BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — The senior engineer who supervises the troubled Brown Bridge Dam removal project acknowledged she doesn't own a professional engineering license through the state of Michigan.
Sandra Sroonian is not required to hold a professional engineering license, but one engineer said she should have that certification, given her title of "senior principal engineer" on the massive Brown Bridge Dam project.
"I would expect someone like that to be a licensed engineer," said Frank Christie, an Onekama-based engineer who has 50 years of experience on dam construction and design. "With a title like that, it shows another level of education and experience."
Christie also criticized the engineering design and construction methods used to lower Brown Bridge pond; a so-called dewatering structure failed on Oct. 6 and caused a breach that emptied the pond into the Boardman River.
The breach flushed tons of water downstream, flooded homes and threatened public safety.
State investigations continue.
Sroonian said she does not hold a professional license, but said she has an engineering degree. She said she was not responsible for the engineering design for Brown Bridge Dam's removal.
Sroonian's firm, AMEC, has three other licensed professional engineers on the project who handle design and engineering tasks, she said.
Sroonian said her primary responsibility is management of the Brown Bridge Dam removal, including budgeting, coordination and insuring proper work flow.
"Not all engineers are professional engineers," Sroonian said. "The professional engineers are usually the ones that are doing design work."
Tests, experience needed for license
Gloria Keene, a licensing manager for the Board of Professional Engineers and the Michigan Bureau of Commercial Services, said a professional engineering license requires an engineer to pass two exams on the fundamentals, principles and practices of engineering. They must also possess four years of work experience under the supervision of three licensed engineers.
"If you are signing and sealing drawings you must be licensed — the state requires you to be licensed," Keene said. "If you are working under a licensed engineer, you do not."
Sroonian worked for engineering firm MACTEC, which later became AMEC, when the firm submitted a proposal to local officials for dam removal work. Her biography was included in the proposal and states she previously managed MACTEC's Chicago office and was "responsible for more than 35 engineers, scientists and geologists."
Sroonian's biography states she offered a "scope of work (that) includes preparation of preliminary drawdown plans for both Brown Bridge and Sabin Dams" in work for MACTEC and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians as a project manager on the Boardman River Dams project.
Her biography lists work as project manager of a proposed wood-fired plant for Traverse City Light & Power. Local opposition halted the biomass plant plan.
She also worked as a project engineer for earthen dam inspections for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Other engineers and Sroonian's colleagues on the Boardman River Dam Implementation Team said they are not concerned by Sroonian's lack of an engineering license. She's been a critical part of the Implementation Team that oversees the removal of three dams on the Boardman, they said.
'Litany of engineers'
"It's not that unusual," said Don Tilton, vice president of Environmental Consulting and Technology. His firm performed a feasibility study on dam removal on the Boardman in 2008.
"... (T)here were professional engineers working for her who were doing the engineering — the slope stabilization, the hydraulics the soil sedimentation," Tilton said.
Todd Kalish of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources made a similar observation.
"Sandra's role is really project management and collaboration from the AMEC team," Kalish said. "They've got a litany of engineers dedicated to this project."
Ron Brenke, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers in Michigan, said "the project manager doesn't necessarily have to be licensed to do their job."
A posting on the National Society of Professional Engineers website called "Why Get Licensed?" states "licensure is the mark of a professional. It's a standard recognized by employers and their clients, by governments and by the public as an assurance of dedication, skill and quality."