From the magazine

Back to the land Down Under

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1985, Ms Ratliff has worked for CH2M Hill and HDR Engineering in the United States, and now GHD in Australia.

In her 26 years in the industry, Ms Ratliff has worked on trenchless projects all over the United States, Canada, the State of Kuwait, Peru, and now Australia.

Ms Ratliff’s first engineering position after graduating from university was for a large rehabilitation project funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) back in the 1980s for infiltration/inflow reduction.

“I was involved in the project through design, tendering, and construction, so I was able to learn a lot about condition assessment and rehabilitation design. This led to many more similar projects over the years,” recalled Ms Ratliff.

In 2011, Ms Ratliff decided it was time to come home to Australia.

“I returned home to Australia after 46 years in the United States to spend time with my family as I had no remaining family in the United States. I knew that my skills were transferable to Australia as I had worked with various Trenchless Technology specialists over the years and had stayed in touch with them. I had even presented at the ASTT’s fifth national conference and exhibition in 2002,” said Ms Ratliff.

“I arrived on 7 March 2011 and started my new position with GHD three days later. Ten months on, and it has gone by very fast.”

Ms Ratliff’s first trenchless project in Australia was to provide oversight for assessment of watermains around the Super Yacht Harbour in Sydney for NSW Maritime. She then developed the technical specifications for a three-year rehabilitation program at Shoalhaven Water in Nowra.

In the ten months she has been back in Australia, Ms Ratliff has noticed a number of differences between the Australian trenchless industry and other trenchless industries around the world.

“I believe that the most prominent difference is that, in general, utility organisations contract directly with condition assessment specialty companies and rehabilitation contractors, rather than involving consulting firms in their projects,” said Ms Ratliff.

“While all of these companies do great work, they are not going to look at a project and assess whether or not the work should be done to all of the assets, or find the most cost-effective long-term solutions. They are primarily going to sell what their company offers. In the United States, most condition assessment and rehabilitation projects are planned and/or designed by in-house engineering staff or consulting firms. Some consulting firms are also hired to manage the contracted services so that the utility staff can focus on their day-to-day routine work.”

“I also get a lot of requests for information during construction because issues come up that would typically be addressed during a design phase,” added Ms Ratcliff. “I believe that, just like in the United States, we need to start providing specific Trenchless Technology training to utility staff and engineers through our professional organisations – courses similar to the HDD training course led by ISTT Chairman Dr Sam Ariaratnam at No-Dig Down Under 2011.

“The American Society of Civil Engineers used to conduct a course that was an excellent overview of construction practices for Trenchless Technology projects that was a “÷must attend’ for anyone developing Trenchless Technology designs. I believe that these courses would greatly benefit our Trenchless Technology designers in both countries, and help to avoid change orders during construction by ensuring good judgement during the design phase.”

Although Ms Ratliff has only been working in Australia for a short while, she has already noticed some key areas where the trenchless sector is performing well.

“I believe that new technologies in condition assessment and rehabilitation have been given a better chance to demonstrate their capabilities in Australia,” said Ms Ratliff. “There are technologies that originated here in Australia and the industry has basically provided them opportunities to prove themselves before they expanded internationally.

“In the United States it is difficult to grow a new technology, as many utilities want to use only proven products or services.

“One thing that I see that both Australia and the United States do well is that the large utilities have dedicated research and development budgets now so that they can pilot test some of the new technologies. Unfortunately there are not many utilities now that can continue this under the current economic recession in the United States and the USEPA has been funding these projects in conjunction with some of the universities. We are seeing some good resource documents being developed, but they need to be updated on a regular basis to remain useful and keep up with the changes in the industry.”

Since her return, Ms Ratliff is enjoying the chance to work with new clients Down Under.

“Working with clients and other industry experts to solve specific challenges on any of my projects is very satisfying. When we are able to address all of the issues successfully during design and have no surprises during construction, then my clients are happy.”

With a long history of involvement in professional organisations, including memberships to the American Society of Civil Engineers Pipeline Division, the Water Environment Federation Collection Systems Committee, the Society of Women Engineers, the Berkeley Engineering Alumni Society and the American Society of Testing Materials, there’s no doubt that Ms Ratliff is a considerable asset to the Australasian trenchless scene.

And having formulated the first amendment to the Southern California Public Works Standard Specifications (Greenbook) for rehabilitation works, and participated in the Greenbook’s Section 500 task force for the first official comprehensive Trenchless Technology specification in the United States, Ms Ratliff has an extensive knowledge of Trenchless Technology to draw on at any job site.

Fortunately for us, Ms Ratliff now believes that in one capacity or another she will always be involved in the trenchless industry in Australia. She also has an ongoing goal to mentor young engineers and technicians in this industry to make sure there are always more experts in the making.

Reflecting on her time in the trenchless game, Ms Ratliff said that it has been a fast-moving and rewarding experience that has led to lifelong friendships as well.

In her spare time, Ms Ratliff enjoys reading a variety of novels, legal mysteries and biographies – which led to the recent acquisition of a Kindle, saving precious luggage space! She also enjoys travelling and has been to 46 of the 50 United States, Europe, Japan, China, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, and will be going to Africa later this year.

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