On July 19, civic engineer David Thaler, a lifelong Baltimore resident and member of the Jewish community, will be presented with the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Award at the NSPE 2019 Conference in Kansas City. The award, according to the NSPE website, is given to “an engineer who has made outstanding contributions to the engineering profession, the public welfare, and humankind.”
As a recipient, Thaler will be with esteemed company. Past winners include U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who had an accomplished and lucrative career as a mining engineer before his presidency, and renowned structural engineer David Steinman, who most notably engineered the Mackinaw Bridge that connects Michigan’s north and south peninsulas.
Thaler grew up in Northwest Baltimore and attended Pimlico Junior High School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Most of his friends, he said, became lawyers, but he began working for his father in construction. In 1976, Thaler founded D.S. Thaler & Assoc., LLC, a civil engineering firm where he serves as managing principal. The firm has designed more than 4,000 residential, commercial, industrial and institutional land development assignments, including Beth Tfiloh Elderly Housing, Rockland Ridge, Stevenson Crossing and The Gates of Owings Mills Apartments.
“We tend to get the most complex, difficult, environmentally sensitive and politically sensitive projects,” Thaler said. “Those tend to be the ones that come to us.”
For instance, Thaler’s firm is working on a project called The Villages of White Marsh Run in White Marsh, Maryland. The project sits on 120 acres of land next to White Marsh Mall, and the firm will need to demolish and rebuild a church before construction. On top of that, Thaler said the main water line that comes from the Susquehanna River is at “the worst possible spot on the site.” They are also redeveloping the Sparrow’s Point Country Club, which involves moving nine of its 27 golf hole and adding 200 housing units. The site sits directly next to Bear Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s extremely environmentally sensitive,” Thaler said.
One of Thaler’s claims to fame is his invention of the Super Silt Fence — chain link fences covered by a blanket of synthetic filter fiber that line the perimeters of construction sites to prevent erosion and sediment run off. The idea for the fence, which is now an international standard for most construction sites, was inspired by a worksite on Falls Road that Thaler and his firm worked on in the 1980s.
“Rockland Ridge on Falls Road is up on the top of a hill just north of Old Pimlico Road. Right here in our own backyard,” Thaler said. “We were engineering that in 1989 and because it was on such a steep hill, we couldn’t get the sediment control to work. There was no tool in the toolbox to keep the Jones Falls, which was right below the site, from getting polluted by the construction activities.”
During a conference Thaler envisioned connecting fiber blankets to a structural frame rather than having them stand only supported by wooden pegs, “and the rest is history,” he said.
More than a decade later, Thaler felt inspired after 9/11 to provide relief for the National Guard by creating the Maryland Emergency Engineer Response Team consisting of 20 professional engineers volunteering for the Maryland Defense Force to provide engineering back up in times of emergency. After eight years of service, he retired as a colonel.
Though his accomplishments are plenty — he also discovered the tripod instrument that Mason and Dixon used to establish north and south parameters in the U.S., and is a skilled bag pipe player — Thaler feels humbled to accept an honor as prestigious as the NSPE Award.
“It’s very improbable that a local boy who focuses mainly on issues in Baltimore and Baltimore County and Maryland would have such national recognition,” Thaler said. “I’m honored and humbled to stand in the shadows of the greats who won this award.”