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Q&A: Talking with Max Blakemore, Senior Engineering Geologist

Max talks about his role as a senior engineering geologist on New Zealand’s largest ever wastewater project, the Central Interceptor, what it’s like delivering such an iconic project and what he enjoys most about being part of #OurJacobs.

At Jacobs, we think differently about the future because today’s challenges demand innovative approaches to deliver a more connected, sustainable world. With a fierce commitment to the spaces we inhabit, both globally and environmentally, we’re continually reinvigorating our efforts to be responsible stewards of the natural world, as we contribute forward-thinking sustainable solutions for our clients.

In this series of Q&As, we’re getting to know members of our Jacobs team working on the iconic Central Interceptor project, the largest wastewater tunnel in New Zealand, to deliver healthier waterways and beaches for Aucklanders.

This time, we asked Max Blakemore about his role as a senior engineering geologist on the Central Interceptor project, what it's like delivering such an iconic project, and what he enjoys about being part of #OurJacobs.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career with Jacobs so far.

After finishing a master’s degree in Engineering Geology at the University of Leeds, England, I joined Halcrow Group Limited in England. Halcrow was acquired by CH2M Hill in 2013. The acquisition provided a world of opportunities that I was keen to explore. No sooner had I set up my desk in the Warrington office, was I off to Qatar to oversee geotechnical investigation on the Inner Doha Re-Sewerage Implementation Strategy (IDRIS). After nine months, my time in the desert dried up and I moved back to Warrington to work on a package of water and wastewater projects in the north of England.

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to take a sabbatical leave and travel throughout South America, Canada, China, Indonesia and Nepal. On return to work, I spent the next few years primarily working on the M6 J2-J4 Smart Motorway Project in England. Here I managed geotechnical investigation, established ground models, and coordinated staff in our Warrington and Krakow offices to develop earthwork and retaining wall solutions that enabled the road corridor to be widened as it passed around Coventry. 

In 2017 Jacobs acquired CH2M, and it wasn’t long before I started seeking more opportunities to work abroad. In 2019 I moved to the southern hemisphere. I’ve been lucky to work in Sydney on the Shoalhaven Pumped Hydro Expansion Project and Auckland, where I now work on the construction management team for Central Interceptor.

What got you interested in a STEAM career?

An affinity for the outdoors. I’ve found that a career in engineering geology strikes a balance between office- and site-based work that suits me well.

Tell us about your role on the Central Interceptor project.

I wear two hats.

As a site engineer, I review the constructability of the Contractor’s temporary works designs, monitor compliance of the Contractor’s construction against permanent design specifications and promote health, safety, and sustainability on site.

As an engineering geologist, I map the ground conditions encountered during excavation and use the data to make a fair assessment of contractor claims; I sit on the Excavation Review Group, who agree on the ground support required to keep workers safe during excavation; and I review the suite of instrumentation positioned around each shaft to monitor convergence, groundwater drawdown and ground settlement. 

TBM naming
Central Interceptor Tunnel Boring Machine named ‘Hiwa-i-te-Rangi.’ Hiwa-i-te-Rangi is a star which marks the Māori New Year. Māori believe the Hiwa-i-te-Rangi star represents good fortune for the coming year. Photograph courtesy of Simon Runting, Watercare Services Limited.

Jacobs’ ability to mobilize talent globally sets us apart in our industry. Can you tell us more about this in the context of this project?

As the Engineer’s Professional Engineering Advisor for Central Interceptor, Jacobs draws upon the experience of my colleagues who’ve worked on similar projects constructed in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The melting pot of people creates a team keen to learn from one another and challenge the accepted.

What has been your most memorable moment delivering this project so far and why?

The celebration held at May Road, Auckland, marking the launch of Domenica - the micro-tunnel boring machine. It was lovely to see family and friends of those actually constructing the shaft and micro-tunnel being given an opportunity to see where their parent, relative or friend works.

What has been the most challenging part about delivering this project and how have you overcome this?

Being on the forefront of research into risks posed by Erionite – a naturally occurring asbestiform zeolite mineral found in volcanic ash.

Our tunneling and ground engineering team in New Zealand delivered a series of practical construction controls to mitigate risks associated with inhalation of Erionite fibers, which have been implemented across the Central Interceptor construction sites.

What’s the next exciting project milestone you’re looking forward to? 

I’m looking forward to the micro-tunnel boring machine (mTBM) daylighting at Haycock Avenue shaft, as this will mark the completion of the first mTBM drive.

Tell us about your proudest career moment.

Seeing designs constructed is satisfying, but I consider those a result of team effort. Moments where I’ve been personally proud are usually quite small, such as safely evacuating drill sites when risks arise or sticking to my guns when facing pressure from contractors and clients. 

On the road to Queenstown bike park
On the road to Queenstown bike park, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Max Blakemore.

If you aren’t in the office or on-site, what would we most likely find you doing?

Mountain biking, hanging with friends at the beach or looking for second-hand records.  

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

Meeting new colleagues around the world; many become dear friends. 

Join #OurJacobs team

What drives you drives us as we work to build a better world – together. At Jacobs, every day is an opportunity to make the world better, more connected, more sustainable.

We’re always looking for dynamic and engaged people to join our team. Bring your passion, your ingenuity and your vision. Let’s see the impact we can create, together.

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