.

When cooking is complete, remove the meat from the vessel with a slotted spoon and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a measuring cup, add 2 tablespoons of water and 4 tablespoons of corn starch. Stir to combine. Place the cooking vessel on medium heat on the stove, and quickly whisk the butter and cornstarch mixture into the liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 5 minutes on lower heat. This will thicken the sauce. When the sauce is thickened, return the meat to the vessel, along with the sautéed mushrooms and boiled onions, stirring to combine.

Keep warm for serving, over mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, or egg noodles. Accompany with your favorite green vegetable, and that’s your holiday dinner!

Happy holidays, and bon appétit!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


As of November 6, 2013 – there is a new ASTM Standard in Effect for all Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.  What does this mean?  If you are a lender, property owner, or real estate agent, this new standard can affect your business.

What is a Phase I ESA and Why Do I need one?  A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is a Site Investigation that identifies Recognized Environmental Conditions [REC]on or at a property. The Phase I ESA is generally considered the first step in the process of environmental due diligence and is typically prepared based upon the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) Standard.  This standard was established to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) requirements for an ‘All Appropriate Inquiry’ (AAI) on a property.  When purchasing or financing a property, it is an important precaution for owners and lenders to know that they are covered by the ‘Innocent Landowner Defense’ and that they have done their due diligence on the property in question.

An ESA does not guarantee that a site is clean or eliminate risk, however knowing about a REC will help users identify property value impacts;  account for potential delays on property transactions due to site remediation ;and identify potential owner cash flow constraints due to remediation Costs.
[The Innocent Landowner Defense was established by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) on October 17, 1986, holding that “the defendant must have undertaken at the time of acquisition an all appropriate inquiry (AAI) into the previous ownership and uses of the property consistent with good commercial or customary practice in an effort to minimize liability.”]

 If requested, testing for  asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paint can be added to the Phase I ESA scope-of work.  The analysis typically addresses both the underlying land; the physical improvements to the property; and the adjacent properties.  Phase I ESAs are often required by lenders for commercial, industrial and multi-unit residential property transactions and are a great way for potential purchasers, developers and/or lenders to do their due diligence prior to purchasing a property.

The ASTM E1527 – 05 Standard was updated as of November 6, 2013.  Most of the changes in 2013 are clarifications / additions to terminology that will help clients better understand the report and set the best practices in the industry as a minimum requirement.


REC Redefined – The new REC Definition is: “the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products in on or at a property: (1) due to any release to the environment; (2) under conditions indicative of a release to the environment; or (3) under conditions that pose a material threat of a future release to the environment”

Historical REC – ASTM updated definition:  The HREC definition has been revised to clarify that the scope and application of an HREC is limited to include only past releases that have been addressed to unrestricted residential use.

New Classification - CREC: Controlled Recognized Environmental Condition (CREC)- new terminology added for clarification purposes to differentiate sites:  A ‘Controlled Environmental Condition’ describes the condition where previous releases at properties that underwent risk-based closures were addressed, but contaminants are allowed to remain in place under certain restrictions or conditions.

Example:  If the property is cleaned up, but has a restriction to commercial /industrial because of contamination remaining – that would be a CREC.   If the property is cleaned up w/ no restrictions and could even be used for Residential use– it is a HREC.   This clarification makes a differentiation between items that are closed w/ no restrictions and those that still have regulation on them.

Activity and Use Limitations (AULs) Revised:  A Client Requirement that needs to be done by a Title Professional – Wording modified to highlight the need to also search Judicial records on top of deeds and liens.

Regulatory File Reviews (Section 8.2.2) Revised – Reviews may increase due to rewording that is intended to have the Environmental Professional explain in greater detail their rationale for when a regulatory file review is or is not warranted.  The idea is that ‘more information is better than less’.

Vapor Intrusion Revised: New language added to reinforce that this type of contamination needs to be considered, however it does NOT require ASTM E2600 which is a separate, more comprehensive assessment of vapor migration.  The revised definition of ‘migrate/migration’ specifically includes vapor migrations.  This revision clarifies that releases of contaminants that migrate via vapor in the subsurface or in soils are recognized environmental concerns (REC).  Prospective property owners will have the added assurance that releases that migrate onto a subject property via a vapor pathway will be identified as recognized environmental conditions.

Need to know more or want help understanding what this all means for you?  Contact us at 630-554-6655.

Friday, October 11, 2013

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. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

3 Traits of the Best Project Managers

You know them as the ‘A’ team…. The ones the company brings in when they need to make sure the project is done – and done right the first time.  They come in all shapes, and sizes…some quiet and authoritative and some who like to make a grand entrance.  They aren't necessarily on the warm and fuzzy list of favorite people you want to know, but above all else they are respected for who they are and for their ability to get the job done.   So how do you get yourself on this list?  What traits do you need to develop to become one of ‘Them’?
Communication:  Communication is key to everything we do in the business world.  If you cannot effectively convey yourself to your clients, co-workers, managers, and subordinates, you cannot accomplish anything.  The people who are most skilled at listening to others, conveying their intentions, and clearly stating requirements are the most adept at meeting client’s needs and getting subcontractors and subordinates to participate in the project when they are supposed to.... making the process as smooth as possible.   I’m not referring to the guy who likes to yell and manipulate people with fear either…anyone can be loud and pushy.  The truly polished manager is the one who can make himself / herself known without so much as a raised tone of voice.   They don’t need to raise their voice - because everyone knows that to ignore the boss is to cut off their own right arm. 
Motivation (a.k.a. Understanding People):  So why would someone feel like they cut off their right arm by ignoring the boss?  Because the best Project Mangers Understand people and know how to help them feel personally invested in the success of the project.    Managing a project well requires listening and comprehension. …you need to be on the same page with everyone striving for the same goal.  A good manager also needs to know when to push people, how hard to push and when to let them have some room.  It may not seem like a skill for a manager to ‘step away’ from a project…it may feel more like being abandoned when you are the employee shouldering the burden.  But when the project is complete and that employee is suddenly ready for a promotion because of what they just learned, you know you are dealing with a master project manager - one that knows when to step in and take over or when to turn up the heat. 
Organization:  Getting lost is not an option.  Neither is getting anyone else lost.  The best Project Managers need to be more reliable than a GPS when navigating a project.   Not to say they never take a detour… even the best managers run into road blocks, issues and set-backs.  Mistakes happen too, but an organized manager will know where everything is at and where it all needs to go, so they can make the adjustments needed to keep the project moving forward.   This is the heart of managing - trying to foresee and make the changes necessary to reach the end goal faster and better than anyone else. 
So who is our ‘A’ Team?  That’s the good news…. We don’t have a ‘B’ team.  When you hire MeritCorp, Group, you get our ‘A’ team every time.  When new people are brought on-board in our office we put them with an experienced Project Manager who oversees the whole project and begins training them to eventually become part of our ‘A’ team. 
Want to meet our team?  Just call 630-554-6655 or e-mail us today to meet our staff or get more information on how we can help with your next project.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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 PondsRetention 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. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

White Lies about Asbestos – What You Need to Know

Help - I’ve been exposed to Asbestos!  Am I gonna die!?  Well, not maybe right away.  In fact, since learning about the health hazards connected to asbestos in the late 1970’s there have been many misconceptions running around regarding Asbestos Containing Materials [ACM], inspections and testing.  The truth of it is that various factors determine how exposure will affect an individual.  Variables including: exposure concentration, duration and frequency all have an effect on the final outcome.  

 If you find asbestos you have to remove it!  Or maybe not?  Sometimes leaving the asbestos alone is actually the best thing.  Even if asbestos is in your home, this is usually NOT a serious problem. The mere presence of asbestos in a home or a building is not hazardous. The danger is that asbestos materials may become damaged over time. Damaged asbestos may release asbestos fibers into the air and become a health hazard.  You may need to have a professional come and do a ‘survey’ to determine the presence and condition of ACM [asbestos containing material] in your home.  After that you may need remediation, however THE BEST THING TO DO WITH ASBESTOS MATERIAL IN GOOD CONDITION IS TO LEAVE IT ALONE! Disturbing it may create a health hazard where none existed before. 1  
I don’t have any old tile in my house – so I’m safe, right?  Think again.  Asbestos is not just found in tile.  Where can you find it?  Roofing and siding shingles could be made from asbestos cement, textured paint and patching compounds on wall and ceiling joints (banned in 1977), Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces, older products such as stove-top pads, ironing board covers, fireproof gloves, hair dryers, walls and floors around wood-burning stoves (asbestos paper), millboard or cement sheets, vinyl floor tiles and the backing / adhesives, hot water and steam pipes in older homes coated with asbestos blanket or tape; Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation.

Homes built between 1930 and 1950 may also have asbestos in the Attic and wall insulation known as vermiculite. 

In the US, most homes built in the 80’s are most likely asbestos free however there is never any guarantee…. and though an asbestos professional may be able to recognize asbestos, you probably can't.  You may be able to guess if your home is 50 years old and there is a solid whitish jacket over your furnace or heating pipes, it is probably asbestos.  But to know for sure, especially with manufactured materials like floor tiles, wallboard or siding, you need to have testing done. 
I should just leave the Asbestos in my home alone and it won’t be a problem.  Yes and no.  If it has been determined that the asbestos in your home is in GOOD CONDITION, then it may be best just to leave it alone, but what is good condition?  Is it cracking at all?  Is it possible that any of those little fibers are getting into the air and then into your lungs?  Are you going to sell the home?  What about providing disclosure to the buyer?  The best way to determine if there is Asbestos in the home and what you should do about it is to have an Environmental Professional come take a look.   Current federal regulations have also effectively made do-it-yourself asbestos removal impossible to do legally, which means... hiring a professional.
Are you overwhelmed yet?  Not to worry - MeritCorp can help.  Just call or email and we will get you connected with our Environmental Professional.  They will determine what, if any asbestos is in your home and help you make the decisions about how to handle it.   Just call or email us at: