Jones & Wagener celebrates 50 years of specialist consulting

Fifty years ago, Jones & Wagener (J&W) founders, Winston Jones and Dr Fritz Wagener, combined their expertise and skills to establish what has now become an iconic firm of consulting professional engineers and scientists in South Africa. “They believed that excellent technical skills coupled with professionalism and integrity were the key characteristics required for success. That ‘belief’ has not changed and today, 50 years on, I certainly believe that Jones & Wagener are still blessed with extraordinary employees,” says J&W CEO Dr Pierre van der Berg.

Founded on the 1st of November 1966, J&W offered specialist civil engineering consulting services to the construction, mining and industrial sectors. J&W’s expertise expanded when Dr Peter Day joined in 1979, bringing geotechnical engineering expertise to the company. Day became the first chairperson of the J&W board and, along with Danie Brink, the first CEO of the company, the two implemented a new and successful management structure.

Now, half a century on, J&W’s offering includes geotechnical engineering, waste and tailings engineering, environmental sciences and management, mining infrastructure, environmental engineering, hydrological and structural engineering specialities. “Over the years J&W has been privileged to offer specialist expertise from a remarkable team of people. It is these very people that made and continue to make J&W a distinguished company with admirable talent,” adds van der Berg.
Designing with geosynthetics
J&W first started specifying geotextiles in the 1970s to be used as a separation layer in underdrains of tailings dams. One of the first South African applications of geomembranes was also in the 1970s, when phosphor-gypsum tailings dam extensions near Rustenburg were lined with thin polyethylene sheets.

A significant milestone for the advance of geosynthetics in South Africa was the publication of the Minimum Requirements for Waste Disposal by Landfill in 1994 by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, which contained design requirements for lining and capping systems for both hazardous and general landfills.  Since 1994, J&W has been privileged to be involved in the design of numerous lined general and hazardous waste facilities across South Africa and beyond.  Some of the more challenging early projects were the reconstruction of the failed Bulbul Drive landfill and the construction of the extensions to the Shongweni landfill on the steep hillsides of KwaZulu Natal. 

These projects highlighted the danger of only focusing on liner configurations to provide optimal environmental protection, and ignoring fundamental geotechnical and shear interface considerations.
While the lining of landfills for hazardous, commercial, industrial and municipal wastes progressed significantly with the introduction and application of the Minimum Requirements first and second editions, these standards were not applied to power generation waste and mining residue facilities. With the promulgation of the National Environmental Management: Waste Act (NEMWA) in 2009, power generation waste was no longer excluded from the definition of waste in South Africa. J&W has since designed a number of lined ash disposal facilities, and undertaken site supervision and support for these often massive construction projects.

In August 2013, the National Norms and Standards for Disposal of Waste to Landfill were promulgated in terms of NEMWA, including updated containment barrier designs for landfills, along with additional minimum engineering design requirements.  Based on the draft norms and standards, J&W had, in consultation with several forward thinking clients, already incorporated the updated design requirements into a number of projects.

For example, the design for Holfontein Cell 9 was developed in accordance with the then draft norms and standards Class A barrier requirements and was approved in 2012. Construction of Cell 9 was completed in 2014, in line with the promulgated barrier requirements. Similarly, the construction of an extension to an industrial waste facility in Mpumalanga with Class A composite barriers was completed in 2015.
Holfontein Cell 9 under construction
Prior to 2014, residue stockpiles and residue deposits from mining activities were excluded from NEMWA. Exemption for these was removed from NEMWA in June 2014, as confirmed in February 2016. Regulations promulgated in July 2015 for residue stockpiles and residue deposits require that pollution control barriers for these facilities are defined by the National Norms and Standards for Disposal of Waste to Landfill.

While proposed amendments to these 2015 Regulations, published for comment on the 25th of November 2016, intend changing prescriptive barrier requirements to applying a risk-based approach, no amendments are proposed regarding the requirements for pollution control barrier design by a registered professional engineer.

J&W’s environmental, waste, tailings, and mining infrastructure specialists place the company in an excellent position to undertake integrated investigations, environmental impact assessments, risk analyses and designs for our clients’ residue stockpiles and residue deposits.

In addition to our waste facility lining expertise, J&W has considerable experience in the rehabilitation and capping of various facilities, and in the lining of dams, sumps, canals and other infrastructure.
We have also undertaken peer reviews of designs and stability assessments, investigated a number of liner failures, and made recommendations for the remediation of potentially unstable sites and rehabilitation of failures. The latter highlights the need for informed, responsible design incorporating geosynthetics in South Africa.

Involvement in the geosynthetics community
Building our knowledge base and networks has always been a key factor in J&W’s success, and our approach to geosynthetics is no different. J&W is the only South African owned consulting firm that belongs to the Geosynthetics Institute (GSI), based in the United States of America, which affords us access to results from GSI’s many research projects, publications and expertise.

Through our GSI membership; library and journal subscriptions; conference, seminar and webinar participation; involvement in GIGSA; and contact with reputable local and international geosynthetics industry players; J&W strives to remain up to date with developments, and to encourage skills and growth within the industry. An example is the recent development of a new geomembrane liner protection system for a client together with an international geosynthetics manufacturer.

J&W was one of the initial batch of benefactors to join GIGSA, and has had continuous representation on the GIGSA Committee since 1999, including two Presidents. We encourage our staff and others to become active GIGSA members, as GIGSA provides many benefits to the geosynthetics community.
J&W are committed to aligning South African national standards with international best practice. J&W representatives sit on key technical standards committees, such as the geosynthetics and geotechnical committees.  By playing a leading role in selected working groups, we strive to enhance the quality of national standards relevant to our specialisations.

Looking forward
J&W CEO Dr Pierre van der Berg notes, “We are celebrating 50 years of engineering excellence in South Africa. We are excited about the next 50 years. We are optimistic. Our investment into advanced technologies and disciplines puts us at the forefront of our profession.”

Awards & Achievements