From The Blog

KICA Core Functions: Major Repairs and Maintenance

The Major Repairs Department, which includes General Maintenance and the Mechanic’s Shop, is responsible for research, planning and implementation of best practices in infrastructure maintenance. The millions of dollars in infrastructure under their care supports island life and is the backbone of the island.

Major Repairs

The department, headed by Director of Major Repairs and civil engineer Will Connor, with support from KICA’s second civil engineer Ryan Ellmers, is responsible for about 60 miles of roadway, 43 miles of drainage, 25 boardwalks, seven timber bridges, 19 miles of leisure trails and 122 retention ponds.

Connor has been a licensed professional engineer since 1987, with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Clemson University. He is a founding member of South Carolina Beach Advocates (SCBA) and sits on the board. SCBA is a nonprofit that advocates for investment in the state’s beaches. Comprised of coastal community members, they encourage dedicated state funding of beach preservation and re-nourishment. Connor is also a member of the Town of Kiawah Island’s Sea Level Rise and Public Works committees.

Ryan Ellmers has been a licensed professional civil engineer since 2007, and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Citadel in Civil and Environmental Engineering. His land development and storm water management background was relied upon almost immediately after he joined KICA in 2015. During his three years, he has seen a 1,000-year flood event (2015), Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Tropical Storm Irma (2017).

With their crew of five, General Maintenance oversees three observation towers, two boat landings, signage, lighting, numerous walk bridges along the trails which cross marsh and ponds, 10 crabbing docks, three boating facilities and two security gates. They also provide support to the Recreation Department’s maintenance team for The Sandcastle, Rhett’s Bluff and Cinder Creek. Major Repairs work is paid for from the reserve budget, which is funded primarily by Contributions to Reserves (a fee of 0.5% of the gross purchase price of a new property, with a minimum at least equal to the amount of the current year’s annual assessment) and reserve assessments charged annually to all members. The reserve budget is significant – $3.8 million in 2018 alone. Annually, Connor produces a detailed three-year budget, supported by a reserve study that looks at a 40-year projection.

Island-wide Drainage

Drainage and water control are a major part of the department’s work. As a barrier island subject to tidal flow and storms, control of water levels on the island is critical. The 15 water outfall structures require constant monitoring and maintenance. All roads drain into the drainage system. If there is a problem with a structure, it can impact pond levels, water quality, and a host of other factors.

Kiawah’s ponds were designed to serve an integral role in drainage. Two major outfalls, at Beachwalker Drive and at Canvasback Pond on Governor’s Drive, control 75% of the island’s water flow to rivers and marshes. Beachwalker controls 31% of the island, including everything on the ocean side of the parkway from the Main gate to the Vanderhorst gate, as well as the Sea Marsh Drive and Settlement areas Canvasback controls 33%, covering much of Turtle Point and the surrounding neighborhoods on Flyway, Surfsong and Glen Abbey. It is a common misconception that pond levels can be quickly dropped. With 75% of the island’s drainage flowing through two outfalls, it takes days to meaningfully lower water surface elevations.

Egret Pond, Pintail Pond and Ocean Park have their own basins, while several smaller systems control the remaining areas. To alleviate a drainage “traffic jam” near Night Heron Park, a new outfall is being designed and engineered this year, with plans for construction to begin in 2019. A very early estimate is in the $400,000 range. The important project can help prevent the inconveniences that area flooding causes.

Most of KICA’s 122 retention ponds are interconnected. In 2014, Connor commissioned the first hydrology study of the island, which took two years to complete. KICA needed a computer model to understand and predict the complexities of island drainage. The model was built and is maintained by Stantec, an international engineering design and consulting firm. Today, the team can use the model to assess the storm drainage system in advance, or to analyze what happened during a storm for future storm preparation. It gives KICA a timeline for opening valves at the drainage basins to forestall potential flooding. The program also shows many tide cycles the system needs to drain each basin, and what adjustments need to be made across the basins based on expected rainfall and the tide cycle. The hydrologic model is a significant tool in KICA’s infrastructure arsenal.

One improvement Connor and Ellmers are studying is automated outfall technology to remotely open and close flood gates. A fundamental problem with a major outfall structure is that the gates have to be opened and closed manually, by hand turning a 48” diameter wheel, with the tides every six hours. Despite this, KICA simply cannot keep personnel on-island around the clock for as long as a storm might last. Automatic controls, designed and constructed to be operated remotely, would be mounted on the gates, and operated remotely by personnel safely off-island. They can be programed in advance, and have an emergency backup system, allowing the gates to be timed more precisely with the tides. While it won’t help in all cases, it will aid in getting water in the pond system off the island more efficiently. Testing of a prototype could begin as early as this summer.

With about 43 miles of drainage lines, there is sometimes confusion over which entity is responsible for certain areas that may not be draining optimally. Connor and Ellmers field many calls and offer consulting about complex drainage for property owners.

To do this, Connor and Ellmers often use KICA’s MapInfo program, an inventory of island infrastructure. In addition, they use Google Maps and the county GIS database and plats to identify easements. Digitized road drainage plans provide more information, including elevations. The team can provide specific details to help members and their contractors in planning, as owners are ultimately responsible for getting water off their lots and into the master drainage system. KICA’s drainage tie-in agreement allows members to do just that.

Blocked drains are cleared in several ways depending on conditions. KICA’s engineers access specific locations via MapInfo, which they print to review at the site. A vacuum truck is used to clear the lines. If needed, systems are dewatered so the pipes are fully visible. For this, an aqua barrier creates a large rubber dam to expose pipes. Pipes are allowed to dry, then a 4-wheeled robot-mounted camera goes in to film conditions. You can see this intriguing process at kica.us/pipe-conditions.

Depending on the findings and size of the pipe, different methods can be employed to repair lines.

Pipe Repair Methods

One of these methods is CIPP-lining (cured-in-place pipe), which involves trenchless rehabilitation of existing pipelines. A liner is inserted into the existing pipe using hydrostatic pressure. The liner is fabric on one side and resin on the other. The liner is delivered in an ice-filled container to prevent the resin from hardening too soon. Once inverted with water pressure, the liner fills the old pipe with the resin. Afterward, steam is pumped into the pipe, heating it for several hours. When dry, there is new PVC pipe all the way through, with no joints – a pipe that will last indefinitely. This method is typically used on pipes 24 inches and less to repair leaks or restore structural stability. CIPP-lining is easy and economical, and also prevents excavating across member easements and other property that would be expensive to repair and restore.

Slip-lining is a similar trenchless restoration method, where new pipe is pulled inside the old pipe, and had been used on some of Kiawah’s larger crossings, such as Kiawah Beach Drive. These 54-inch pipes were 100 feet long each. When sink holes began appearing on the roadway, dewatering the system revealed the pipes were leaking. The repair involved pushing snap-tight pipe through the original pipe, resulting in a space between the old pipe and the new that was filled with grout. This process was entirely dependent on the skill of the contractor. It also reduced the size of the pipe and the amount of water flow. This project had a price tag of $325,250, with $90,000 in pipe cost alone. But Connor’s use of spin-casting has saved KICA significant money and repair time, and has maintained pipe capacities on similar jobs.

Connor describes the spin-casting process as “like an anthill gone crazy.” A cementitious material is spun at 9000 PSI and mixed with a strong adhesive. Using a centrifugal pump, the material, called Centricast, is slowly spun into the pipe where it then sticks, coating the interior surface. When dry, it becomes a new cement pipe without joints. This method is preferred for Kiawah’s larger pipes, typically 36, 48 and 54 inch diameters.

Visit kica.us/pipe-repair-methods to see a presentation with photos and descriptions of some of these work processes.

Road repairs are often directly related to the deterioration of the old metal pipes beneath them. About 90% of emergency road repairs in the past five years have been related to metal pipe failure. This year, after a change in the way KICA budgets for these repairs, a significant allocation was made for metal pipe replacement. While it’s difficult to determine a priority for repairs other than age, opportunistic repairs can prove helpful. When a pipe breaks, replacement can now be extended to adjacent pipes as well.

While drainage and roads are big portions of what the department addresses, there is much more.

Professional inspections also fall under their purview. For example, staff oversees the annual inspection by coastal engineers of the 500-foot Bass Creek revetment on Ocean Course Drive. The inspection requires divers to check the structure below the waterline. The revetment protects the roadway from Bass Creek channel and, if it were to fail, the roadway could be lost.

Seven timber bridges connect smaller islands to Kiawah’s main island. They were originally designed to present a rustic sound when driven over. The 90 degree angle of the original design rattles the timbers and hardware, causing wear and tear. Connor believes that regular inspection and maintenance is the best way to approach repairs. In this case, he initiated a radical shift in the maintenance of these bridges. Each time a bridge is repaired, deck timbers are replaced, and bolts are added to every timber. Hangers beneath the timbers tie the deck timbers together in 8-timber groupings. This reduces rattling and damage to the boards, substantially extending bridge life.

Connor has led a similar evolution on KICA’s 25 boardwalks. Battered by 2015’s 1,000-year flood event and then 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, he investigated depth pilings. The result was a requirement that pilings being driven more deeply into the beach, to a depth of 10 feet. The depth must be verified by KICA’s structural engineering consultant before contractors can proceed to the next phase of construction. After 2017’s Tropical Storm Irma, many beachfront owners who lost boardwalks referred their contractors to the department for consultation about achieving a similar integrity.

Connor and Ellmer’s work isn’t limited to physical infrastructure; they also advance important processes. They’ve developed a construction coordinate file – a digital project using AutoCAD, the most commonly used engineering software, making all files digital for one single source of information. This provides quick access to data for a variety of uses. It has helped greatly in processing encroachment permits for driveways that cross KICA drainage lines, for example.
General Maintenance and the Mechanic’s Shop
Connor also manages the general maintenance department, supervised by David Buck with four employees under him. This crew is responsible for everything from redecking walk bridges, filling potholes, routine boardwalk and shower maintenance, to painting and repairing member mailboxes. They also take care of facility items like HVACs and lighting at Beachwalker Center, both security gates, The Sandcastle and KICA’s other facilities.

The mechanic’s shop employs two full-time mechanics. Skilled in both small and large engines, they service KICA’s 28 vehicles, three jon boats, and the numerous mowers and other small engine equipment required to operate the Land and Lakes Department.

All in a Day’s Work

Unexpected wildlife encounters are another part of the job. “Once we had a diver inspecting pipes,” Connor explains. “Instead of going in forward, he preferred to back into the pipe. He quickly realized something was moving under him. About the same time he realized his chin was resting on an alligator’s snout, the sound guy in the dive trailer heard a series of expletives. The diver flew out of the pipe in one direction, the gator right behind him going the other way. These days, KICA relies more on cameras than divers to inspect pipes.”

KICA functions much like a municipality, in part due to the infrastructure it owns and maintains. It’s clear that having professional engineers on staff, looking at challenges, seeking solutions in dealing with aging infrastructure, and identifying new technologies for repair, has been a tremendous benefit to KICA, both in quality and in costs.

Their skills are supplemented by engaged property owners. Connor says, “With the tremendous amount of infrastructure we have, and the 40-year old submerged drainage system, property owners are our eyes and ears across the island. They bring matters to our attention that are often helpful in isolating blockages and other conditions we might otherwise be unaware of. We welcome questions and are happy to provide complimentary consultations.” To report infrastructure issues, contact [email protected] and provide as much detail as possible.

Of his team, Connor says, “I feel very fortunate to have the team I have. They are all good at what they do, and I can depend on them to show up every day, ready to go. They’ve been under a lot of pressure the past three years with storm events, and have handled the pressure with professionalism, teamwork and good cheer. I’m proud to work with each of them.”

These three core departments – Security, Land and Lakes Management, and Major Repairs – share a common theme. They support each other in many aspects, just as they do with Recreation and Administration. KICA is extraordinarily fortunate in having a team of skilled, consensus-building professionals overseeing its unique and comprehensive operations.