Current Issues, New Tech Focus Of CIGMAT Conference

At the University of Houston, a leading public research university located in Houston, the Center for Innovative Grouting Materials and Technology (CIGMAT) and the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering held a successful one-day conference and exhibition.

More than 340 gathered at the 17th Annual CIGMAT Conference on March 2 to learn about “Infrastructure, Energy, Geotechnical, Flooding and Sustainable Issues Related to Houston & Other Major Cities.”

“I attend CIGMAT every year because it gives me the opportunity to collaborate with other engineers, academia, contractors and suppliers all in one day,” said Rod McCrary, vice president, AECOM. “In my opinion, the conference gets better every year. The program focuses on current issues, such as drainage and transportation that can be some of our biggest challenges.”

The convention opened with initial remarks by Dr. Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan, P.E., professor and director of CIGMAT and the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology (THC-IT) who stressed the need for such a conference during these challenging times, particularly in regard to energy and advances in technologies.

CIGMAT graduate students.

Public works, energy panel
The opening session featured Daniel Krueger, director of public works, city of Houston, who discussed the city’s issues as regards public works, highway transportation, energy needs and production for the future. Plans for maintaining and expanding Houston’s water and wastewater facilities in a sustainable manner also were discussed.

The audience heard about several new Houston highway projects for the department of transportation and the challenges of maintaining transportation facilities with reduced funding from Michael Alford, district engineer for Houston, TxDOT.

Rounding out the session was Jed Hamilton, senior research consultant Arctic, ExxonMobile. With the growth of various countries around the world, there has been a sudden increase in the demand for oil. Hamilton discussed the various methods of meeting the demand for oil and gas with ever changing technologies and environmental regulations.

In the first of four panel discussions, the “Sustainability of Water Systems and Current Drought Conditions in Texas” was led by Jorge Arroyo, contract manager, Texas Water Development Board, who discussed the challenges and future plans for water management in Texas due to the state’s current drought conditions. Mark Smith, senior project manager, San Jacinto River Authority, presented the groundwater reduction plans for Montgomery County and the surrounding areas. He also expressed the need for using new technologies to install pipelines in urban areas. Mark Loethen, deputy director for Planning & Development Services, city of Houston, discussed some of the challenges and plans for the city under the changing weather patterns.

Adam Rodriguez, P.E., CFM, project manager, R.G. Miller Engineers commented: “The conference provides excellent networking and development opportunities where you can learn about some of the latest engineering projects and challenges. Of particular interest to me this year are the discussions about the drought issues Houston faced this past year and the flooding issues we always have to deal with, both of which can cause pipes to break. These issues can influence how we approach several of our engineering projects.”

Frequent conference attendee Joe Majdalani, P.E., chief engineer, city of Beaumont, agreed that CIGMAT offers attendees the opportunity to learn about new technologies and meet with key people that can aid in the approach cities take in resolving their infrastructure problems. “At this year’s conference, we met with contractors who work with TxDOT on some of the streets. The drought has put stress on the city’s surface so we are here to find out how we can stretch our resources more effectively, particularly money, to fix our streets and pipes. We are looking at actual applications we can use underground.”

Flooding, geotechnical issues
The second panel discussion “Flooding, ReBuild Houston and Geotechnical Issues” focused on maintaining the critical infrastructures with new plans and projects. Mike Talbott, director, Harris County Flood Control, spoke about the ongoing projects on mitigating flood damage and their plans for future projects. Dale Rudick, deputy director for ReBuild Houston, shared new plans for upgrading and maintaining the storm sewer facilities in Houston. Kenneth Tand, Kenneth Tand and Associates, presented case studies on the impact of the drought conditions on the behavior of expansive clays and the influence of trees in maintaining the moisture balance underground.

Professor Jean L. Briaud, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, delivered the seventh Mike O’Neill Lecture on “Unsaturated Soil Behavior for Practicing Engineers.” He shared the current understanding of the behavior of unsaturated soils and methods to characterize their behavior. Also discussed were the approaches used in the design of shallow foundations and embankments. This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Vipulanandan on “National Trends in the Performance of Water Pipelines in the Active Zone.”

During the fourth session, dam safety issues around the country were highlighted with speakers Wade Anderson, director-South West Division, Dam Safety Production Center – United States Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa, OK; Professor Chandra S. Putcha, California State University, Fullerton, CA; and Warren Samuelson, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Austin, TX.

Echoing the opinion of many attendees, Ray C. Barker, P.E., senior project manager, KBR, said that after attending five CIGMAT conferences, he’s found it to be an “excellent venue for learning about new developments in technology and research.”

Mike H. Pezeshki, P.E., managing engineer-Public Works & Engineering, city of Houston, concurred. “I haven’t missed any of them (CIGMAT conferences). It’s a great conference where each year, experts in the geotechnical field are invited to present. Hearing about new technologies and learning about what is happening in the business is always valuable.”

The convention’s closing activity was a reception held in the exhibit area where participating voters judged the students’ posters on research activities at CIGMAT and in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. In addition to conference participants, city, county and industrial leaders had an opportunity to network and win door prizes.

Conference proceeding are available on the CIGMAT web site at The CIGMAT 2013 will be held on March 1, 2013 at the University Hilton, University of Houston.

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