Inside Engineering, untold stories and fascinating people from the world of civil engineering. This is Episode 17, recorded in January 2020 Seagrass Relocation and Saving Lives with Pete Stafford. Inside Engineering is an RK&K podcast. Learn more at rkk.com/podcast. Welcome back to another episode of Inside Engineering. I am excited. I'm always excited about our guests, frankly. But today, I'm excited to have with us here in the studio. Mr. Pete Stafford. Pete, welcome. Howdy Tim how's it going? It is going well, thanks. Thanks for being here. Pete is a Natural Resources Manager in our Raleigh office. Thank you for making the trek up here. Today was a nice flight. Yeah, yeah. Uneventful, which I appreciate. Those are always the best kind of flights. Well, Pete, like I said, you're a Natural Resources Manager. You work out of our Raleigh office and you do a lot of stuff. I see pictures of you and video of you doing stuff all the time in the field that I think is particularly cool. You're often, you know, hip deep in water somewhere. But why don't you walk us through what you do and in general and maybe some of the fun things that you enjoy doing specifically? Sure. So I'm one of the managers of the Raleigh Natural Resources Team, and we've been fortunate enough over the past couple of years to utilize new tech and some in-house expertise to pull off some very unique projects for our clients and and some of the pictures and things that you see or a result of those very unique projects. And we've are myself and our team in Raleigh has been very fortunate to be a part of. Well we're gonna get into one of those projects And this is a project in which we are relocating seagrass. Yes. So. So this is this is gonna be me butchering what this project sounds like, but seagrass sounds like grass that grows in the sea. So am I am I on point? That's it. OK. And we're relocating it. We're moving the seagrass to another location. Right. So please tell me about this, because I need to know. I know everything about it. No it's a good one. So as a scientist, I geek out on it. So it's all good.
So seagrass is a lot of people refer to it as SAV, so Submerged Aquatic Vegetation. So it is a we'll call it a grass. It has its life under water. It is a protected species. So it's regulated by law. Interesting. OK. And so when we have clients that want to have a construction project where they impact this, these species, three seagrass species in North Carolina. We have to account for that and the permitting process with mitigation for seagrass. So for want us for projects in general that are in the water and in seagrass habita, if you offset the mitigation, if you if you move that grass, you can offset the mitigation costs. And you can get a you can get a credit for that. So the deal was we're gonna build this this project in the water. It's on one of the largest contiguous seagrass beds in the United States outside of Florida. And this is a bridge that's being built, am I correct? Yes. And so how do we lessen the momentum effect of it? So, we thought about it, the team had this proposal. So we're going to take not all not all of the seagrass in the project study area, but just the seagrass that's going to be permanently impacted. So I think where each. Something is installed on the seafloor. Got it. We're gonna take the grass out of that footprint and we're gonna move it so that it's not you know, there is some mortality associated moving it, but it's not 100 percent mortality. So we can offset the cost of that mitigation value by moving the live grass. So. It had not been done on this scale before North Carolina. There was a lot of very unique challenges. The first big challenge was the place that everyone had chosen to move it to was seven miles away from the harvest location. Oh, interesting. So does that present just a logistical mortality challenge? Keeping it alive during that it's talk. Sorry, I don't wanna jump in on you,. No, no go ahead. So a lot of challenges. So first of all, it slipped. This is organism living on the water. So when you take it above water, it dies. Quickly. Within, you know, X amount of time. He can't leave it out of water for hours or. Alright. OK. So we have to harvest this. Yeah. The seagrass contain it in a way that we can transport it. Move it seven miles and then replant it. Without it dying. And it's a you know, is as some species lives underwater water, so. There were some very technical issues we had to work through to pull this off, and we didn't and we didn't move. This was for a portion of the project. The other portion we moved on site just moved it out of the way that alignment at the way of hazard and replanted it.
So the big issue is how to keep it alive. And we with the help of a subcontractor. We designed we custom design our own tooling to to pull this off. Okay. So what we did was and I'm a skip a step after we've harvested the grass and now we've got to get it to the the the the the donation site. We put it put it in a boat. Each seagrass sod or unit was in a bread basket. This is high tech now. High tech. You do what works? Yeah. So. So we had these stackable breadbasket. It's just like you seen in the Merita bread truck. So we had the seagrass organize and stand in these baskets and are stacked on top of each other they're moved
on site they're kept under water. They're on the bottom. When we gonna move them, we put them in the boat to keep them to keep the grass alive from point A to point B, seven miles away. We designed and built a watering
system. So what this watering system did, was it used the boat's potential energy. So we have to imagine a pipe network and the portion of pipe that's over the side of the boat is cut at a 45 degree angle, say that when you drop forward, the force of the boat forces water into the intake of the pipe. The pipe system comes up and comes over the bread baskets and it's forcing and water over the stacked bread basket. So it's like a cascading effect, huh? So the whole time you're moving the boat, it keeps the the the seagrass saturated the entire time you move. That's clever. Yeah. So. It worked. That's the real big question. Yeah. So amazingly, it worked.
We got. I tested it before, like game day. So I was I was aware of its little nuances. So it works. We got and this was a cycle. So we would go take. We would we would get grass to the the donation site. We would get it out of the boat into the water, and then their divers would take over and start pulling the grass out and planning it. Okay. And at this point, like, how deep is the water where you're harvesting from and donating to? Alright. So I would say the project was divided into we call that the diving section, which is chest deep. You can't. Even though it's not over your head, our subcontractor uses a dive crew to go down and harvest grass off the seafloor. And we use snorkeling equipment to harvest it. Because I mean, to plant it because at the planting site, you're in knee deep water. So, yeah. So you just kind of floated like this, like you wouldn't pool pull manipulated and just grab a piece out of the bread basket, put it in place and you would take some metal pins and pin the grass on in. And then over time, the metal would rust and disintegrate. OK. And then then by then it's it's taken. Yes the rhizomes are in and it's, you know, it's taking off. And so amazingly we wanted to plant the harvest material in a place so we could track it. So track to see the success of the of the move. Because the first thing everybody wants knows, is you know, did it work? And so, amazingly enough, it did it. The grass grew. It worked. It worked great, actually. There were some mortality. Some of the areas didn't grow quite as much. But, you know, our. The times we've checked on it since, it's very positive results. And, you know, other than saying it worked.
How big of an effort was it in terms of manpower? Yes, so I'm glad you asked, because this this was a complex deal. We had I think there was eight from the RK&K Raleigh office. We had Tom Pride from the Raleigh, I mean, the Tampa office come up. We had a college intern, Joshua Tutt, East Carolina University, an intern in the Raleigh office. And he was an incredible member of this team to help pull this off. Then our subcontractor was the dive team part of this. And they had 6 I think there. Wow so thats what,15? Yeah. So. And then we had other people coming in and out of the equation to to observe and look and and and see how this was going. And we use a system of boats on site. So we would have the dive team had a dedicated boat. The team that was prepping the bread baskets for transport was on a dedicated boat. It was just a complex like assembly line type process out there in the water. And, you know, leading up to these events, you know, the kind of design this process and then pull it off. There were some sleepless nights involved, I assure you. I assure you. So at the end of that process, it took the diving week we were only in the water with the divers for one week. The rest of the time we were doing this with a combination of both manual and mechanical harvesting techniques. And in. It was just it was just a unique experience. All the way around. What are some other technologies that we used on this project to either you
know identify the seagrass or to monitor it. I think there some other. Have we done anything else that was cool did we do any other? I think we did some stuff with drones and. Oh, yeah. So one other piece of equipment. So when you go to do this, it's not like you can go to the seagrass store and buy the equipment you need. They don't have the seagrass store? No, so all of our equipment was designed and fabricated in the most technical technologically advanced lab on the East Coast. A lot of people refer to as my garage. As your garage ha. Stafford's garage. Yeah. So our subcontractor did an outstanding job. He came up, the team lead, he came up three days in advance. And he and I, we had sketched the stuff. We had thought about it. And we brought it to life and in my garage. So, and you know, not only that, but the systems that we built and everything we did to pull this off had to be constructed in the sense that it had to be modular. So each day we rented boats. We couldn't leave our equipment on the boats overnight. So we had to install things and break them down every day. Right. Right. And very portable. One piece of technology that was cool for this we utilized was a pump system to harvest the seagrass. So imagine this. Imagine we have a template, which is a. Again, a very high tech PVC ring, and we would take this ring and put it over, we would we would take a hike or see survey grade G.P.S. genesis and find the location that we needed. Where we would harvest from the design plans, put the template over it. So now we got to get the grass out of there. So we designed a jet system, a pump jet system that essentially just like a kid in the yard growing up. You have the the water hose and you put your thumb over in. It creases PSI. Right. And you can cut into it. So we designed a when we took marine pumps designed down with twelve volt batteries, marine batteries and rig them in sequence so that we could get enough not only pressure, but enough volume to use that as a as a an instrument, to cut, cut out the the seagrass from your template. So that was one unique, cool piece of equipment, we designed it, we build it, we installed it on the boat. Specifically for this task. Is specifically for that job. That stuff has sat in my garage since collecting dust. You don't have other uses seagrass template? I'm waiting for the next one. That's right. Ready to go. So, yes. And I'm glad you brought up drones. That's another key piece of this that we utilized and not only locating these areas, but also monitoring. So we're using drones to to monitor this area both before and after construction. And we're going to do a study on how the bridge project has the association of the bridge project with the surrounding seagrass communities. So we're going to correlate that and see and see how that stuff works out. And again, that's
to figure out how to do how to utilize drones looking through water in the marine environments.
A technical kind of technical challenge. Yeah. It was challenging to kind of he figured he'd just open the book and figure out, you know, here's how you do it. It doesn't exist. So we had to learn it. We had to develop that. That that. And so now we can just fly over an area and sort of easily identify where the seagrass is and makes them make decisions without having to get out in boats and kind of look for it at a much more efficient. Right. So it actually worked very well when it you could fly over it now and see the little template places all over where we removed grass. Cool. Yeah. And so it was just a unique project altogether. And like I said, very fortunate to have participated in it. And the team back in Raleigh did absolutely phenomenal. I'm on this microphone and I've been in the videos you talked about as the success of our team. And so a huge credit to to the team back in Raleigh. It's just been amazing to work with those guys and girls. And it's just been an incredible success story with this project. It's for me that's one of the more exciting things that I get to hear about, and everyone watching or listening gets to hear about too, is the consistent theme of teamwork on projects across offices. Oh, yeah. It's not there's not this competition between offices. There's not these, you know, separate silos of business operations. I mean, it really is like a full team effort across everywhere. Yeah, it's a I needed some extra help. I called Tom Pride down in Florida, I would say, hey, you know, can you help us? He was on a plane and he was there. Conversely, here with Tom Earp you know hey, Tom, we had this tech issue with the drone. What are your thoughts on that? And he gave us his input and we moved ball down the field afterwards. Yeah Tom, Tom Earp was a guest I think it was episode two that he was on with us talking about his our Innovative Technologies Manager. So, yeah, he's involved in a lot of a lot of this stuff. Oh, yeah, yeah. So it's across the, you know, right there from Baltimore to Tampa. Yeah. We we were reaching across the table to other offices. And, you know, that's just how just that's just how this team is you know RK&K as a whole team, you know, that's that's how we are. Sure. Sure. What. In regards to this project in particular, is there anything we haven't talked about that you wanted to hear to cover. This project was I'm a call it a gateway project. The successes of pulling this off in a timely manner so that the permit the client can get the permit and build their project was was a gateway into additional very unique things. So so the opportunity itself was was amazing. And and what it kind of the story, what it led us into is another series of unique projects and and water related activities for the Raleigh team as well. So. So it started here. And this story is it keeps the story is not over yet. We're still building off this one. That's exciting. I mean, to do something really innovative and and cool like this and then see it lead to to other opportunities. Yeah. So the the kid back in 2000, 2001 and wanted to be a pro bass fisherman, he's making his living on the water still. But he's just not you know, he's just not a pro fisherman. And that's okay. I imagine you still love the fish. Yeah, absolutely. well maybe we back up a little bit. And can you talk a bit about how you got to where you are in your career of being a manager and doing what you do? I would love to. So on August 1st, 2001. This is gonna be a funny story, by the way. All right. All right. So I was trying to be I was trying to develop a career as professional bass fisherman. Interesting. Yes. So I was a country boy, eastern North Carolina. And I was. That was my goal in life. And I went for it and it didn't work out. So as my mom would say, bless his heart. It did not work out. And I'd been at that point, I had completed my degree at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and my father walks in the room and says, son, you know, it is time for you to enter the workforce. You know, you're distraught, failed it. Let's make it happen here. So I found an ad on a website in 2001 for RK&K in Raleigh and looking for entry level. Natural Resources Biologist. And there was another ad right beside it and it said it was something beyond my capabilities. It was like Office Regional Manager or something like this. So I said, you know what? I'm I'm going for the Regional
Manager for the big one. Right. So I did. And a week later, I got a phone call and I was like. Gotta be kidding me. So the manager at the time that hired me, he called me laughing and he said, Son. You do not qualify for this Regional Manager position, but I've got an entry level position right here, I think you'd be a perfect fit for. So why don't you come in and talk us? And I did, and August 1st, 2001 was my start date, and almost 20 years later. My career has been centered at RK&K. I'm a fan. I love the the buffalo. And yeah, here I am today. For those who don't know, the buffalo is sort of our internal mascot that we rally around. We have a saying to to protect the buffalo and that sort of take care of the firm and do what's right and be ethical. And that is an interest that is a wild kind of thing, so two job posts right next to each other. You went for the big one. You got the got the other one. And it's worked out pretty well. What have you. I mean, see, you've grown. You started this entry level position. Yes. What has have there been any moments of that have helped you along the way or like these? Like key moments are key advice that's been given to you. There has been in a couple of things, has been observing managers and Raleigh and picking up on good habits. Tommy Peacock and Keith Skinner left a big impression on me. And I've harvested some of their very good qualities in the way that they see and go about their daily business I've absorbed into our team. So looking into those that are successful has been a key, I think.
Another reason I would say is our team. You know, I sit here as a member of a team and without our team back in Raleigh. I may still be a entry level biologist delineating wetlands in east North Carolina.
What are some of those attributes you mentioned that that Keith and Tommy that you've sort of garnered from them? For. For people listening who might be moving up in their careers? Well, you have any you have some advice you can pass on to them. Yeah, absolutely. So leadership qualities are the things that are observed the most about them. You know, how to handle situations, how to communicate with people. In and in, especially in times where there could be a rough edge to the communication it needs to happen. Patience, perseverance. These are these are some of the qualities that really stand out that I've picked up on and taken to heart. Is there anything you wish you had known earlier on in your career? Yes, I wish I had been more aggressive and pursuits of not only my career, but within pursuits to go after different different jobs, different work, explore different opportunities. RK&K is an exceptional company, especially when you look at it from the aspect of we will support your career. We will do what it takes to help you succeed. It's the door's wide open. You have the support. And I wish I had fully taken that in sooner. And so that that would be it. We hear that kind of frequently is embrace opportunities earlier on and don't be afraid to try out different stuff. Yeah, that rings. Rings true. That's good. I'm going to go a little not not quite a full segway here. But this I just remembered something that I wanted to ask you about, about all your time on the water, because you spend a lot of time on the water. Indeed. And you see some crazy things that happen out on the water because you're out there so much. Yeah. You've you've been around and available to help some people out on the water over. Over your time. Yeah, I think I think the count is eight or nine, nine, nine people that you have rescued. Yeah. Just tell us about some of this area, and that's amazing to me. Yeah. And granted, I'm going to start this one off with I don't know how I found myself in these situations. You're just you're in the right place at the right time. You have the knowledge to help out. I'll give the Cliff Notes version. But each. Yes, each one has a of a more in depth story, which are. Sure. Yeah. Cliff Notes version is good. Okay. So.
1, 2, 3 and 4 were all on the same boat. So in 2003 I was in Morgan City, North Carolina, and we had been out in the boat for the 4th of July and we were coming back in for the day when we saw this little hobie cat sailboat going out for the day. We were coming in because it was rough. And I was looking at this little sailboat and I was like, man, they're going into a bad spot. And I saw the mass of the sailboat go up on the crest of a wave and went down. I was waiting for it to come back up, but it didn't. So we spun around and went over there and sure enough, there was a a mother, father, a five year old and a two year old and a boxer a dog. In the water with their their their sail boat capsized. Oh, man. I have three young kids. And that that is just like, ohh. So no lifejackets. So the father was trying to put the lifejacket on the two year old. When we got there, the two year old had taken on too much sea water and he was going into shock. So we we got him in a boat first. Then we got the five year old and worked our way up the line. The boxer dog was the last one and he was happy. He was just out there swimming around, you know, taking waves over the face. He was cool. He'd yeah. In fact, we called him in the boat. He just climbed right up the ladder and got in. But the little two year old ended up in shock, turned white pupils dilated. He was in bad shape. A Coast Guard cutter arrived at that time and took the family. And I think the two year old ended up getting airlifted to a local medical center. But he he he made it. He made it, and he's fine. I have I have chills right now. So that was 1-4.
So the very next year. So it's a theme with me. So four years on the Fourth of July. Four years in a row for July had incidences. So the very next year, so 2004, we were.
If anybody is familiar with Bogue Island in North Carolina, we're in that area. We were out with some friends and a friend's dad docked his boat and we went up on the island to eat sandwiches and hang out. Well, when we when he when he threw his anchor out, the tide was low, the tide came in and he decided he needed to go move the boat, whatever. Well, he couldn't he couldn't get into the boat because the water started to increase the water level and he couldn't just hop right into the boat. It was now up deep. It was chest level. He couldn't get into a boat. So while he was trying to wrestle himself into the boat, he fell and hit his head on the gunnel and knocked himself out, hit the water in the tide just took him away. And I saw the palm of his hand like he was doing cartwheels on the water. And I saw the palm of his hand just flash. You know, one time behind the boat. And I took a angle and I grab I can't remember. I grabbed an ankle of a wrist. So I grabbed the body part of some kind and got him. And that is where Baywatch been, typical Baywatch style. You know, I got him to the top and put my arm around his neck in lifesaving mode and went with the current swimming with the current and got him back closer. When I was able to get back closer to the rest of the family was there to help. And a. He's okay. He was scared. But he was okay. The very next year. Had had another incident. This is unbelievable. I just. Well, like every year. Yeah. So let me. So. And fast forward, so seven and eight were.
We were it was in winter and we were fishing near Topsail in North Carolina and when in winter fish you're fishing in the winter to winter, one of the common things that people do is they chase Red Drum that school up out on the surf zone in the winter. But I get into the inlet shoalsand there's there's the dynamics of an inlet. There's you've got shoals and you've got channels in between. Well, a lot of times red drum will get in the into the deeper sloughs in between the shoals. And if you can get there is good fishing a lot of places. Well, a couple of guys really wanted to get there. It was really rough. They didn't have the vessel to do it and they got themselves in trouble.
I couldn't get to them. It was it was too rough. It was just I would have had a bad fate if I'd pursued them. So I facilitated Coast Guard and
Seatow facilitated them into where the guys worked. You couldn't see him for all the whitewater and the inlet crashing. And I was only person. I was only one that knew their position. So I assisted in that methodology to get them out. And then number 9 this latest one was during the seagrass relocation project. We were at work in one day and a younger gentleman teenager approached us in a jet ski. And he wasn't frantic, but he was just like, hey, guys, I need some help. And I'm like, I didn't pay much attention. I'm like, well, he's not frantic like you, you know? He seems calm. Yeah. What does he want? And then he said, my uncle fell off and he hurt his shoulder. And I don't know if he will make it. And I'm like. You know what? I didn't take it serious at first. In fact, some of the other team members in Raleigh were like, hey, you know Pete. And I was like, oh, man. Yeah, I gotcha. So. I followed him and grabbed the boat and took off, followed him out into the Pamlico Sound with his jet ski. And sure enough, how that that teenager on a jet ski made it back to his uncle because his uncle was in. I would call it total. Have you ever been in the pool and it's a little bit too deep for you just to stand there. She had to toe tap to keep your head above water. Ya, It's exhausting. So his uncle was in that situation in open water to Pamlico Sound by himself. And how we drove right to where that guy was at. Well, only this much of his head sticking out of water. I'll never know. So he was he was in a bad situation. It was really rough that day and I couldn't get. He was a I couldn't get him in a boat. But what I did was I got us into a little bit shallower water and I got him back onto the jet ski. And from there, they could navigate back home. So the guy, when he fell off a jet ski, he damages. I don't know. You know, in what way? But he basically one of his arms was immobile. He couldn't use one of his arms and he was in panic mode. And if you've ever approached anybody in the water that's panicking. It's got to be done properly or, you know, they're going to damage you. Thank you. Yeah. Right. So we got him on jet ski. I got him navigated back to their, you know, where they came from. And that was that was number nine. So the last 15 plus years.
You need to be out there all the time. My, my wife's like hey, what are we doing for Fourth of July? I'm like, nothing. No, we're not doing anything because if I'm around the water for the July, something's going to have got to happen. Wow. Well, to everybody out there, listening or watching, please be safe on the water. Absolutely. Ah man, man. I just hope that what I'm doing is building up credit for when it's my turn to be saved, you know. Absolutely. Geez. Wow, well Pete, I think we've reached that point in the episode where it's time. It's flown by. It has it's been good. I mean, I think we could talk for a while. You know what this means? We just have to have you back another time. Yeah, well we can make that how we can make that road trip. I'll come to you. We'll bring Inside Engineering on the on the road and but until then it's time for your is where I need my drum roll. I need a drum roll sound. Your pick of the week. Sure. You're going to recommend something to us that you think we will all like. And yes, we're gonna go try it out. So gonna go out of the box with this one. I like that. Yeah. So I'm going to. And this is all speculation. But you say I'm going with it. So we're in a new decade. Some would say that we're not. I think they're wrong. Okay, go ahead. I'm looking at it as a new decade. So if you look at the technology advances from where we were at in year 2000 to now, there was a lot to happen. So what I'm trying to do is look at what's going to happen from now and to the next 10 years and how that affects our industry and especially transportation and Natural Resources. So and I went down this rabbit hole looking. So my recommendation is, is that the the company that we're familiar with, Tesla, is going to have a battery Investor Day coming up in February. They haven't announced yet, really. And they're supposed to announce a new battery technology. That's speculation. So my my pick is is to keep an eye on this. Here's the reason why. We're entering into this new decade and we're going to see an influx of AVs and technology, auto pilot, self-driving cars this kind of thing. It's here. I mean, it's here it is. There's some policy, there's some some small tech things need to happen to get us over the hump. But it's here. One key thing to getting us over that hump is battery technology. Once we enter to the new technology, like getting over this hump of some of the newer battery technology is coming.
Batteries will be able to charge twice as quick and last twice as long. Longer range, longer life as a charge. That's right. And supposedly Tesla's going to announce this here in a couple weeks. And I think that's going to kick off of the decade.
And I think it's going to kick off a potential revolution, revolution in our industry as far as the way that people are involved in transportation. So.
And kind of put a twist in it is so in nineteen late 1970s, a Nobel Winning prize chemist by the name of John B Goodenough was 77 years old. Well into his late 70s and he invented the technology that we call lithium ion batteries. He admitted that in the late 70s it didn't catch on for many years. It took a long time for that that tech to really come into our lives to be refined. Right. And the problem is scaling it. So scaling into manufacturing and driving now manufacturing cost. So. Which is what Tesla's been doing over the past few years. Right. So. Two years ago, John B Goodenough at the age of 90. I think he was 96 years old when this happened, won then Nobel Prize for chemistry for a new battery chemistry.
Yeah, so we're right on the cusp of some some big tech advances comming, and I think in the next 10 years, will will technology advanced much faster than it did the previous 10? So my pick is strange enough. Battery technology. Keep an eye on it. I like this. Yeah, this is. Huh? This is a unique pick. We had a forward looking technology innovation. Yeah. So I like it. Yeah. So our drones can stay in there twice as long. Oh man. Wouldn't that be great? Yeah. See if you if you look into that, it has all these different like indirect effects for this. This new technology. So, you know, power grid storage. Imagine. You know, it's just I think that one technology once it's refined and scaled. Yeah. That's my pick.
This is right down my alley. I like it. Allright, Pete. Well, thanks so much for. For taking time out while you're up here to come in and do this. Thank you. Thank you. This is great. Thank you all for joining us. Inside Engineering comes out every Tuesday. You can check us out at our home on our website at rkk.com/podcast. We're also on all your favorite podcasting platforms where you can subscribe like rate review and do all the things that you do with a podcast. Thanks again, Pete, and we'll see you all next time on another episode of Inside Engineering.