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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

  • 04 Dec 2014 11:42 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Dr. Carlos SantamarinaMore than 50 ASCE members and guests gathered at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association on Thursday, October 23rd for the most recent installment of the Terzaghi Lecture series.  The lecture was given by Dr. J. Carlos Santamarina, Ph.D., Ing., A.M.ASCE.  Dr. Santamarina is the Goizueta Foundation Faculty Chair and a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  His presentation, “Energy Geotechnology: Enabling New Insights into Soil Behavior,” provided a fascinating overview of the increasingly critical role that geotechnical engineers will play in the uphill battle to reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy. 

    The lecture explored potential applications of geotechology that would aid this effort, such as the geological storage of CO2.  Dr. Santamarina explained how striving to move forward in the energy field will facilitate a more holistic understanding of soil behavior. The implications of this new perspective range from redefining basic soil characterization methods to understanding complex relationships between hydraulic, chemical, mechanical, biological, thermal and mechanical processes.  Ultimately, the presentation urged geotechnical engineers to start tackling the energy problem now during this important time in history.  As Dr. Santamarina explained, while there are still many unknowns in this area, the process of solving these difficult problems will improve the field for the better. 

    As the 2014 recipient of the distinguished Terzaghi Lectureship, Dr. Santamarina has given his presentation to different ASCE sections throughout this year.  Hosted by the Geo-Institute Chapter of the ASCE Pittsburgh Section, the event also included a social hour and a sit-down dinner.  The Section was happy to be able to provide 1.0 PDH hours for this presentation.  

  • 01 Dec 2014 7:34 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Timothy D. Brett, P.E., M.ASCE is one of five winners of the 2014 Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement.   Tim received his award on October 9, 2014, at the ASCE Global Engineering Conference held in Panama City, Panama.

    Timothy D. Brett, P.E. holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University, and is currently a Project Engineer with Leopold, a Xylem brand located in Zelienople, PA.  Tim has over 12 years of experience mostly related to the water/wastewater industry in western PA.  Most notable accomplishments include:

    • Development of Wet Weather Plans, Long-Term Control Plans, and Act 537 Plans
    • Hydraulic and Hydrologic modeling of sewer systems including the ALCOSAN Upper Monongahela Planning Basin wet weather facilities plan,
    • Development of Feasibility Studies for a member of the 3RWW PM Team and various clients in Allegheny County for compliance with the Health Department’s Administrative Consent Order,
    • Involvement in the Feasibility Study Working Group, Complex Sewershed analysis and Green Infrastructure analysis   

    Tim took some time to discuss the being an award winner and being a civil engineer in Pittsburgh:

    Question: How do you feel about winning the award?

    Initially I was completely surprised when I received notification that I had won.  I never imagined winning such a prestigious award.  Even now it is still had to believe.  

    Question: What was it like to receive your award in Panama City, Panama?

    I was very fortunate to win the award in 2014 since the award ceremony was held in Panama City, Panama.  That afforded me the opportunity to travel to a country that I probably would have never visited otherwise and get to learn about and tour one of the greatest civil engineering feats ever, the Panama Canal.  It was amazing learning about the history and effort that went into building the canal 100 years ago; the head engineer that was in charge got his experience working on the locks and dams on the Ohio River.  One of the most interesting facts that I learned was that the biggest obstacle in building the canal wasn’t an engineering concern but rather the disease that plagued the workers.  In order to eradicate the disease, engineering solutions were used such as providing adequate shelter, clean drinking water and wastewater facilities.

    Question: How do you feel about being a civil engineer?

    I am truly excited about being a civil engineer and I don’t think there is a better place in the world to practice than Pittsburgh.  There is just such a great history of civil engineering in the region and it is continuing to evolve today with the shale industry and replacement of aging infrastructure.  When you really think about what a civil engineer does, we basically touch everyone’s life every day in ways that most people don’t think about until it is no longer available.  Examples range from the roads and bridges we drive on to the clean water that travels miles from its source to our houses.

    What are you the most proud of in your profession?

    I’m very proud of having the opportunity to have taken part in the planning for this region’s most expensive infrastructure project that will address combined sewer overflows into the region’s waterways.  Another proud moment was finding out one of our clients won an arbitration case against them.  It was a great experience being part of the team that prepared the documents presented in the case and also being a key witness.  

    What have you learned after 12 years of experience in civil engineering?

    I’ve learned that regardless of the project/task at hand, communication is key.  This definitely wasn’t something learned in a college course or something that you would expect as you are preparing for your career.  Whether it is communicating among team members or communicating a project to the public, without effective communication, a project can go in the wrong direction quickly even though there may be solid engineering analysis driving the project.

    Prior to his employment with Leopold, Tim was employed by Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering, Inc. as Assistant Manager of the Civil Engineering Environmental Studies Unit and as an environmental engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.   In addition to his professional achievements, Tim has been active with the Pittsburgh Section of ASCE Environmental Water Resource Institute (EWRI) where he is currently Treasurer.  Through his involvement with EWRI, Tim has assisted in holding several continuing education events including an annual Sustainability Conference.  For the past 5 years, Tim has also volunteered as a Big Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western PA where he has been matched with his Little Brother Mike.  Tim resides in Washington County with his wife Lindsey and their children Brooklyn and Carter.

    The Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement is made to younger members of ASCE (35 years of age or younger) who are judged to have attained significant professional achievements by the degree to which they have served to advance the profession; exhibited technical competence, high character and integrity; developed improved member attitudes toward the profession; and contributed to public service outside their professional careers.

  • 19 Nov 2014 10:48 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Linda Kaplan

    Michael D. Flowers, P.E., M.ASCE receives the 2014 Roebling Award  for outstanding leadership in construction of the most challenging bridge projects ever attempted by civil engineers in the modern era, particularly the record-setting, single-tower, asymmetrical self-anchored suspension bridge spanning San Francisco-Oakland Bay. 

    President and CEO of American Bridge, Michael earned a BS from West Virginia University and a MS from University of Pittsburgh.  Mr. Flowers has been associated with construction of a series of bridges and bridge retrofits, growing in complexity throughout his career.  His penultimate achievement and the basis for selecting him for the Roebling Award is the leadership and construction excellence he brought to the newly completed self-anchored suspension bridge tying Oakland and San Francisco together.  With a length of 2,047 feet the SAS Bay Bridge is the longest self-anchored suspension span bridge in the world. 

     American Bridge Company led a joint venture for the construction of the new $1.9 billion Self-Anchored-Suspension Bridge as a key part of the seismic replacement of the eastern spans of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge. This signature span involved the construction of a new 625m single-tower, asymmetric, self-anchored suspension bridge. The bridge’s four-legged steel tower is 160m tall, supporting 790mm main cables, from which the cable is suspended. The tower legs at the base weighed 1000mt each. Traffic is carried on twin steel orthotropic box girder roadways, suspended from cables each carrying five lanes of traffic. The massive trapezoidal boxes are nearly 30m in width and over 5m deep, some weighing in excess of 1500mt and spanning 85m in a single piece. The 1,400m long main cable is comprised of 137 prefabricated parallel wire strands of 127 wires each. The cable is a unique continuous loop, anchored in both the westbound and eastbound roadway sections at the eastern end of the bridge, crossing over the tower top through a huge 400mt steel saddle and looping around the pier at the west end of the bridge.

    As its name would imply, the bridge had no gravity anchors for the cable, but rather was “self-anchored.” In its final design, this required the roadway sections to carry very large compressive forces in combination with the bending and localized forces. The steel anchorages are roughly 20% of the size of a normal gravity anchorage and are neatly nested below the roadway surface within the box girders. The total weight of the permanent structural steel is about 50,000mt and the tower and roadway sections had to be temporarily supported on 25,000mt of false work to facilitate construction.

    Once the tower and the roadways were erected, the cable was installed, and then through a carefully orchestrated complex load transfer process, the roadway sections were lifted off the false work, thereby, transferring the load from the temporary structures into the permanent cables. A build-to-suit marine heavy lift shear leg crane was designed and built as part of the project and facilitated ship unloading and erection of many of the bigger-than-life pieces. The shear leg dubbed the Left Coast Lifter has a 1750mt capacity and was founded on a 400’x100’x22’ custom built barge.

    Nearly every aspect of the construction of this one-of-a-kind bridge required careful and thoughtful applications of structural engineering including the completion of all of the stages of our work in a safe seismic condition. The project was awarded in May of 2006 and the seismic safety of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge was restored when we turned traffic onto the new span on Labor Day 2013.

    Michael will be presenting this project at an upcoming SEI/ABCD joint dinner event on January 22, 2015.  Look for details and registration coming soon.

    The Roebling Award recognizes and honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of construction engineering.

  • 18 Nov 2014 4:21 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Region 2 Governor Jack Raudenbush, PE attended the November ASCE Pittsburgh Section Board of Directors meeting and provided the following thoughts to our leadership team.

    Region 2 Governor Tom Imholte, PE and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Pittsburgh Section’s Board Meeting on November 6, 2014 at the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania. Tom and I were given an opportunity to briefly touch upon a few topics which we hope were beneficial to the Board. Reiterating a few, the Pittsburgh Section should: contemplate who may be a good nomination for Region Governor in 2015 since no Pittsburgh Section members are currently in these positions; consider continued long range financial planning; and utilize the Region Governors as a conduit to ASCE National.

    The order of meeting, and the proceedings of the meeting, made for a very productive morning without extraneous dialogue. Clearly the Officers and Committee members know the Agenda and know what items need addressed. I believe that the actions of the Board are a reflection of the Section and represent why the Section is so successful.

    Please contact me at or any Region Governor if we can be of assistance. And keep up the great work.

    If you are interested in attending a Pittsburgh Section Board Meeting, they are typically held on the first Thursday of the month at 7:30am at the Engineer’s Society building on 4th Ave.  For more information contact Section President Kemal Niksic at    

  • 18 Nov 2014 8:30 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Nicholle Piper

    On November 5, 2014, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) hosted the Civil Engineering Session for the Western Pennsylvania ACE Mentor Program. The ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Mentor Program is a national effort founded in 1994 to motivate high school students to pursue careers in engineering, design and construction. Over the course of this school year, Pittsburgh-area students will break into groups and progress through the design process for the construction of a museum. Each group is tasked with designing a wing of the museum. Students attend bi-weekly sessions hosted by professionals in the industry, and every session is focused on a different aspect of the design. Session subjects range from architecture to structural engineering to electrical engineering to interior design, etc. The deliverables for each session are combined and presented during a final project presentation at the end of the school year.

    CEC has facilitated the Western PA Civil Engineering Session for the past 5 years. Approximately 70 students attended the event on November 5, which began with Nicholle Piper from Langan Engineering & Environmental Services presenting a brief overview of Civil Engineering. Then, Adele Beaves from CEC presented the task for the session. Students were provided with hard copies of a sample ordinance and a base site plan, and then each group designed a unique museum site that complied with the ordinance. Throughout the session, students were allotted time to focus on site layout and parking, landscape design, stormwater management design, and utility design. Mentors offered guidance during the session, but each group’s design was unique and creative. The session wrapped up with every group taking a few minutes to present their designs.

    Read more about the ACE Mentor Program or the Pittsburgh ACE program, or contact Linda Kaplan, Karen Mueser, or Nicholle Piper for more information or to volunteer for future sessions.

  • 13 Nov 2014 11:48 AM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Article by Gregory Scott, PE, Chair of Pittsburgh Section Government Relations Committee

    So the dust has settled on the 2014 midterm elections.  Similar to Washington DC, Pennsylvania has aligned itself with the Republicans controlling the House and Senate, while the Executive branch is held by the Democrats.  In PA, come January, Republicans will hold 119 seats (up from 111) in the 203 member House, and 30 seats (up from 27) in the 50 member Senate (see maps below).  Pennsylvania's new Governor Tom Wolfe will be in the same position as President Obama, attempting to craft an agenda for the next two years with the opposition party being firmly in control of any legislation.  What does this divided government mean for America and PA for the next two years?  While talk coming out of DC and from the Governor elect's camp is one of finding common ground to work together, there may be a power struggle in the Republicans between the traditional conservatives and the new more right leaning members.  This may make finding common ground difficult, if not impossible.

    In the Commonwealth, January will mark the beginning of a new session, so all pending bills will die.  Fortunately for Pennsylvania, Act 89, a new transportation funding law, was signed into law a year ago. So while PennDOT leads the deployment of the new transportation funding between now and 2018, the consideration on any new legislation will begin again in Harrisburg.  The 2014 ASCE Report Card on Pennsylvania's Infrastructure highlighted the needs for additional attention to Schools, Drinking Water, Storm Water and Wastewater.  Will the Governor and the Legislature take up this challenge as they did in passing Act 89 to address the State's deteriorating transportation infrastructure?

    In Washington DC, the eyes of the industry will be on Congress to address the reauthorization of MAP-21, the long-term highway funding authorization, which was extended until the Spring, 2015.  Will Congress be able to find common ground with the Administration?  Will the new bill increase funding for surface transportation over MAP-21, which was generally flat from the previous bill 8 years prior?  Will the 2016 Presidential campaign impact the willingness of the parties to pass legislation during a lame duck session or will gridlock continue?

    ASCE will work hard to advocate for important funding, regulatory, and legislative initiatives that support infrastructure and the design/construction industry.  Now is a great time for members to engage in ASCE's government relation activities on the Local, State and Federal levels. If one or more of your elected officials will be new to his or her job come January, please go see them to share your knowledge and expertise on issues.  Key Contact members receive details of developments on issues on both the State and Federal levels, so consider signing up for this free benefit and see how some of the questions I asked earlier evolve.

    Lastly, if you have ideas on regulatory or policy changes that benefit the industry, please share them with your Section's government relations committee.  As experts in the field, you see potential solutions firsthand and ASCE wants to hear your ideas.

    Until next time, keep watching C-Span.

    2014 Senate Election Results, from www.politico.com2014 House Election Results, from

    2014 Governor Election Results, from

  • 06 Nov 2014 3:42 PM | ASCE Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The Committee on Younger Members (CYM) hosted the Younger Member Leadership Symposium (YMLS) on September 21-22, 2014 at ASCE headquarters in Reston, VA. Interactive leadership sessions were offered during the course of the two-day event, focusing on tools to assist younger members (35 and under) to grow in the profession. Leanne McConnell and Nicholle Piper represented Pittsburgh YMF at the conference.

    Perhaps one of the largest takeaways from the weekend was the difference between Project Management and Leadership. Effective Project Managers are not always effective leaders, and vice-versa. Methods to improve upon leadership skills and project management abilities were discussed extensively during the YMLS. Other topics included assessing your personality strengths/weaknesses, effectively using your younger member group, successfully having difficult conversations, and evaluating your corporate and personal influence sphere.

    The CYM provided a reading list that expands on the key topics from the weekend:

    1. Good to Great – Jim Collins
    2. Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most – Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen
    3.  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni
    4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People- Powerful lessons – Stephen R. Covey
    5. Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen
    6. People Styles at Work­ – Robert Bolton
    7. The Situational Leader – Dr. Paul Hersey
    8. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
    9. The 360 Degree Leader – John Maxwell

    For more information about the ASCE Committee on Younger Members or the 2015 Younger Member Leadership Symposium (tentatively scheduled for September 21-22, 2015), please contact Pittsburgh YMF President Linda Kaplan at or CYM Programs Member Kelly Doyle at

  • 29 Oct 2014 9:39 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    The Water Environment Federation awarded the 2014 WEF Collection Systems Published Contributions Award to the paper “Green Infrastructure Opportunities in Gray Wet Weather Plans.” The paper presents a local case study on planning green stormwater infrastructure for stormwater and CSO management in the City of Pittsburgh and suburban communities. The case study was a cooperative effort between 3 Rivers Wet Weather, and PWSA.. 

    Section member Larry Lennon of Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering, Inc., principal author, with co-author section members Sam Shamsi (Baker Engineers, now with Jacobs), John Schombert (3 Rivers), Anthony Igwe (Wade Trim) and John Maslanik (Chester Engineers), on behalf of PWSA, participated as team members on the pilot studies performed for 3 Rivers that were the subject of the paper. PWSA incorporated the 3 Rivers pilot study findings into their SWMM models to provide estimates of CSO flow reduction that might be achievable. The authors are grateful to 3RWW for providing the project opportunity and to the R. K. Mellon Foundation for providing the grant for the study.

    The full paper can be found by following the QR code and the abstract is provided below. 

    Low Impact Development (LID) and Green Infrastructure (GI) Best Management Practices (BMPs) have been widely utilized as a method of erosion/sedimentation and water pollution control predominantly for land development programs and, to a lesser degree, urban storm water runoff. Recently the focus is shifting from “green field” development practices to application of GI BMPs in mature urban neighborhoods. Whether retrofit projects aimed at reducing flow into Combined Sewer Systems or neighborhood redevelopment programs responsive to LID regulations, interest in application of GI in urban settings is growing. With the emergence of integrated watershed based Long Term Control Plans (LTCPs), and, Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit requirements and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits for specific pollutant constituents on local streams, inclusion of GI, particularly for retrofit applications in urban stormwater/wet-weather and CSO facilities planning, has gained the interest of the regulatory agencies, permittees and diverse environmental interest groups. This paper addresses application of a GIS-based BMP siting approach to identifying, at a planning level, potential sites for retrofit GI projects intended to minimize runoff to drainage systems.

    For more information contact Larry Lennon at or Sam Shamsi at  

  • 29 Oct 2014 7:23 AM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Article by Karl Sieg

    The best indicator of the cost of maintenance and construction of America’s surface transportation system may be the Construction Cost Index (CCI) of the Engineering News-Record.  As of September 2014, the CCI is about double its 1993 value.

    In 1993, Congress added 4.3 cents a gallon to the gasoline tax, with the added revenue dedicated to deficit reduction.  With the addition of the 0.1-cent-a-gallon levy to finance the leaking underground storage tank trust fund, the federal tax rose to 18.4 cents a gallon. The federal Motor Fuel User Fee still stands at only 18.4 cents-a-gallon today.

    Since 1997, the full federal gasoline tax has gone to the Highway Trust Fund.                                    

    To prevent the Highway Trust fund from running out of money, Congress extended its life until May, 2015, through what some consider to be ‘gimmicks’ (see previous issues of this newsletter).

    The federal government has been taxing our fuel for 82 years.  From the beginning, the money was going to things other than roads and bridges.  Most Americans favor an increase in the federal motor fuel user fee to adjust for inflation and costs from delayed maintenance and construction, assuming the money is actually used to build and maintain our surface transportation system.  However, many of those Americans oppose an increase, due to a distrust of their public policy makers who they believe will vote to use it elsewhere.

    The image of ‘snake eyes’ above resembles a pair of eyes, which is appended to the term 'snake' because of the long-standing association of this word with treachery and betrayal.  Because it is the lowest possible roll of the dice, and will often be a loser in many dice games, the term is a reference to bad luck.

    So, what kind of luck will Americans have in the next 9 months? 

    Will your Congressman vote to ensure that the user fees you pay are used to build and maintain your transportation system?

    How will you vote?  Every Congressman is a candidate for re-election on November 4.  Your vote is one of an estimated 200,000 construction industry votes in Western Pennsylvania.  Your vote counts!  A photo of your Congressman is at the bottom of the first page of the May issue of this newsletter (click here to see who's running in your district).  The winners in the 2012 General Election and their margins of victory are shown in the December 2012 issue of this newsletter, on the Section website, above.

    A recent projection is that only 18 percent of Philadelphia voters will turnout in the November 4 election, but 25% in metropolitan Pittsburgh. Since the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is 60% larger than the Pittsburgh MSA, the tepid turnout of Philly voters may make each vote in Western Pennsylvania more valuable. 

  • 23 Oct 2014 3:18 PM | Djuna Gulliver (Administrator)

    Pittsburgh’s long industrial past includes a history not only in steel, but also in aluminum, glass, and transportation.  Since the 1980’s, much of this industry-based economy has since transformed to tech-based commerce such as robotics, medicine, and education.  And as the industry-based companies closed shop, they left behind land that had been exposed to various industrial compounds.  This brought about a tricky problem: what should Pittsburgh do with these former industrial sites, or brownfields.

    Brownfield is classified as a “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”(HR-2869-2002)  Pittsburgh was a city of industry, and therefore is also city of many brownfields.  The economic transformation of Pittsburgh required innovation in brownfield redevelopment. 

    On September 11th, 2014, EWRI hosted a 2-part seminar on brownfield redevelopment and remediation.  During the first part of the seminar, Dr. Deborah Lange, executive director of Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center, described the complex, multi-disciplinary requirements of brownfield redevelopment. Neighborhoods such as Braddock, Hazelwood, South Side Works, and East Liberty were used to describe the nine key characteristics that must be considered when redeveloping a brownfield.

    • Community engagement
    • Historical relevance
    • Infrastructure
    • Remediation needs
    • Optimal use of the land
    • Multi-jurisdictional cooperation
    • Political commitment
    • Public-private partnerships
    • Socio-economics

    Despite the complications that each brownfield brings, Pittsburgh has endeavored to transform these former industrial sites, resulting in many success stories.

    The second part of the seminar focused on novel remediation strategies of a series of compounds that have long contaminated many brownfield sites, chlorinated solvents.  Chlorinated solvents were utilized by many industries as cleansers, degreasers, thinners, or resins.  Long-term exposure to chlorinated solvents results in damage to the nervous system, liver, or kidneys, and in some cases lead to cancer.  Unfortunately, industry’s historic use of chlorinated solvents has lead to current widespread contamination in the groundwater.

    Fortunately, many innovative technologies are now being used to reduce the chlorinated solvent contamination.  The second part of the seminar featured Dr. Udai Singh, Vice President of CH2M HILL, with a long-term experience in modern remediation techniques.  Dr. Singh described the latest practice of groundwater remediation that has been proven reduce chlorinated solvents concentrations.  These technologies include:

    • In situ thermal treatment: the contaminated subsurface is heated, mobilizing the chlorinated solvents, which are then extracted and treated
    • Soil mixing: contaminated soils are mixed with reagents such as zero-valent iron, oxidants, or bentonite to react/stabilize the chlorinated solvents
    • Air sparging/ soil vapor extraction: air is injected in the contaminated subsurface, and volatile chlorinated solvents are extracted and treated
    • In situ bioremediation: organic substrates such as lactate, whey, or vegetable oils are injected in the contaminated subsurface, promoting biodegradation of the chlorinated solvents
    • In situ chemical oxidation: strong oxidizing agents are injected in the contaminated subsurface, reacting and degrading the chlorinated solvents.

    Preliminary studies have found these technologies capable of reducing the chlorinated solvent concentration by 95-99%.  Dr. Singh noted that the technologies varied in cost, with soil mixing as a low-cost remediation solution, and in situ chemical oxidation as a higher cost alternative.  However, each innovative process had various advantages and disadvantages, demonstrating there was no silver bullet to chlorinated solvent remediation.

    Interested in other EWRI-PGH seminars?  Visit for upcoming events.


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