Month: April 2015

Asset Management – Condition Assessment

Today, John Jackman, P.E. and Ben Horner, P.L.S. continued our Asset Management Series with a discussion on Condition Assessment. This presentation covers the differences between inspection and assessment; the benefits of knowing the condition; basics to developing a standard condition assessment; and estimating the existing useful life of various assets. Presented are examples of standard condition forms as well as our use of these forms to complete condition assessment for our clients.

Presidential Power Sways Environmental Perception

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Who would you say was one of the most significant environmental Presidents? Would it surprise you if I told you I think it is Richard Nixon? Yes, the only US President to resign from office, and who commonly made such un-eco-friendly statements as comparing environmentalists to a bunch of animals, was also the President who signed into creation the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969. This was one of the first laws that established the legislative framework for protecting the environment, outlined national environmental policies and goals, and developed the Presidential Council on Environment (now known as the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)) within the executive office. NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate our national environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental, human and social impacts of their proposed actions as well as the reasonable alternatives to those actions.

In 1970, President Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Before the agency was created, our nation had no central authority overseeing the protection of the environment. Shortly afterwards, he signed into effect the Clean Air Act Extension. This is one of the most significant air pollution control bills in American history. It required the newly formed EPA to create and enforce regulations to protect people from airborne pollution known to be hazardous to human health, specifically targeting sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone and lead.

President Nixon also signed into effect the Endangered Species Act (1973) creating the concept of preserving species and their habitats listed as threatened and endangered; this act has been called “the Magna Carta of the environmental movement.”

Finally, in the midst of his impeachment concerns, Nixon also proposed and lobbied through Congress the Safe Drinking Water Act that was ultimately signed by President Gerald Ford in 1974. This act initiated national efforts to protect the nation’s lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and other bodies of water. It is fundamental in protecting aquatic resources including public drinking water supplies.

It comes as no surprise that during such an important environmental awareness period the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed the idea of a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media and ultimately gathered a national staff of 85 to promote events across the country. On that first Earth Day over 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in many wonderfully creative ways.

In the 45 years since the origin of NEPA and these other ground-breaking legislations, environmental protection and regulation has become extensive and complex. In my role as Environmental Coordinator, I work hard to ensure our clients and projects comply with the applicable laws and regulations that govern our projects. I work to guide projects from preliminary design through construction and operation while successfully acquiring the relevant federal and state environmental permits, including NEPA compliance for impacts to streams, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and state- and federally-listed species, among others.

Earth Day 2015 will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the event that raised environmental issues awareness to unprecedented heights and brought the concept of working towards a cleaner and safer nation from a wild “hippie” idea to mainstream citizens. For more information on how you can participate in Earth Day celebrations and events visit Earth Day Network.

A Resident Project Representative’s Perspective – Civil Engineers as ‘civil’ engineers

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Recently while on-site, I was helping train a summer intern.  In describing what I do in the field vs. what she was learning in the classroom, one thing that came up was how I handle mitigating public complaints – definitely experience you don’t gain in the classroom, but also something rarely discussed there either.  How I explained it to her, in general, was that we are Civil Engineers by education, but when we are dealing with public complaints we are called upon to be ‘civil’ engineers.

As RPRs, we serve as the face of our clients, who in our field are more often than not public agencies –DOTs, municipalities, airports, and the like – that people rely on to provide them with clean water, handle their refuse, and provide safe roads and bridges to accommodate their travel from “point A” to “point B”, among other things. Every construction project has its share of challenges, but when it’s a public infrastructure project there is often more scrutiny from the public eye as it is their money funding the project and they have more of a stake in the final outcome.  RPRs are the civil engineers fielding the public concerns when there are “cracks in the driveway from blasting”, “sediment in the pond from digging”, or “no more trees screening my view from the highway”. We often hear from impassioned abutters who never had this problem before the “Town decided to re-do the bridge” or the “State decided to widen the highway”, and so on and so forth.

The complaints don’t come in when there’s a lull in construction; they often come in first thing on a Monday when everyone is trying to get organized for the busy week ahead.  They come in during the critical part of an operation.  They come in at the very end of a long day when the thoughts of the day’s activities can’t seem to wait any longer to make it into the daily report.  This is when we must remember to be ‘civil’ engineers by putting aside the stresses of the day to address the public with a thoughtful ear.  We must express a general concern for what the issue is, regardless of how minute or outlandish it may sound.  We must remind ourselves that it is difficult for most people to “see the forest through the trees”, especially well into the middle of a project when the area looks nothing like its former self, and a shadow of the finished product.  The concerned neighbor and the irate business owner are not focused on what the plan says (nor are most trained in reading the plan); they care about the immediate impact of the current construction effort.

By representing our clients in a ‘civil’ manor, we offer inflamed abutters a professional courtesy, and portray our clients’ intentions to address the issue at hand.  In some cases, this alone is enough to allay their fears – knowing that the project isn’t carrying on in a wonton fashion, but rather under watchful scrutiny.  Whether that neighbor is being cooperative or difficult, whether that business owner is being reasonable or unreasonable, we must remain ‘civil’ in our handling of their concerns – especially when we are tired, our patience is worn thin, and other situations on-site are demanding our attention.  To do otherwise would be a disservice to our clients, our profession, and the public we serve, and dare I say ‘uncivilized’.

RPR, or Resident Project Representative, is the general term for an inspector, resident engineer, contract administrator, clerk of the works, etc.; basically the field person responsible for ensuring that a project is constructed per the Contract Plans and Specifications and reporting back to the Owner.

Asset Management – Inventory

As part of our Asset Management Series, today we discussed – Inventory. To share their knowledge on the subject, John Jackman, P.E. and Heidi Lemay present the process; associated questions; available data; organization, data management and collection tips; and project examples of how inventory has been collected on our various asset management projects.

Click here to view the Introduction to Asset Management presentation completed last week.

Introduction to Asset Management

Recently, John Jackman, P.E. and Carl Quiram, P.E. administered the Introduction to Asset Management  presentation discussing the basic principles presented in our Continuum of Asset Management post, as it relates to public works. This presentation will assist viewers in understanding the basic steps of a successful Asset Management program to help develop the process. A basic understanding of the asset management principles can assist decision makers in creating a successful and supported program.

This presentation is the first in our asset management series discussing each of the principles in depth.

A Resident Project Represenative’s Perspective – Civil Engineers as ‘civil’ engineers

Construction of Sidewalks

Recently while on-site, I was helping train a summer intern.  In describing what I do in the field vs. what she was learning in the classroom, one thing that came up was how I handle mitigating   public complaints – definitely experience you don’t gain in the classroom, but also something rarely discussed there either.  How I explained it to her, in general, was that we are Civil Engineers by education, but when we are dealing with public complaints we are called upon to be ‘civil’ engineers.

Parking Lot Construction As RPRs, we serve as the face of our clients, who in our field are more often than not public agencies –DOTs, municipalities, airports, and the like – that people rely on to provide them with clean water, handle their refuse, and provide safe roads and bridges to accommodate their travel from “point A” to “point B”, among other things. Every construction project has its share of challenges, but when it’s a public infrastructure project there is often more scrutiny from the public eye as it is their money funding the project and they have more of a stake in the final outcome.  RPRs are the civil engineers fielding the public concerns when there are “cracks in the driveway from blasting”, “sediment in the pond from digging”, or “no more trees screening my view from the highway”. We often hear from impassioned abutters who never had this problem before the “Town decided to re-do the bridge” or the “State decided to widen the highway”, and so on and so forth.

Utilities Construction Along Rt 28The complaints don’t come in when there’s a lull in construction; they often come in first thing on a Monday when everyone is trying to get organized for the busy week ahead.  They come in during the critical part of an operation.  They come in at the very end of a long day when the thoughts of the day’s activities can’t seem to wait any longer to make it into the daily report.  This is when we must remember to be ‘civil’ engineers by putting aside the stresses of the day to address the public with a thoughtful ear.  We must express a general concern for what the issue is, regardless of how minute or outlandish it may sound.  We must remind ourselves that it is difficult for most people to “see the forest through the trees”, especially well into the middle of a project when the area looks nothing like its former self, and a shadow of the finished product.  The concerned neighbor and the irate business owner are not focused on what the plan says (nor are most trained in reading the plan); they care about the immediate impact of the current construction effort.

By representing our clients in a ‘civil’ manor, we offer inflamed abutters a professional courtesy, and portray our clients’ intentions to address the issue at hand.  In some cases, this alone is enough to allay their fears – knowing that the project isn’t carrying on in a wonton fashion, but rather under watchful scrutiny.  Whether that neighbor is being cooperative or difficult, whether that business owner is being reasonable or unreasonable, we must remain ‘civil’ in our handling of their concerns – especially when we are tired, our patience is worn thin, and other situations on-site are demanding our attention.  To do otherwise would be a disservice to our clients, our profession, and the public we serve, and dare I say ‘uncivilized’.

RPR, or Resident Project Representative, is the general term for an inspector, resident engineer, contract administrator, clerk of the works, etc.; basically the field person responsible for ensuring that a project is constructed per the Contract Plans and Specifications and reporting back to the Owner.