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Projects take Burns Cooley Dennis around the region

Ridgeland — Burns Cooley Dennis Inc., one of the state’s leading geotechnical engineering firm, isn’t resting on its laurels after having completed geotechnical services for the $930-million Nissan auto assembly plant in Canton.

The company’s current projects range from working on coastal restoration projects in Louisiana to investigating the Big Bay Dam failure recently in Lamar County to helping determine the cause — and recommend solutions — to the movement of the Interstate 20 bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg.

Burns Cooley Dennis Inc. has also done a significant amount of work for Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in Philadelphia, including work for the Golden Moon Resort. And work is currently underway on geotechnical services needed to build the Braves Baseball Stadium in Pearl.

Burns Cooley Dennis provides field monitoring and testing for earthwork, foundations, landfills, building construction, concrete placement and asphalt pavement construction. The firm also provides engineering consultation to contractors and owners during design and construction for earthwork, pile driving, drilled piers, concrete placement, asphalt pavement construction, rehabilitation of structures and pavements, forensic investigations and other geotechnical-related issues.

While most of the work done by Burns Cooley Dennis is regarding new construction, another side of the business is forensics.

“Something went wrong with a project, a building or structure, and we get called in to figure out what went wrong and how to fix the problems,” said Tommy Dunlap, a principal with Burns Cooley Dennis. “For example, the I-20 bridge at Vicksburg over the Mississippi River has moved. We have been hired to help figure out why it is moving, and how to fix it. We are also involved in a forensic study of the dam failure at Big Bay Lake in Lamar County.”

Three of the firm’s principals, David Dennis, Larry Cooley and Eddie Templeton, have a background working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg.

“That gives us significant quality experience with that type of work,” Dunlap said. “We get called on a good bit to address dams in the state of Mississippi.”

The firm began in 1985 as Burns Engineering. It was reorganized a few years later when Dennis and Cooley became partners, and renamed Burns Cooley Dennis. Later Dennis and Cooley bought out the Burns part of the business. Dennis, Cooley, Templeton, Dunlap and Randy Ahlrich are partners in the firm that currently employs 13 licensed engineers with a total staff of about 60.

Dunlap said the firm’s size and experience help it gain work around the region. “Reputation helps gain work,” Dunlap said.

“Reputation is earned when you provide a high-quality service to your client base. Our clients include architects, other engineers, commercial clients, contractors, and federal, state and local governments. Each geotechnical engineering project is unique and requires an individualized approach. That approach includes strict adherence to project schedules and quick response to changing needs of the client.”

Handling a large volume

One advantage of the size of the firm is that it allows the company to be working on a large number of projects at one time. A smaller firm would have been overwhelmed by a project the scope of Nissan in Canton.

“With a one- or two-engineer firm, a project like Nissan would inundate you so you wouldn’t have time to keep all of your other clients satisfied,” Dunlap said. “We have the capacity to handle a large volume of work. We have grown that large because of our reputation, which has been developed because of good quality service to our clients.”

The company has recently grown to the size that it hired a marketing director, Meredith Edrington, who is responsible for conference attendance and exhibits, and generating a monthly newsletter that comes out via e-mail to several hundred clients.

One project the company is particularly proud of is marsh restoration work on the Louisiana coast. Louisiana is losing a lot of coastal land to erosion, and addressing the problem is critical to the state’s seafood industry — one of the nation’s largest. The marsh restoration work is being funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Other major work in Louisiana includes providing geotechnical engineering services for the design and construction of a major reservoir project in Richland Parish for the Poverty Point Reservoir District. The Poverty Point Reservoir encompasses approximately 2,357 acres.
Another government project is a $1-million contract with the Federal Highway Administration for conducting asphalt pavement research. Burns Cooley Dennis will be teaming with Auburn University, Texas A&M and others to conduct that research. Two of the engineers, Ahlrich and Cooley, have Ph.D.’s from Auburn specializing in pavement.

“That is a significant part of our special capabilities,” Dunlap said.

Other work in the region includes a dam project in Texas, highway bridge projects in Arkansas, buildings in Alabama and a number of projects in Memphis, where the firm has opened a satellite office.

“We are serving several large, significant projects in Memphis,” Dunlap said. “One is the Super Terminal for Canadian National Railroad just south of downtown Memphis beside the river. It is to be constructed for intermodal servicing of trucking. Large trucks carry goods to and from businesses, warehouses and manufacturing. They go to the terminal, and their loads get put on rail. We are involved in geotechnical and pavement design and are now monitoring construction for this large expansion project for Canadian National.”

Two other significant projects in Memphis include forensic work on a slide at Mud Island that has briefly closed up the Wolf River channel.

“With our experience with river work, we will provide forensic information to determine what happened and how to repair the problem to facilitate continued construction at the site without further problems,” Dunlap said. “Another ongoing forensic study is with the Germanshire Elementary School in Memphis, which has experienced settlement problems with school buildings. We have been asked to come in and find out why there have been problems and help plan repairs. This is a high profile project.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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