Burns Cooley Dennis, Inc. didn’t write the book on geo-technical engineering in Mississippi but not many can dispute the firm hasn’t penned a few chapters.
The Ridgeland-based geotechnical and materials consulting company is the largest in the state and was founded in 1985 by Cecil Burns, Larry Cooley and David Dennis. Prior to forming BCD, the trio worked in various capacities with the Vicksburg district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC).
Cooley served as the branch director of the CoE’s Geotechnical division for several years.
“They wanted to see what they could do in the private sector and initially formed Burns Engineering before the name was changed to BCD,” said current BCD vice-president Tommy Dunlap. “Though Mr. Burns has passed away, both Mr. Cooley and Mr. Dennis remain in emeritus roles with the firm and work occasionally on a contract basis.”
Geotechnical engineering, you ask? Well, you can thank a geo-tech engineer for certifying the supports on the state’s bridges you cross every day, not to mention the numerous earthen dams and levees in Mississippi that store drinking water and prevent flooding.
It’s all in a day’s work at Burns Cooley Dennis, Inc. – monitoring, testing, analyzing and designing the soil that supports the foundations of buildings, bridges, dams, pavements and civil works.
However, the firm also specializes in construction testing, which entails testing soils, concrete and steel that go into large projects such as highways, bridges and large manufacturing plants, among others. Revenue for BCD is approximately $8 million annually.
Two of BCD’s most notable projects have become iconic landmarks in the state.
“We performed all the geo-tech work for construction of the Nissan plant in Canton, as well as the Hwy. 90 Bay Bridge that connects Biloxi and Ocean Springs on the coast,” said Dunlap. “Our work is split about 50/50 between geotechnical and construction testing
“We’re a small firm but we’re able to compete with national companies that may have 2-4,000 employees. BCD is big enough to handle the largest of projects.”
With offices in Ridgeland, Hernando, Hattiesburg and Starkville, BCD employs 61 full-time workers, including 15 engineers - three of whom hold PhDs.
Expansive soils, those comprised of clay with a high degree of volumetric change as its soil moisture content changes, are prevalent in Mississippi. It’s estimated that there are over 5.4 million acres containing some type of expansive soil in the state.
A large portion of BCD’s billable hours are attributable to those destructive soils, said Dunlap.
“Expansive clays exist all over the state – Ripley, Kosciusko and central Mississippi, and the Delta to name a few,” he said. “There is a built-in cost for construction in areas with expansive clay.
“You have to dig out the bad stuff and put in the good stuff.”
Yazoo clay is probably the most infamous and problematic of the state’s expansive soils. The formation is said to run entirely or partially beneath cities such as Jackson, Flowood, Madison, Clinton, Yazoo City, Forest and Morton.
“Yazoo clay is very microscopic – it’s very fine with a lot of surface area and so miniscule you can’t see it with the naked eye,” Dunlap said. “It’s a marine deposit from thousands of years ago. In comparison, the Mississippi Delta is comprised of what we call ‘gumbo’. It’s a fresh water deposit but not as expansive as Yazoo clay, which is the worst clay-type.”
In early 2021, BCD acquired SoilTech Consultants, a former affiliate of Neel-Schaffer. BCD and Neel-Shaffer share a long history of collaboration and have teamed together on nearly 30 projects in the past five years.
Dunlap said the acquisition is a win-win for both companies.
“Acquiring SoilTech has allowed us to geographically expand our presence in the Memphis and Golden Triangle region of the state, as well as the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said. “We’ve always enjoyed a great relationship with (Neel-Schaffer) and the purchase is in the best interest of both firms.”
Asked about further expansion of BCD, Dunlap said if the opportunity presented itself, the company would welcome the chance to expand outside the state.
“However, expansion is not something we dwell on,” he said. “We’ve been approached by numerous larger companies with offers to purchase the firm but they’ve been rejected.
“We have more than enough work right here in Mississippi and BCD will continue to offer the best in geotechnical engineering services.”