Point of Beginning

Mapping Luther Forest

June 1, 2006
Cold Spring Road leads into Luther Forest as it exists today, before proposed improvements.

Around the world today, the nanotechnology industry is producing smaller, more efficient and more powerful microprocessing chips that are used in everything from watches to supercomputers. This growing industry is constantly searching for new places to build its fabrication plants-the giant incubators of the high-tech age. In upstate New York, a multi-billion dollar project known as the Luther Forest Technology Campus (LFTC) is envisioned as the nation's premier nanotech manufacturing facility. LFTC will produce microchips and other electronic components in as many as four state-of-the-art plants. Before actual construction on the site can begin, however, the more than 1,350 acres of land encompassed by the project along with nine miles of electrical transmission lines, 10 miles of new roads and four miles of new sewer lines need to be mapped in painstaking detail. Together with the local communities, surveyors with C.T. Male Associates P.C. of Latham, N.Y., are mapping the campus and helping this project get off the ground.

"This is our future," says Ken Green, president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), which is spearheading the LFTC project. "We believe that this site is uniquely suited for nanotech manufacturing and we challenged professionals from C.T. Male and other firms to prove it to the industry."

That challenge came in 2000 when SEDC approached C.T. Male about mapping the entire 1,350-acre campus in preparation for LFTC development. C.T. Male is a 96-year-old firm with 140 employees that offers a full range of engineering, surveying and land development services. The company had a long history of working on the project site for prior owners, and was ready to take on the challenge. "What made this a unique project was the number of components," says Raymond Liuzzo, PLS, a project surveyor. "Any of them by itself would be a big job. Together, it's almost overwhelming at first." To accomplish the massive project of more than 28 separate tasks, C.T. Male surveyors utilized a variety of instruments including conventional and robotic total stations as well as RTK GPS.

Crew Chief Greg Kovach collects data with a Trimble Pro XR GPS receiver.

The Background Work

As early as 1974, C.T. Male surveyed portions of the Wright Malta facility, a 164-acre rocket and weapons testing facility that lies at the core of the proposed technology campus. Thirty years later in May 2004, an ALTA/ACSM land title survey was done on the property in preparation of title transfer and financing. The team also mapped the associated 1-mile radius restricted non-habitation easement around the Wright Malta site, which existed due to its status as an active munitions testing facility.

Work on the project started with the environmental engineering department of C.T. Male. John Munsey, managing scientist and LFTC project manager, took the lead in obtaining initial permitting and environmental analyses that would later lead to Planned Development District approval from local and state officials.

Once the project was approved at the local level, SEDC was ready to turn C.T. Male loose on Luther Forest. Projects of this size and on fast-track timelines require a great deal of pre-planning, coordination and management. Making sure field staff were productive, collected the necessary data and didn't leave gaps in the mapping required daily processing of collected data to ensure nothing was missed. The team recognized that individual entities cannot identify inconsistencies. "We tried very hard to establish a culture of cross communication through a single point," Munsey says.

At this station, C.T. Male measured wire heights for proposed line tie-ins of two twin 115-kilovolt electrical transmission lines.

A Daunting Task

Work on the property began with initial activities in early 2001 when ground control targets were placed in preparation for a spring aerial flight for the main project area. C.T. Male's team controlled targets using a minimum of two Trimble (Sunnyvale, Calif.) 5700 base stations simultaneously broadcasting RTK signals on Trimmark III radio modems. Given the amount of elevation change across the project area, oftentimes an additional Trimmark III radio was used as a repeater. Roving units included two Trimble 4700 receivers, a Trimble 5700 receiver and a Trimble 5800 receiver. All receivers used were dual-frequency survey grade receivers. The NAD 83 State Plane Coordinate System and NGVD 88 Vertical Datum chosen for the project gave it the proper spatial component necessary to take advantage of available databases and map files, including digital tax maps and wetland inventory maps. At the same time, C.T. Male set more than 80 base control stations that were used when control was densified for the miles of conventional traverse that were later necessary.

The most difficult part of surveying the first parcel was scheduling. "I had never surveyed an active munitions facility," Liuzzo says. Field staff were constantly evacuated from the site or not allowed on the property for days or weeks at a time as the testing company continued operations. Crews often heard the low booms of testing while working in the forest. Deer ticks carrying Lyme disease were also a major concern on the project. Every day the field crews had to remove dozens of ticks to avoid contracting the disease. In August 2004 C.T. Male completed the mapping of Wright Malta, setting the stage to map the remaining 1,186 acres of the LFTC.

Mapping this second portion of the property required photogrammetry and ground survey work. Photogrammetry firm LaFave, White and McGivern, LS, PC of Theresa, N.Y., conducted the aerial photography and stereo aerial photogrammetric mapping of the project site and utility corridors. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of the project was obscured by heavy conifer coverage. Due to the dense nature of the forest, more than 300 acres of the site and utility corridors in scattered areas could not be mapped and required a supplemental ground survey. "We had to fill in the blanks and verify these areas of dense tree cover," Liuzzo says. The team proceeded to establish more than 800 conventional survey control points throughout the property. Control was established using GPS, and conventional and robotic total stations. Multiple crews, survey technicians and CAD technicians took nearly nine months to map and verify topography of the entire 1,350-acre project site and the miles of utility corridors.

Title Determination

For the second phase of title transfer, an ALTA/ACSM land title survey of the 1,186-acre, 60,000-foot perimeter project site was prepared, which unveiled numerous adjoining owner encroachments. The vacant land behind residences was a convenient place for adjacent owners to place sheds, fences and play areas. These encroachments were field-located and mapped with offset dimensions.

The title to the property was the next major task to contemplate. The conservationist Luther family accumulated dozens of former pig farms from 1890 until 1930 to create a managed forest. The deeds that comprised the property were poor and numerous. Bounding owner descriptions were the description of choice when the property was conveyed to the Luthers, which made property line determination difficult. Portions of the exterior perimeter boundary lines were established in a unique way in the 1950s. In the project area, a circular property line was previously established as a one-mile radius centered on a former rocket test-firing pit. During the years since 1950, housing subdivisions were constructed right up to this one-mile safety easement. The munitions testing was concluded with the sale of the Wright Malta property in June 2004 and, as a condition of property title transfer to the Luther Forest Technology Campus Economic Development Corporation, the safety easement was extinguished.

Despite all the high-tech equipment available to C.T. Male surveyors, conventional traverse was used for 80 percent of the perimeter survey due to tree density and to adhere to ALTA standards. The final site mapping deliverable was in the form of 72 sheets of 1' = 40'' scale, 1' contour interval mapping with an extremely high level of detail.

C.T. Male's crew used Trimble Pro XH and Pro XR mapping grade GPS receivers to stake the center lines of the 10 miles of proposed roads on and off the site for archaeological and wetland investigation. More than 4,500 wetland flags, test pit locations, monitoring wells and archaeological locations were made using the mapping grade receivers; data was later post-processed together with data from constant running static GPS base receivers.

Utilities Mapping Challenges

Nanotech manufacturing requires power lines of sufficient voltage to connect the site to the power system. Planning and mapping all of the proposed utilities for the LFTC presented unique challenges.

The first major obstacle was landowner notification and access. Some owners wanted to be notified every time a surveyor or an engineer set foot on their property. Although the state of New York recently passed a law for right of entry for purposes of survey, SEDC didn't want to rely solely on the law and instituted an interactive approach to maintain good relations in the community. "We felt it best to reach out directly to engage the community," says Jack Kelley, SEDC senior vice president. That task fell to Ray Liuzzo and to Jon Dawes, a former site designer with C.T. Male, now an economic development specialist with SEDC. Each homeowner was first contacted by phone and later paid a visit by Dawes, surveyors and other SEDC officials to explain the project and the need for access.

"Good owner relations involved listening to their concerns and trying to work around them," Dawes says. As payment for the right to gain access to adjacent properties, C.T. Male prepared additional boundary surveys and signed maps for six adjacent landowners. This forward-thinking approach allowed C.T. Male to collect the data that was needed for the development of the project, to keep good relations with adjacent landowners, and to limit additional cost to the client, which allowed for the data to be provided to the adjacent landowners.

Active logging operations, the ongoing munitions testing and even hunting season also affected access to the various parcels of land. "We had to continually adjust our resources and procedures to meet the aggressive deadlines; we couldn't sit back and wait," Liuzzo says.

Early 2005 saw the team move full speed ahead with the staking out of the electrical transmission lines (ETL). In preparation for a field walkthrough with the utility company for wetlands and archaeological investigation, the crew again used Trimble Pro XH and Pro XR receivers to stake more than nine miles of centerlines for the two parallel 115-kilovolt transmission lines. The surveyors walked the forest site with power provider National Grid and assessed a number of alternative routes. It was an iterative approach to develop the centerline that was refined over several months as new layers of information were added on. The team mapped the topography using a combination of controlled stereo aerial photogrammetry by LaFave, White and McGivern, LS, PC and conventional field surveying methods in areas of dense trees. Private property boundary lines were established along the entire route of the transmission line. In certain areas, alternate routes were surveyed and mapped to assist in the decision as to which route best met the design criteria. A set of plan and profile drawings including digital orthophotos were prepared for the proposed electrical transmission lines along with more than 20 subdivision maps for the transmission line presented to two town planning boards.

Two important layers of information added to the basemap were wetlands investigation and archaeological surveys. C.T. Male's environmental department identified wetlands along the ETL corridor that were then field surveyed and added to the project basemap. Over two weeks, a team of two walked nearly nine miles of forest following the centerline stakes. Several changes were made to the ETL routes as a result. Karen Gaidasz, environmental scientist with C.T. Male, was a key member of the environmental team. "We did a field recon to look for wetlands [while taking into account] existing property lines and property owner considerations," she says.

The wetlands survey involved reviewing the staked 150-foot corridor to determine the existence of wetlands using the standard three-parameter approach of the 1987 Army Corps Wetlands Delineation. The environmental team investigated hydrophytic vegetation (plants that thrive in saturated environments), hydric (wet or saturated) soils and evidence of hydrology. If all three characteristics existed, they flagged the location and then field surveyed and updated the maps to reflect the area of concern.

Archaeological assessments also played a major role in the plotting of the utilities. C.T. Male surveyors staked known sensitive areas using the mapping-grade GPS receivers, and then plotted staked points on previously prepared topographic maps. A team from Hartgen Architectural Associates of Rensselaer, N.Y., led by Project Manager Adam Luscier, investigated potentially sensitive areas. Luscier's team analyzed more than 2,000 points and identified positive finds, which were field located and added to the project basemap. "Our process ensured that power lines, buildings and roads were not placed on areas possessing cultural or pre-historic significance," Luscier says.


During the summer of 2005, while C.T. Male teams were staking and surveying the ETL routes and preparing easement documents for the second closing of the 1,186 acres, the firm also mapped more than four miles of sewer lines. Again, aerial photogrammetry was used as the base of the topographic mapping. A detailed survey was undertaken in the field to identify any potential conflicts that the proposed 30'' four-mile long gravity sewer would encounter with existing infrastructure. Crews worked on establishing the rights of way for four town roads and the appropriated right of way of an existing state highway. The final 18-page plan and profile sheets were mapped at 1'' = 40' for proposed permitting and design. At times, five separate field crews and six office personnel were working on the project at the same time on different tasks.

The Keeper of the Data

"We didn't just survey the property," Liuzzo says. "We ended up being the keepers of all of the various maps and data. We produced and maintained the basemaps from which everyone will design from for the next five to 10 years." More than 8,500 labor hours have been spent on surveying this project. The project design is in full swing as engineers are designing roads, buildings and sewers from the mapping C.T. Male provided. "The folks at the Luther Forest Technology Campus are extremely sophisticated and in tune with every aspect of our work scope," Liuzzo says. "As a service to them we respond to their needs, consistently meeting their challenging deadlines. The project has presented one challenge after another and our staff always responds. It's what makes us tick."

LFTC Timeline

April 2001First ground and aerial flight
May - June 2004ALTA/ACSM survey Wright Malta (164 acres)
August 2004 - May 2005ALTA/ACSM survey remaining 1,186 acres
June - July 2005Preparation of closing documents
January 2005Sewer line survey
Spring 2005 - presentElectrical power line survey
OngoingArchaeological locations, onsite and offsite road stakeout

Interference Surveying

The site's intended use as a nanotechnology manufacturing plant created special challenges in the overall assessment of the property. Nanotechnology fabrication requires a geologically stable environment. The surrounding environment also must not produce any natural interference. An electromagnetic interference survey, radio frequency and vibration analysis were also conducted. Field surveyors assisted scientists by navigating to specific points on the property to take measurements and determine any possible interference with the proposed chip manufacturing processes and equipment.