Geotechnical Icon


With its reliance on judgment and practical experience, geotechnical engineering is as much an art as it is a science. It is considered a branch of Civil Engineering concerned with the interaction of earth materials, groundwater, and environmental effects with construction works on or below the ground surface. Today’s practitioners take advantage of sophisticated modeling techniques, laboratory testing, and geotechnical monitoring to add scientific basis for developing safe and cost effective solutions. Not lost along the way are the valuable lessons learned from case histories and the importance of solutions that meet measurable or predictable performance expectations.

TREK has a team of highly skilled geotechnical specialists with design and construction backgrounds on projects in many geographical locations and unique geological conditions. This experience is called upon to develop project specific site investigations and design approaches that are suited to geological conditions, anticipated construction techniques, and short and long term performance requirements.

  • Site Characterisation
  • Foundation Engineering
  • Riverbanks and Erosion
  • Excavations and Shoring
  • Water Retention and Dams
  • Waste Containment Facilities
  • Bridges and Embankments

TREK Site Characterisation

Site Characterisation

Site characterization is the first step in design of any geotechnical system. The objective of a site characterization program is to explore, sample and test geological materials and monitor groundwater conditions in order to develop an understanding of the site conditions, predict soil behavior in response to construction works, and to quantify project risks. While the techniques for investigation are diverse, TREK can select the most appropriate drilling, coring and sampling techniques, as well as in-situ and laboratory tests to provide cost-effective information sufficient for geotechnical design.

Our services specific to site characterization include:

  • Supervising sub-surface investigations and in-situ testing
  • Classification of soil and groundwater conditions
  • Core logging and geological classification of bedrock
  • Laboratory testing of soil and rock index properties
  • Advanced laboratory testing (oedometer, triaxial, and permeability tests)
  • Geotechnical instrumentation including slope inclinometers, piezometers, thermistors and settlement plates
  • Mapping of sub-surface data using GIS systems

TREK Foundation Engineering

Foundation Engineering

The design of foundations for structures involves an assessment of sub-surface conditions and the capacity of geological materials to support gravity and dynamic loads transferred from the structure. Foundation engineering involves a broad knowledge of geology, soil and rock mechanics, as well as soil-structure interaction in order to predict how the engineered and natural materials will interact. Where geotechnical conditions are unfavorable, alternatives that involve ground improvement such as rockfill columns, deep soil mixing, or grouting can be employed to strengthen the subgrade and increase foundation capacity.

Our services specific to foundation engineering include:

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Limit States Design and Working Stress Design
  • Design and construction of shallow foundations (footings, thickened-edge slabs, rafts, mats)
  • Design and construction of deep foundations (driven piles, cast-in-place, helical, rock-socketed piles)
  • Load-displacement evaluation, finite-element analysis and down-drag assessment
  • Numerical pile analyses (lateral loading, load-displacement, drivability)
  • High-strain dynamic load testing (PDA testing and CAPWAP analysis)
  • Design of static load testing programs
  • Design for ad-freezing, permafrost, and frost protection
  • Forensic evaluations
  • Foundation construction observation

TREK Riverbanks and Erosion

Riverbanks and Erosion

Natural slopes along rivers and lakes are continuously subjected to environmental conditions that can be destructive. These include wind, wave action, stream flow, and rainfall which can result in land loss through erosion or slope movements, which often pose a risk to infrastructure such as buildings, buried utilities, roads and bridges. Slope and erosion assessments involve developing a thorough understanding of soil stratigraphy, erosion protection, shear strengths as well as water / groundwater levels. Proper risk management to such natural hazards involves the use of the most appropriate and/or sophisticated investigation techniques and analysis methods to interpret how slopes will behave under imposed loads. Our approach to these problems has proven success on numerous remedial bank stabilization and erosion protection works of varying scale for public and private clients.

Our services related to riverbanks and erosion include:

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Instrumentation and monitoring of slope movements and groundwater conditions
  • Finite-element seepage and stress analysis
  • Limit-equilibrium slope stability analysis
  • Probabilistic slope stability analysis for specialized applications
  • Construction drawing and specification development, tendering and contract administration
  • Quality assurance inspection of earthworks, slope stabilization, erosion protection and ground improvement works

TREK Excavations and Shoring

Excavations and Shoring

Temporary excavations and shoring are often required in construction. The stability of temporary excavations and shoring is dependent on soil and groundwater conditions, the size, shape and depth of the excavation, and the duration that the excavation will remain open. Additionally, an understanding of potential impacts to adjacent structures and complicated soil-structure interactions related to retaining walls all need to be considered. We work closely with our clients to provide a solution that best manages risks in a cost effective fashion.

Our services related to excavation and shoring include:

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Slope stability analysis and design of stabilization works
  • Provision of lateral earth pressures for cantilevered and braced shoring
  • Reinforced earth structures
  • Excavation and shoring construction observation
  • Ground displacement and vibration monitoring

TREK Water Retention and Dams

Water Retention and Dams

Water retention structures and dams are required in mining, flood protection, irrigation, and hydro- electric projects. These structures are often expensive and have very high consequences in the event of failure. The long term performance of any water retaining structure requires that designs protect against internal erosion, settlement/overtopping, slope movements and surface erosion. Dam safety guidelines are tending towards probabilistic assessments of geotechnical reliability, therefore requiring advanced statistical knowledge and unique probabilistic analyses to either qualitatively or quantitatively address the probability and consequences of dam failures.

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Advanced finite element modelling (seepage and deformation)
  • Limit equilibrium slope stability assessments
  • Laboratory testing (hydraulic and mechanical properties),
  • Instrumentation installation and monitoring
  • Construction inspection and field testing
  • Dam safety reviews
  • Probabilistic slope stability analysis
  • Observational approach for design and construction

TREK Waste Containment Facilities

Waste Containment Facilities

Waste containment facilities are used to prevent the migration of potentially hazardous materials into the surrounding environment. Examples of such facilities are tailings dams, Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), hazardous waste or non-hazardous waste landfills and waste water lagoons. The embankments and liners that make up these facilities are typically designed to strict standards given the risks associated with their failure. In this regard, geotechnical input is required during embankment design and construction to determine safe side slopes, embankment compaction requirements and remedial measures when excessive settlements are possible. Similarly, liners for these facilities must meet project and regulatory requirements, whether natural (in-situ) or engineered (e.g. HDPE, GCL, etc.) and geotechnical quality control is integral in meeting these requirements.

Our services related to waste containment facilities include:

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Aerial photography interpretation, borrow source investigation and quantity estimates
  • Laboratory testing (compaction, permeability)
  • Geotechnical instrumentation (piezometers, settlement sensors)
  • Stress-deformation and slope stability analysis
  • Geotechnical input to closure plans and cover design
  • Mobile quality control soils laboratory and field compaction testing
  • Construction Quality Assurance inspection of HDPE Geomembranes, GCL and BGM liners

TREKBridges and Embankments

Bridges and Embankments

Bridges are unique structures that involve numerous facets of geotechnical engineering. Issues related to structural design such as span lengths and girder depths must be balanced with river hydraulic considerations including ice loading, flood frequency and conveyance requirements, as well as geotechnical factors including embankment settlement, slope stability and foundation constructability and capacity. Soil-structure interaction is a key consideration for deep foundations within settling embankments, where advanced finite-element modelling of embankment consolidation settlement, mitigation works and associated effects such as pile down-drag must be employed. High-strain dynamic testing of piles using the Pile Driving Analyser (PDA) is a rapidly expanding area of geotechnical engineering whereby driving stresses, pile integrity and load capacity are confirmed during pile installation, for which higher factored resistances can be assumed in recognition of greater quality control during foundation installation.

Our services related to bridges and embankments include:

  • Geotechnical site characterization
  • Laboratory testing (advanced strength, consolidation)
  • Geotechnical instrumentation (settlement sensors, piezometers)
  • Embankment consolidation analysis (1-dimensional and finite-element)
  • Design of settlement mitigation works (wick drains and ground improvement)
  • Slope stability analysis and design of stabilization works
  • Limit States Design (LSD) and Allowable Stress Design (ASD) of foundations
  • Excavations and shoring
  • Reinforced earth structures
  • Observation of construction (foundations, slope stabilization, ground improvement)
  • Materials testing (soil compaction, concrete, asphalt)

James Blatz, Ph.D., P.Eng., FEC

President and CEO
Senior Geotechnical Engineer

James Blatz is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and founding partner at TREK with 20 years of experience in consulting and applied research. James provides technical support and project management on geotechnical projects for diverse projects across our market sectors. He specializes in numerical modeling of soil behaviour including finite element stress deformation, seepage, thermal and multi-phase flow applications as well as interpretation of soil behaviour from laboratory testing. James has extensive experience as a technical design reviewer on major projects such as the Keeyask Work Camp foundation design and construction, the Red River Floodway Expansion, the Fort Hills Ore Processing Facility design, the Ste. Adolphe Emergency Bridge Rehabilitation and as a technical expert on a number of legal claims and formal alternative dispute resolution processes. James also has extensive research experience in the areas of geosynthetic soil reinforcement, ground improvement techniques, temporary flood protection products and probabilistic slope stability analysis. James is President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at TREK and a key member of TREK’s leadership team.

Nelson Ferreira, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Senior Vice-President and COO
Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Nelson Ferreira is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and founding partner at TREK with over 16 years of experience practicing in Manitoba, western Canada and the North. His experience involves earthworks, riverbanks and bridges including the Red River Floodway expansion, the Distance Early Warning (DEW-Line), and several East Side Road projects (both roads and bridges). Nelson completed an M.Sc. in geotechnical engineering in 2002 studying the effects of unsaturated soils on the stability of cutting slopes. In 2016, he completed his Ph.D. in geotechnical engineering examining the risk to buried gas pipelines subjected to ground movements (landslides). Nelson specializes in geotechnical investigations, construction management, erosion protection, materials, and engineering in remote locations. Nelson is Senior Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer (COO) and a key member of TREK’s leadership team.

Michael Van Helden, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Vice-President Finance and CFO
Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Michael Van Helden is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and founding partner at TREK with over 10 years of experience. He specializes in numerical modeling and design of slope stabilization works, the use of probabilistic methods in geotechnical engineering, and the design, construction and testing of deep foundations. Michael has lead the design and construction of foundations for dozens of bridge and culvert structures in Manitoba and Ontario. Michael manages dynamic pile load testing services at TREK, and has provided PDA testing and CAPWAP analysis on numerous structures. He achieved the rank of Intermediate on the Dynamic Measurement and Analysis Proficiency Test for PDA testing. Michael was the project manager and lead geotechnical engineer for some notable projects, including the replacement of the 1st Street Bridge in Brandon, Manitoba, which includes driven steel pile and drilled shaft foundations in clay shale. Michael was recognized for his career achievements with the APEGM Early Achievement Award in 2013. Michael is a Vice-President and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and a key member of TREK’s leadership team.

Kent Bannister, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Vice-President Engineering and CTO
Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Kent Bannister is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and partner at TREK having worked in the geotechnical engineering field for 18 years in both the private and public sectors. His consulting experience has included positions in Manitoba and Alberta, and he also served as the Head of Manitoba Hydro’s Geotechnical Engineering Section for several years. Kent experience is diverse, ranging from dam safety, to mine waste containment, heavy industrial foundations and riverbank stabilization projects. Since joining TREK in 2012, Kent has been the project lead for several large design-build or PPP infrastructure and energy projects, including the Keeyask Generation Station Work Camp foundations, Winnipeg’s Southwest Rapid Transit Stage 2 project, the Riel Converter Station Synchronous Condensers foundations, and the McOrmond and Boychuk Interchanges in Saskatoon. Kent contributed to TREK’s rapid growth and joined the ownership team and Board of Directors in 2013; Kent is now a Vice-President and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and a key member of our leadership team.

Ken Skaftfeld, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Ken Skaftfeld is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and partner at TREK and has over 30 years of experience. Ken specializes in slope stabilization, engineering in peat and muskeg, and cold regions engineering. Throughout his career, Ken has contributed to projects in Western Canada, North-western Ontario, the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Ken has diverse experience in the public and private sectors, including work on railways, roads, bridges, mine tailings facilities, dams, slope stabilization and erosion protection. Some notable projects Ken has worked on include Decommissioning of DEW-Line sites in the Canadian arctic, as well as Dike Upgrading works at the Farley and Fox mine sites in Lynn Lake, Manitoba. Kens impact on TREK’s practice has been invaluable and he joined the ownership team and Board of Directors in 2013.

Brent Hay, P.Eng.

Director, Corporate Secretary
Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Brent Hay is a Senior Geotechnical Engineer and partner at TREK and has nine years of geotechnical and geo-environmental consulting experience. The extent of his work includes project management, contract administration and the geotechnical design and analysis for various projects throughout Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nunavut. Brent’s projects have included civil infrastructure and remediation of contaminated sites, foundation design for bridges and structures, community flood protection works and slope stabilization and rehabilitation works. Major projects Brent has been involved with include various Dew Line Clean Up Project sites in Northern Canada, the Keeyask Generating Station Work Camp Construction, the Keewatinohk Bi-Pole III Converter Station, and the Former Snow Lake Mine Site Surface Capping System in Northern Manitoba. Brent joined TREK in 2011 and has been on the ownership team and Board of Directors since 2014.

Ryan Belbas, M.Sc., P.Eng.

Senior Geotechnical Engineer

Ryan Belbas is a Geotechnical Engineer with 10 years of consulting experience. Ryan has extensive experience in construction, having observed the installation of thousands of piles, as well as high-strain dynamic load testing (PDA testing) of hundreds more. Since joining TREK in 2014, Ryan served as Lead Geotechnical Engineer and Project Manager on numerous projects, including the Ness Avenue Replacement Bridge over the Sturgeon Creek. Ryan has provided construction observation of rock-socketed caissons in Winnipeg at several sites, including the Riel Converter Station, and participated in the first Osterberg-cell load test in Wininpeg.

Jim Friesen

Jim Friesen, P.Eng.

Manager of Water Resource Engineering
Senior Water Resource Engineer

Jim Friesen is a Senior Hydro-technical Engineer and Manager of TREK’s Water Resources group and has 20 years of experience. Jim has provided hydrologic and hydraulic analysis and designs to urban, rural and First Nation Clients in Water Resources and Municipal Engineering. His services have been applied to hydraulic modelling; infrastructure design; flood protection development; technical investigations; mine water management, environmental protection designs; Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis; economic cost benefit studies; and provision of resident engineering services relating to the design and construction of municipal infrastructure, drainage and shoreline protection. Jim joined TREK in 2017 to lead a new Water Resource Engineering group to complement our established geotechnical practice.

Bruce Harding, P.Eng.,

Senior Water Resource Engineer

Bruce Harding is a Senior Hydraulic Engineer at TREK and has 28 years of hydraulic engineering experience on water resources related projects. Bruce has considerable experience in hydraulic structure design, having participated in the design of various spillways, control structures, fishways, bridges and box culverts for numerous clients. Bruce has developed designs to provide habitat (fishery) compensation to mitigate habitat disruption and loss at numerous projects. After 12 years as a sole practitioner, TREK acquired Bruce Harding Consulting in 2017 to form a new water resources group under Bruce’s technical oversight.