Posts filed under ‘Failing US Infrastructure’

Questions Of The Month – Final Tallies Revealed

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc.
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Each month at CivilEngineeringCentral.com we have a Question of the Month.  This question is posted on our home page and is included in each issue of  “The LinkedIngineer” as well as our monthly e-newsletter which is sent out to nearly 10,000 members of the civil engineering community (If you would like to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter please click HERE…sorry, couldn’t pass up that free plug).   It’s been a while since we have posted the results, so in light of that (plus the fact that I have struggled to come up with anything else),  check out the results below.   If you see any surprising results in there or feel the urge to comment about any of the topics please feel free to do so.

MAY 2009

DID YOU SEE AN INCREASE IN PROJECTS IN YOUR COMPANY DURING THE FIRST QUARTER OF 2009?

83.1%     No
16.9%     Yes

Just yesterday I was speaking with  a colleague of mine who commented on a report he had just watched on MSNBC. They were discussing the question “where did all the stimulus go?”   Most of it of course is going to construction; all those projects that we have come to love and know as…shovel ready. What seemed like a lot of money initially, when spread out over the entire United States, seems to be spread pretty thin.

APRIL 2009

HAS YOUR FIRM CUT IT’S BENEFITS PACKAGE AS A RESULT OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CLIMATE?

67.6%     Yes
32.4%     No

It’s expensive out there folks.  Our health insurance has gone up 50% over the past four or five years…everyone is feeling the pinch here.

MARCH 2009

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT SEARCHING FOR A JOB?

42.9%     Networking
25.0%     Not Knowing Where To Start
17.9%     Updating My Resume
14.3%     Nailing The Interview

The way I see it, assuming you are a talented engineer, if you are able to effectively network throughout the course of your career, that, in-and-of-itself, takes care of the the remaining three obstacles.  You see, if you are a great networker, you easily know where to start, and because you have networked so well and know so many people very well, there is no need to update your resume because they have seen you in action and your stellar reputation precedes you.  Your noticeable performance within your industry over the course of your career has coincidentally been an ongoing interview.  All that being said, a hand shake over a cocktail, beer, sparkling water or other beverage of your choice should be all that is needed to nail down your next job.  A little tongue in cheek maybe, but there is some validity to my theory.

FEBRUARY 2009

HOW OFTEN DO YOU VOLUNTEER IN YOUR COMMUNITY?

50.0%     8 or more times per year
23.1%      Not at all
15.4%     1-3 times per year
11.5%     4-7 times per year

One half of our respondents give back to the community 8 or more time per year…that is AWESOME!

JANUARY 2009

HAVE YOU EVER MISLED OR EMBELLISHED EXPERIENCES ON YOUR RESUME?

77.8%     No
22.2%     Yes

One should always be truthful on their resume, that goes without saying.  But sometimes resumes can be misleading as different titles mean different things to different companies and different people.

DECEMBER 2008

WHAT CONCEPT WILL MAKE THE GREATEST IMPACT ON SOLVING OUR ENERGY CRISIS?

40.0%     Nuclear Energy
23.3%     Wind Energy
20.0%     Solar Energy
13.3%     Bio-Fuels
3.3%       U.S. Oil Digging
0.0%      Coal

I think our economy will need to stabilize and re-establish itself for a while before we begin to see any of these technologies really begin to flourish.

NOVEMBER 2008

DOES YOUR MANAGER ALLOW FOR YOU TO WORK A  4/40 OR 9/80 WORK WEEK?

65.5%     No
34.5%     Yes

I think the civil engineering industry,  prior to “The Great Recession,”  had actually come accustomed to the 6/60 work week – that is Monday-Saturday/60 hours week!

OCTOBER 2008

WHICH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WILL YOU VOTE FOR ON NOVEMBER 4th?

49.4%     Barack O’Bama
42.9%     John McCain
6.0%       Undecided
1.2%        Other
0.6%       Ralph Nader

Not bad, not bad.  The final results in total votes for the Presidential election in November was Obama 53% / McCain 46%. Our participants were nearly dead on here…sorry I can’t say the same for the Question of the Month which we ran in August 2008; see below!

SEPTEMBER 2008

WITH HIGH GAS PRICES, HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR COMMUTING HABITS BY OPTING FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

73.5%     No
26.5%     Yes

This poll was posted at the time when gas prices were averaging $3.74/gallon.  We have come a long way over the years in mass transit, but you know what?  People love their cars and it would take a lot more  than higher gas prices for them to drop their keys and take to mass transit.

AUGUST 2008

WHEN DO YOU BELIEVE THE LAND DEVELOPMENT MARKET WILL BEGIN TO PICK UP?

30.6%     2nd Quarter of 2009
26.5%     2010 or Beyond
14.3%     3rd Quarter 2009
12.2%     4th Quarter 2008
10.2%     4th Quarter 2009
6.1%        1st Quarter 2009

As of today, just about 50% of our survey responders are wrong and there are another 26.5% who will likely end up on the wrong side of the fence as well by the end of this year.  Seems to be an ol’ case of “if I only knew then what I know now.”

I would like to thank you all for answering our Questions of the Month and look forward to your continued participation.

Got Comments? Got Questions? Got Insight? Got Speculation?  Got Inside Information?  Let us know, we would love to hear from you on any of the subjects of our recent polls.


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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

June 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm 1 comment

The Public Perception Of Civil Engineering

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC &
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

During my college years (long ago 🙂 ) I can’t say that I ever thought of the science of civil engineering as “sexy.” As far as I knew, civil engineers built cement canoes for competition.  While interesting, not “sexy.” I was obviously not well informed! 

Fast forward 20 some years and I know MUCH more. The daily job of civil engineers hasn’t changed that much in two decades – specifically, in the sense of planning, designing, managing jobs, working with agencies, citizens and clients. What has changed is the manner and tools used to accomplish those daily responsibilites.

Technology and better textile/materials has catapulted our industry into a new realm.  Environmental concerns with the multitude of regulations make the nuances of the job even more complex. Technology and sustainability will transform the civil engineering profession for years to come.

Robert Mote asked a question on the CivilEngineeringCentral LINKEDIN Group.  He asked for folks to name the most famous civil engineer in the US.  Not unlike my understanding of civil engineering 20 years ago, I think most people may not be entirely clear on that subject.  While, as a non civil engineer, I am not ready to give my answer to Robert’s question, I certainly DO know what a civil engineer does.  Over the past 10 years the US has seen it’s share of infrastructure failings, crumblings, etc.  I have witnessed countless numbers of civil engineers being called to speak to the press to explain in “plain talk” what happened in these tragedies and how to repair them.  So, hopefully, if Robert asks his question in another 10 years, folks will be able to rattle off not only a famous US civil engineer, but they will actually understand what a civil engineer does!

The Institute of Civil Engineers put together an EXCELLENT video about “The Public Perception Of Civil Engineering“…..Take a look:


civil engineering  jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion 

April 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm 6 comments

Will Our Infrastructure Ever Make Honor Roll?

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

 

I did a little bit of investigating (well, not that much…about 1 minutes worth!)  in regards to the American Society of Civil Engineering’s (ASCE) report card that we have all come to love so much.   Since it’s inception in 1988, there have been 5 complete report cards (at least that I have found) and one trend report.  When growing up, I wonder if I brought home a report card this poorly, time and time again, if my parents would’ve awarded me with  nice stimulus package?   Ha. The only stimulus I would’ve received would have been to my backside from the likes of a wooden spoon!  

Take a look:

  1988 1998 2001 2003 Trend 2005 2009
CATEGORY            
Aviation B- C- D D+ D
Bridges C+ C- C C C
Dams N/A D D D D
Drinking Water B- D D D- D-
Energy N/A N/A D+ D D+
Hazardous Waste D D- D+ D D
Navigable Waterways N/A N/A D+ D- D-
Public Parks & Rec N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Railways N/A N/A N/A N/A C- C-
Roads C+ D- D+ D D-
Schools N/A F D- D D
Solid Waste C- C- C+ C+ C+
Transit C- C- C- D+ D
Wastewater C D+ D D- D-

 

I know that if my kids came home with these grades one marking period, you would be darn sure you would see improvement the next.  And then, as a parent, I would work with the teacher and school to learn the root of problem and then make the necessary changes that would breed long-term success.  Finding short term solutions and putting a band-aid over the situation does not lead to good news down the road.   Regarding our infrastructure, according to Wayne Klotz, ASCE President, we have been using band-aids, or what he refers to as  the “patch-and-pray method” for too long:

I believe ASCE and its members to be an upstanding and successful organization with a lot to offer.   But these thoughts have to cross your mind:

  • What would happen to the civil engineering industry if all these categories were given A’s & B’s? 
  • Would funding for infrastructure projects  disappear until lower grades were given?  
  • And if that was the case, would ASCE be doing their members and the industry a dis-service, by reporting anything other than a crumbling infrastructure?  
  • Would ASCE really  mislead the government and the U.S citizens by being over-dramatic with their evaluation of the infrastructure in order to spend tax-payer money on civil engineering and infrastructure projects?

I would say, ‘probably not.’  Have you seen the news lately with the bridge collapses and the water main breaks?  And of course there are all the roads and bridges and underground utilities that were built decades ago that were not meant to handle the capacity of today.  Not to mention all the new environmental issues coming into play. There is an interesting point of view on this very topic that argues,  though ASCE is a beneficial organization for issues like education and professional development, it is stepping out of its bounds by producing such abysmal reports and lobbying the U.S. Government for funding.  To read this point of view check out this blog:

http://www.aplaceofsense.com/2009_01_01_archive.html

I realize that we have so much money invested in our troops in the Middle East, but with such bad report cards for over 10 years now and no apparent improvement, is ASCE not doing enough to get its point across?  Or  has our government just been pre-occupied with other issues? Will we likely see this same report card every four years just to keep building and re-building for the benefit of the civil engineering industry?  Or are the roads and bridges and dams and airports really that bad?  If by chance you do agree with the commentary from the blog that you can read via the link above, who do you believe then would be best suited to produce the Infrastructure Report Card? 

What is your opinion?

 

Civil Engineering Jobs :: Civil Engineering Resumes :: Civil Engineering Blog :: Civil Engineering Discussion

March 11, 2009 at 5:20 pm 4 comments

Civil Engineering & The Presidential Election

SO….  Earlier today we sent out an article to the civil engineering community highlighting the current stances of Barck Obama and John McCain on many of the infrastructure issues that directly effect the civil engineering industry.  This was a non-partisan article that was aimed at providing our readership relevant information from reliable sources in respect to the profession that we are all apart of, in one way or another.  The information that I was able to uncover included the opinions and policies of either Barack Obama or John McCain, one of which will become the next president of our great country.  Obama or McCain may or may not be the right person for the job, but one of them will be elected.  There are of course other candidates out there from the Boston Tea Party/Personal Choice Party, the Constitution Party, the Green Party, the American Independent Party, the Independent-Ecology Party, the Libertarian Party, the Prohibition Party, the Reform Party, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party; and though those candidates may have worthwhile infrastructure policy programs, my goal was to write an article, not a book.   And quite frankly, none of them have a remote chance of being elected.

I’ve received a number of phone calls and emails bringing up valid points in response to my article, but I realized that there was no real open forum to discuss the beliefs and policies of the candidates in response to the article.  Maybe you have more information to share with our readers, maybe you want to discuss one of the other candidates outside of Obama & McCain.  Or maybe I failed to note some more specific areas, as noted by one of our readers, like Off Shore Oil Drilling.  Whatever the case may be, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

HERE IS THE ARTICLE:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed to effectively and adequately fund our infrastructure over the next five years.  $1.6 trillion.  A recent report from the National Surface Transportation Policy & Revenue Study Commission indicated that an investment of somewhere in the ballpark of $300 billion dollars PER YEAR for the next 50 years is required.  $300 billion PER YEAR.

With our current economy tearing apart at the seams, oil and gas prices rising, and our continued war effort in Iraq, the issue of our existing and future infrastructure has taken a back seat with presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.  We are only another tragic bridge collapse or devastating hurricane away from making headlines again, and it is unfortunate that neither candidate has recently considered the issue of our infrastructure head on.  With the help of some colleagues, I was able to scour the Internet for any information I could to provide you with the candidates’ current stances in relation to the United States infrastructure.  Here is what we discovered:

In Relation to Bridges & Highways:

Popular Mechanics was unable to locate any policy reports from the McCain camp regarding infrastructure. McCain did address the Minnesota Bridge Collapse, stating that it was not a matter of not having the funding to commit to the backlog of bridge inspection, repair and construction, but rather a misallocation of the funds toward wasteful earmarks.  Obama, on the other hand, supports creation of an independent entity referred to as the National Infrastructure Reinvestment bank, which plans to invest $60 billion in transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years.  This allocation of funds is on top of other federal infrastructure financing (Sofge).  The projects created by this funding will generate up to 2 million new jobs per year and will infuse $35 billion per year in economic activity (Obama).

AP reports that John McCain supports an $8 billion funding package for federal highway construction.  Some of these projects include pork barrel spending, and McCain has stated time and time again that if he becomes president, he will veto any bill that is presented to him that includes earmarks. This may be a tough pill to swallow since many construction projects are promoted and supported by individual lawmakers.  It is McCain’s goal to fight for highway funding that is not laden with pork (Espo). McCain did support a federal gas tax holiday to bring down gas prices, but critics believe that though it would lessen the financial burden on the people, it would take away the taxes that help fund highway and infrastructure projects (Crawley).

Obama proposes a $50 billion bill to fund infrastructure and emergency aid to state governments.  One half of the total funds will be allocated per state government officials; the other $25 billion will go directly toward road, bridge and other public works projects.  McCain believes this proposal to be a short-term answer, but indicated he would certainly consider signing any valid stimulus plan that Congress would set before him should he become president (Hall).

In Relation to Energy:

McCain is an avid supporter of nuclear energy and the aggressive buildout of nuclear power plants across the country, proposing to build 45 new plants by 2030.  McCain is also in support of clean-coal energy, offering up to $2 billion per year in research until the year 2024.  He also supports other alternative energies.  Obama believes in staunch investment in biofuels, renewable energy and clean coal plants, $150 billion worth over 10 years (Crawley).

In Relation to Rail & Mass Transit:

Though McCain opposes federal funding for Amtrak, he recognizes Amtrak’s importance in our country.  With that, McCain did support legislation that would back long-term capital funding for passenger rail.  Obama supports continued capital funding for Amtrak and is for the development of a high-speed corridor between major cities located within 500 miles of each other.  Obama also calls for legislation for funding for freight rail and mass transit expansion (Crawley).

In Relation to Dams & Levees:

Obama has scribed a policy paper on rebuilding the hurricane-stricken gulf coast that highlights his plans to build out and repair a significant levee and pumping system. McCain, though clearly recognizing the dire situation in the gulf coast region, has not formally prepared a flood management plan of his own.  Neither candidate has addressed a plan for the crumbling levee system in the Midwest (Sofge).

In Relation to Sustainable Communities:

Though neither candidate shows any real transparency on this topic, Obama wants to consider smart growth opportunities to build more livable and sustainable communities (Obama).

For years now we have been hearing about, reading about and witnessing firsthand the deterioration of our infrastructure across the country.  It is time for the next president and Congress to take action.

Whatever your stance is on the issues, whatever party you are a member of, make sure you get out and vote on November 4th!

Works Cited:

Sofge, Erik. “Green Tech Plans Hide Obama-McCain Disparity on Infrastructure.” Popular Mechanics  25 September 2008.  27 September 2008 <http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/worst_case_scenarios/4284650.html?series=46>

Obama, Barack. “Urban Policy.” BarackObama.com. 27 September 2008 <http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/urban_policy/>

Espo, David. “McCain Supports Highway Bill.”  Associated Press  12 September 2008. 27 September 2008 <http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5i_u9vaRcJLaMSn-4Au8qNnnaO2NQD935D4PO1>

Hall, Kevin. “McCain, Obama Differ on Ways to Help Main Street.” The Kansas City Star 27 September 2008. 28 September 2008 <http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation/story/816993.html>

Crawley, John.  “FACTBOX:  McCain, Obama Infrastructure Priorities.” Reuters 30 June 2008. 27 September 2008 <http://www.kansascity.com/news/nation/story/816993.html>

October 7, 2008 at 9:11 pm 2 comments

More Nuclear Power Plants?

By Carol Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC www.themetznergroup.com
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Over the weekend, I was extolling the benefits of supposed environmentally friendly solar power or wind farms; telling my business minded 25 year old nephew that he should find a way to invest in those businesses. Alternatively, he suggested to me that it is critical to build new nuclear power plants throughout the US. I will say that whenever I hear “nuclear power plants” I think of the Three Mile Island incident. I can remember, during the accident in 1979, that my father made flight reservations for my family to fly to the West Coast and flee Maryland if a total meltdown was imminent. It was frightening. And then in 1986, the horrific meltdown at Chernobyl. The lives lost, the death and destruction. This could happen here in the US. Pennsylvania could have had a ghost town for at least 600 years if Three Mile Island had experienced the total meltdown.

So, as my nephew (a Democrat like myself), discusses the importance of nuclear power plants and as I read Sen. McCain’s proposal that he wants to build 45 more nuclear power plants, I am queasy. We can’t maintain our existing infrastructure. Have we completed all security and technical upgrades to existing plants? Nuclear power provides 20% of our nation’s power. While it may be environmentally friendly in that is does not emit greenhouse gases can we really live with the safety risks? Is my fear and my nephew’s lack of concern a generational difference? It could be. Last year musicians, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne, activist rock stars, reunited to battle the nuclear power industry on Capitol Hill. This new “NO NUKES CAMPAIGN” was created in part to stir up and educate those who weren’t around during the accidents; those who don’t know of the fear and horror of nuclear incidents.

Am I the last of the generational group who would MUCH rather put the $50 billions of dollars targeted for new plants towards renewable energy sources not nuclear power plants?

Let’s hear what you think….and, if you are for nuclear power, were you alive during the aforementioned accidents and if you were, were you old enough to remember the fear, the destruction? Talk to me!

September 10, 2008 at 8:08 pm 9 comments

Ready For Gustav, But Ready For Another Katrina?

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

In light of the recent hurricane that blasted through the Gulf Coast this past holiday weekend I would be remiss in doing my job if I did not comment on it as it specifically relates to the civil engineering industry.   Three years ago Hurricane Katrina came through and absolutely devastated the Gulf Coast, New Orleans in particular.  Not only was the government response (Federal, State & Local) a horrible failure, but it brought light upon the incomplete and failing levee system in that region.  Earlier this year there was the tremendous flooding that took place in the Midwest, which really brought to the surface yet another instance of our failing infrastructure.  Not only are our roads and bridges no longer meeting the needs of the population, but on top  of that, and if it did not become evident following Katrina, it certainly became evident this spring, our levee system is is not capable of handling the potential devastating effects that mother nature can unleash.  If you did not read our earlier newsletter or blog entry contributed by Adam Pitluk discussing this make sure you take a look, it is an interesting read.

This time around the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisianna, and FEMA seemed to have their act together as the coordination between the agencies and the level of preparedness was clearly the result of the Katrina debacle.  After reading reports and watching the news coverage though there is still a long way to go in regards to the levee systems, at least down there in New Orleans, but progress is being made…slowly but surely.  At the mouth of the Industrial Canal is where the biggest failure in the levee system exists and the Corps of Engineer hopes to have this $700 Million project completed by 2011.  There was also another levee on the West Bank that is of major concern to the Corps of Engineers, as it  is suspect at best, though it was able to withstand what Gustav had to offer…this time.  Ownership of levees vary from Parrish to Parrish and the allocation of funds is a political process.  I’m no politician, but this should be a pretty black and white issue.  Protect your citizens and rebuild the city; this should be the top priority, and  building and improving the current levee system needs to be the number one priority in this process.   Gustav was no Katrina, and it certainly gave that Gulf Coast region a nice test, both on the levee system and the level of preparedness.  The preparedness that we witnessed for Gustave should be commended and can be matched or exceeded with postive results when future hurricanes threaten, but will the current levee system in place be able to withstand another Katrina between now and 2011?

September 4, 2008 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

Bridge collapses, levee failures and water main breaks .. OH MY!

By Carol Metzner, President, The Metzner Group, LLC and Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

All around the Maryland/DC area, water main breaks should come as no surprise to residents; but, we are all amazed each time it happens! And…it is happening with alarming frequency.

In mid June water main breaks in the Maryland suburbs triggered several smaller breaks throughout the lines in the County leading to the loss of more than 100 million gallons of fresh water before repairs could be made. More than 700 restaurants and tens of thousands of residents were forced to boil drinking water as a precautionary measure. Many restaurants, already affected by the slowing economy, had to close their doors for a period of time.  The agency responsible for oversight, inspection and repair, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is the 8th largest water and wastewater utility in the country.  As of July 15, they still cannot assess what caused the break.

This past week WSSC, echoing other public agencies across the US, discussed the need for more money. We heard the now familiar chant “We need more money….more funding”.  WSSC reported that due to budget constraints, the line that broke in Maryland was never inspected prior to the break. It is reported that the line that broke was 38 years old, while some lines in the county are 90 years old. After the break, inspectors found four other sections nearby that needed reinforcement.

Here is where it gets dicey: it is documented that for the past two years WSSC has had the budget to replace 27 miles of water main a year, but it replaced only 16 miles of pipe in fiscal 2007 and is expected to fix 25 miles of pipe in fiscal 2008.  What happened?  They had the money….had the funding.  Where did it go?

We are seeing increases in taxes, electric bills, gas, water. The war has cost more than anyone wants to wrap their minds around.  Who is overseeing the money that the agencies are getting? Who is accountable?  And, where are they now?

July 23, 2008 at 1:43 am 3 comments

Trouble In The Big Muddy

Lessons should have been learned after 1000 levees failed in 1993. They weren’t.

Our July Newsletter featured the following article by Adam Pitluk which he wrote exclusively for CivilEngineeringCentral.com, we feel it is a worthy topic of discussion for the civil engineering community so we thought it would be appropriate to publish it on our blog as well.  Enjoy.

By Adam Pitluk, Author & Journalist

TIME magazine contributor Adam Pitluk is the author of “Damned To Eternity” and “Standing Eight.” You can read his blogs “When the Levees Break” on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s Blog Site,  watch his MSNBC interview on the Inherent Flaws of the Midwestern Levees on his website and see him on ABC’s 20/20 in July.  The press is taking note of Adams’s May 2008 prediction of the now watched levee failures of the Midwest.  He’s written for a host of national publications, including AIR & SPACE and POPULAR MECHANICS. Adam has a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri, and a master of science from Columbia University. You can read his flood predictions for this season on his website, www.adampitluk.com

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is charged with maintaining levees up and down the Mississippi River, as well as other major waterways across the country. Indeed, the Corps has historically built earthen and cement dams to shore up rivers around big cities like St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans, but a misconception is that the Corps single-handedly built the American levee system.

In fact, local interests in the late 1800s and early 1900s originally constructed most levees along the Mississippi River. Initially, farmers teamed up and hauled wheelbarrows of clay and compacted sand along the banks of the river to secure their land and crops from an otherwise surging offshoot. Over time, the Corps has made minor improvements on these levees, but they have never dug up the original, tenuous foundations. In this region of the country, the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps was the overseeing body for dam improvements. But they weren’t always the first to know of trouble spots. For that, they relied on the local overseers.

As a result, levees like the one in West Quincy, Missouri, which broke during the Great Floods of 1993 and which is threatening to break right now, have not been properly updated to coincide with the creation of the Mississippi River’s lock and dam system of canals.

The West Quincy levee was originally 17 feet tall at the turn of the 20th century, and it remained that way through 1917, when the Fabius River Drainage District (the overseers of that levee) was formed. In 1936, Congress passed the Flood Control Act, which put levees under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers: They could effectively be called upon to help make improvements in some of the more rural areas of American ecosystems. Between 1960 and 1963, the Fabius district, along with the Army Corps of Engineers and $1.61 million of federal money, commissioned hydraulic pumps to siphon sand from the river and deposit it alongside the West Quincy levee. The dam was thus built up.

By July 1993, it stood approximately 24 feet high, and that 24 feet of earthen clay and sand was all that separated the Mississippi River from more than 14,000 acres of farmland in the Fabius River Drainage District. During the floods of 1973, the Mississippi crested at 26 feet and overtopped the levee, which resulted in the destruction of thousands of acres of farmland and some businesses, like the Knapheide Manufacturing Company.

Earlier in July 1993, Norman Haerr, the commissioner of the Fabius district, was informed by the Corps that this time around, the Mississippi River might rise all the way up to 30 feet of water. The Fabius district was not necessarily up the creek: They could build their levee up to 30 feet, but in so doing, they’d neglect a free board. The Corps highly recommends in their maintenance handbook that levees have a two-foot buffer zone, or free board, between the top of the river and the top of a levee. This safety zone allows a little leverage if the river rises higher than originally calculated, and it also contributes to the structural integrity of the dike. So Haerr and fellow farmer Bob Hoffmeister called in the bulldozers.

A fleet of bulldozers maneuvered to the back of the levee—the side furthest from the river—and actually pushed sand from the base of the levee up the side and toward the top. It worked. The more the bulldozers pushed, the more the levee grew from the ground. Just as the 30-foot target was being met, the Corps came back to Haerr and gave him the one piece of news he absolutely dreaded. They said that the rains up north in Iowa were heavier and more virulent than once expected. As such, Haerr and company could expect 32.5 feet of water.

Haerr received the news with suppressed panic. He wanted to ask the engineer if this was some kind of joke, but the messenger’s face was expressionless—as expressionless as the shocked face that looked back. There was nothing Haerr could do except continue to bulldoze the levee even higher.

The machines pushed and pushed, and an industrial black tarp was thrown over the sheer-faced gigantic mound to keep the sand from eroding. In the areas that didn’t have enough sand at the top, Haerr had volunteers stack sandbags.

Haerr’s strained eyes and clinched fists eased a bit come the morning of July 13, when the river seemed to be holding steady at 29 feet while the levee stood just over 30 feet in the air. The bulldozers continued to push. It is because of the thinning of the levee walls—and not because of sabotage—that the West Quincy levee failed on July 16, 1993.

Fast forward to June 2008: The Fabius River Drainage District started bulldozing their levees again. If this levee fails in 2008, you know who’s to blame.

July 2, 2008 at 1:22 pm 4 comments

Cross Training In An Uncertain Market

By Carol Metzner, President, The Metzner Group, LLC and Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Hurricanes, tornados, wild thunderstorms, earthquakes…..devastation.  It is apparent that the civil engineering community has become firemen; rushing to suffering areas to put out fires here, there and everywhere.  FEMA engineers, water resources specialists, geotechncial investigators, and everyone in between make their way to evaluate, report and advise.  Add Mother Nature’s wrath to our much talked about “crumbling infrastructure” and we have a deadly mix.

With our continuing civil engineering staffing shortage, how can we design infrastructure to meet tomorrow’s needs, let alone today’s, while repairing yesterday’s designs (successful ones as well as the failures)?

The number of daily calls from civil engineers in down markets in states across the US amaze me. They apply for jobs outside their specific area of knowledge. We see  experienced civil engineers applying for jobs as structural engineers. Companies do not want to cross train, so they won’t even interview the engineer.  I understand that cross training costs money, but how much money is that open job costing you in the long run?

When business is strong and everyone is overworked and stressed, perhaps the idea of cross training is too much to handle. With the market slow down, could now be the time to review programs? We are not a community that has fully embraced staff planning or staffing predictions. Cross training shows loyalty to your staff, preparing for these days of uncertainty that are certain to arrive! Cross training can only help your company and your clients. It can eliminate the band-aid approach when employees resign.

Does your civil engineering employer have a cross training program? Let us know!

June 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm 1 comment

$1,500,000,000,000…Does This Get Your Attention?

By Carol A. Metzner, President, The Metzner Group, LLC and Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, CivilEngineeringCentral.com

Last week the CBS Early Show aired a segment concerning the deteriorating U.S. Infrastructure.    ASCE President David Mongan and outspoken NY Engineer “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz contributed to the discussion.

You can see the short video report here:

Yes, you are hearing correctly on the video…an estimated $1,500,000,000,000 ($1.5 trillion) over the next five years will most likely be needed to avoid large-scale disaster.  That is referring to repair and maintenance…add on new and expanding infrastructure costs!  It seems as though this is a re-occurring issue that is brought up a couple times each year, yet it keeps being brushed aside by other issues.

At least we are in a market where we are needed…but where do we get that kind of money?!?!?!  And, how did we get into this situation?!?!?!

May 21, 2008 at 1:31 pm Leave a comment

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