Ocean and waterfront structures are often more difficult to build and maintain than similar inland structures because of the challenges brought by harsh coastal conditions. That’s why coastal property owners turn to experts in engineering coastal structures when they need construction or repairs. One such company is Ocean and Coastal Consultants, Inc., (OCC) of Trumbull, Connecticut, a consulting firm that provides engineering expertise for ocean and nearshore coastal environments.
OCC offers its customers a variety of services for waterfront property, including underwater structure investigations, coastal and structural engineering, dredging and civil engineering, construction administration and management, permit and regulatory services, and waterfront facility management.
"DeBartolomeo says that OCC regularly hires employees and is aggressively growing"
For OCC, the beginning of a repair or construction project usually involves abovewater and underwater reviews. Next, the company develops an engineering plan, prepares an estimate, obtains necessary permits, manages the bidding process, and assists the owner in choosing a contractor. Once the contractor is chosen, OCC monitors the construction process to make sure that repairs or new construction are being made according to the engineering drawings. Finally, the company reviews the completed project, ensuring that it conforms to design.
OCC employs more than 30 people and has offices in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The firm draws from a talent pool that includes a variety of engineers, according to Tim DeBartolomeo, OCC’s manager of structural engineering. “First and foremost, we’re engineers,” he says. “We have structural, coastal, civil, and geotechnical engineers.” (See related story, p. 8.)
Structural engineers review and evaluate the stability of a structure and help design stable structures, according to DeBartolomeo. Structural engineers with diving skills assess the needs of underwater structures. OCC engineer-divers are required to obtain certification for SCUBA and surface-supplied diving. “Some of our structural engineers have experience in the marine environment, but some do not,” he adds. “What we look for are good engineers who have the ability and enthusiasm to quickly learn the skills needed to work in the marine environment.”
Besides diving skills, this includes learning how to design structures that will withstand the rigors of the marine environment, such as erosion, weather, and salt corrosion, wave climate, and wind forces. Coastal engineers understand these and other processes that affect construction in coastal zone. “Our engineers help determine the natural forces at work on a coastal site and how they affect building and repairing,” explains DeBartolomeo.
"I’ve been at OCC for 12 years and this is a wonderful place to be"
Another critical skill is understanding sediment transport, says DeBartolomeo. “In certain waterfront projects, you might need to know the rate at which sediment builds up along the shoreline,” he continues. “Coastal engineering involves understanding what happens to sand and sediment as they move along the shoreline.”
OCC’s staff also includes geotechnical engineers, who assess the physical and behavioral characteristics of a site’s soil for factors that can affect marine construction. In addition, the company employs civil engineers, who primarily work on the design of dredging projects.
DeBartolomeo explains that some of his company’s engineers have all of these skills, while others collaborate when knowledge is needed. “We encourage employees to be well-rounded, but we keep in mind the adage about being a jack of all trades and a master of none,” he says. “We try to balance the need for experts with the need for versatility.”
Most newly-hired employees at OCC have a degree in either structural or coastal engineering. Most have four-year degrees, but recently DeBartolomeo has seen an increase in applicants with six-year degrees. “We recently hired an employee with a B.S. in coastal engineering and he’s working on an M.S. in structural engineering,” he says. “We were happy to snatch him up.”
DeBartolomeo would like to see a structural engineering school develop a four-year program with a coastal or marine engineering track. In the meantime, the company has an aggressive continuing education program to make sure that employees learn needed skills and maintain their knowledge as the industry changes, and provides financial support for relevant instruction. “We require that our employees maintain fifteen professional development hours a year,” he says. “We also encourage them to become licensed professional engineers (PEs). That’s valuable to the employee and it makes us a better company.”
Becoming a PE requires passing a series of tests and working for a licensed PE for four years. New employees start off with the title of engineer, and become project engineers upon receiving their state PE certification. “We do everything we possibly can to encourage an employee to take and pass the test,” says DeBartolomeo.
After an employee has been a project engineer for several years and has shown the ability to maintain a client base and generate business, the next step is to become a project manager. “When you’ve been with the company long enough that customers request you, you’re ready to become a project manager,” DeBartolomeo says. “In that role, you’re able to support yourself and your staff with the revenues that you bring in. “
DeBartolomeo says that OCC regularly hires employees and is aggressively growing. Currently the company is taking applications for a CAD operator and an engineer-diver. He advises students who want to work in the field to pursue internships. “When I was in school, I did an internship where I made prints, did some drafting, and even made deliveries,” he remembers. “The point is to learn as much as possible about the industry and the environment.”
The experience will pay off because it can help the student land an interesting, hands-on job. “I’ve been at OCC for 12 years and this is a wonderful place to be,” DeBartolomeo adds. “The best thing is that every day is different.”
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