Canada, Environment, Indigenous Populations, INWED, People Spotlight

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a senior geological engineer from our Environment business line in our Yellowknife office in Canada and providing insight into their technical inspiration and work.

Since 1998, Cathy has worked exclusively on large, multi-faceted remediation projects at abandoned mine and military sites in northern Canada. After 10 years of being based in Alberta, Cathy made the north her home, moving to AECOM’s Yellowknife office in 2012.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

I didn’t know what engineering was coming out of high school and was sadly never pointed in that direction of study, despite excelling at science and math. I came to study engineering after three years of other university studies, learning about it through friendships with engineering students. Prior to studying engineering, I’d spent three summers tree planting in northern Ontario, living and working in very rugged conditions. I loved the work environment, so I picked geological engineering as my discipline for the prospects of continued remote, rugged work. My first job out of grad school — initially taken for research opportunities — exposed me to the remediation of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line military radar sites in northern Canada. This incredible experience hooked me on remote site remediation projects.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

I have no favorite project, but what does continually appeal to me is the beauty of northern, remote projects.

Historically, in the Canadian territories, operators leased land parcels from the federal government, with minimal bonding requirements for restoration. Sites were typically abandoned when no longer used, and responsibility for them reverted to the federal government. Remote sites are like small communities with their own fuel storage, power supply, communication equipment, and other operational infrastructure. Re-supplying them is very costly and done annually by barge or ice road. Abandoned sites usually date from a time when environmental protection was not a consideration. Consequently, abandoned sites typically have a high volume of waste remaining, deteriorated infrastructure with hazardous materials, considerable soil contamination from poor operational practices, chemical impacts to land and water from waste rock and tailings, and unsealed mine openings. The territorial sites are almost all on Indigenous land claim areas, where local people continue to live traditionally off the land.

 For remote sites such as these, there are no prescribed solutions and they all require effective integration of multiple disciplines to achieve a comprehensive, tailored remedial solution — making efficient use of on-site resources and creating remedial design strategies that address multiple issues at once. Designs must also be simple to build to maximize local, often inexperienced employment, offer permanent solutions with no maintenance requirements, and ideally, restore the land to allow for traditional Indigenous land use. Every job provides the opportunity for creative thinking and application of innovative solutions.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

Every site remediation project that I’ve provided resident engineering services for involves a mostly Indigenous contractor crew from small, isolated communities. Whenever interacting with the workers, I make the extra effort to explain to all of them — from heavy equipment operators to laborers — the reasoning for the remedial measures they are implementing. It’s my way of developing interest in science and engineering for people who, not unlike myself prior to university, have not been exposed to engineering or science work opportunities. I’ve mentored multiple keen, young people over the years, providing references for entrance to local college programs, or when applying to job opportunities.

Share a piece of career advice.

I’m a strong believer in witnessing how designs translate to construction, and of soliciting feedback from experienced contractors executing the building. I have become an infinitely better design engineer from overseeing construction and seeking input from contractors on how the design constructability could be improved. Collaboration is key to success.

Originally published Mar 28, 2022

Author: Cathy Corrigan