GIVE R-E-S-P-E-C-T

GIVE R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Many who are in this business know that one of the really fun parts about it is getting to attend Municipal Meetings at night, after work, and after dinner. There is nothing better than ending a nice long day of work at a Township Meeting that starts at 7:30 pm and goes until 9 pm, 10 pm, or sometimes 11 pm. My personal world record meeting was in East Whiteland Township, where I had the privilege of staying AT the meeting until 2:55 am. To say it was awesome would be an understatement. Now, as if the meetings were not fun enough, you could always count on 1 to 30 very angry residents attending and going into rants about traffic, stormwater, and kids. A vast majority of them moved into the Township in the last year or so, which is totally fine. There is absolutely NO hypocrisy there. They always hate more traffic, and who wants more stormwater with all of the climate change making it rain more, right? But hey, we can always widen roads, add traffic signals, and dig bigger and bigger holes in the ground to fill with stone and stormwater, but we can’t Zone away kids. Yeh, kids… are bad. Kids cause trouble. They speed, and worst of all, they are a burden on the school system. Add a kid to a Township and look out… you will need more police, more schools, your taxes will skyrocket, and you will likely also have more kids, as they tend to attract each other. But I can handle this night in and night out, and I mean NIGHT IN AND NIGHT OUT. Like a broken record over and over while stabbing yourself in the eye with a No. 2 lead pencil. What I can’t seem to handle is the apparent rampant rudeness that many elected and appointed officials seem to have these days. Back in the day, there was always one in every Township. You know, that person that got on the board or commission because they spent their middle school years getting teased and getting wedgies and felt this would be the best way to get revenge. But that ONE person was easy… we just avoided them at all costs. In need of a variance? No thanks, Bob, Fred, or Bill is on the Zoning Hearing Board and will just deny us. Ok, let’s move ahead with a crappy plan RATHER than go in and request relief and make a better plan. Yeh, this happens and it still happens every day. Back then, and I know this may be hard to believe, my strategy was to TRY to kill them with kindness. It worked sometimes, but overall avoidance was the best.

After being in the business for 29 years, I still do a lot of meetings and I still “enjoy” them. That is to say, I enjoy the challenge, I enjoy the fight, I enjoy the problem-solving. But what I DON’T enjoy is the rudeness. And I will tell you, it seems to be spreading faster than Covid. The level of disrespect at meetings from elected and appointed officials is on the rise and almost seems fashionable. I don’t even eat dinner before a meeting now because I know I will have 2 to 3 hours of biting my tongue coming soon. If I had to attribute it to something, I would have to say it is a trifecta of immaturity, insecurity, and lack of education. The immaturity part is easy to spot, which only takes a few seconds and can often be detected through visual observance. The lack of education part requires at least a few sentences but is also easily spotted. The insecurity part is the tough one as it is usually a self-recognized yet carefully hidden trait. Listen carefully, watch closely and it will show itself. Sadly, but importantly this is a skill we MUST instill into new engineers preparing for a career of presenting projects, being abused and being treated like crap. Now, we can’t explain it like this to them, of course, because who would ever want to work in the field then? So… I call it “reading the room .”We, again sadly, must prepare them for this in an attempt to manage their expectations of a meeting. Would you want to walk into a room and unexpectedly get slapped in the face or walk into a room KNOWING you are getting slapped in the face? Obviously, the latter is preferred and can be planned for and preparations made on how that will be handled. And so, while I wish being respectful to each other was something that could be taught or encouraged, the past proves that respect is a dying trait. I see it, my colleagues see it, and many have uttered this exact sentence to me… ”Denny, I don’t know what has happened in this business, but I just cannot handle it much longer.” Well, I can. It frustrates me and has forced me to skip dinner to allow room in my stomach for pieces of my tongue, but it has also made me ramp up my “reading the room” skills. So, next time you see me at a meeting, just know, I am watching, I am listening, I am remembering what you say. I am reading every inflection of every word and making split seconds decisions and seeing what Google says about you all while wearing my pink pants from Tommy Bahama. Don’t be fooled. Can Denny come out and play? Yes… he can!

Heads Up Lancaster County!

Heads Up Lancaster County!

Howell Surveying is expanding into Lancaster County. This is the fourth project now, and more are coming. We are on-site here at Turkey Hill 325 on Centreville Road, just off Route 30. The project started with the demo of the existing office building and parking lot to make way for the new store and gas pumps. The site work with Hershey Excavating has been going on for about eight weeks and as you can see, the project is moving along great. We are also doing the building work for Horst Construction, who is installing the steel for the main building and we are on-site staking the gas island canopy and fuel tank pad.

Construction stakeout is a critical step in ensuring the success of any construction project. Our experienced land surveyors perform construction staking and site layout prior to the start of a project to guarantee accurate results and a smooth transition from planning to construction. We work closely with the client and site improvement contractor, ensuring a smooth workflow with no delays.

Fore…… the Kids!

Fore…… the Kids!

“INSPIRING STUDENTS, ENGAGING TEACHERS AND ENRICHING OUR COMMUNITY TO CREATE A BETTER TOMORROW”

It’s that time of year again… summer is over and golf outing season is in full swing. While Howell Engineering, Surveying and Environmental are sponsoring holes in a few different outings this month, I was lucky enough to be a part of one that is near and dear to my heart. The Downingtown Community Education Foundation (DCEF) hosted their annual fundraiser golf outing at Applecross Country Club on Monday afternoon. Per their mission statement, DCEF was formed in 2008 to provide non-tax generated funding necessary to further the district’s mission to educate all children to meet the challenges of a global society. DCEF unites various constituencies within the community – students and teachers, parents and alumni, businesses and community groups. They believe that strong schools and school districts lead to strong, vibrant communities. DCEF works in partnership with, but financially independent, DASD to provide supplemental funds for programs, grants and scholarships typically not funded by district. DCEF is governed by an all-volunteer board of community leaders who are passionate about public education and committed to DASD student success.

With my wife and I both being Downingtown School District alumni, and now having our three boys attend the same grade schools we did, I very much appreciate being part of an amazing school district and community. I personally wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Thank you, DCEF, for organizing this event and for all that you do for our children.

For more information about DCEF, please visit https://www.dasd.org/about-us/community/dcef

THAT’S A WRAP!!!!

THAT’S A WRAP!!!!

Over the last 12 months, DL Howell and Howell Kline have been undergoing a significant “rebranding.” After being in business for a little over 23 years, we felt it was time to get a fresh new look and take ourselves into the future. We survived starting up with only two people (including myself), the 10-year-long recession, four different Presidents, and every strain of Covid thrown at us. It has been a long, involved, sometimes frustrating experience where we have learned much about our clients, our business and ourselves. This is by no means an official “unveiling,” but I wanted to share what our new company vehicles now look like. So take a look and remember what you see because the first five clients that snap a picture of one of our trucks on the road or on a job site and email it to me will get a $200 gift certificate to Pietro’s Prime Steakhouse in West Chester. Enjoy and good luck.

 

 

 

Water Wars

Water Wars

As you may know, places around the globe are experiencing record-setting drought conditions, with water levels falling to unprecedented levels. Across the globe, rivers have dropped to the point where old stone bridges, monuments, and human remains can be seen for the first time in decades, if not hundreds of years. This prolonged drought has brought many of the existing water practices and uses into question and now governments are placing restrictions on water usage.

Lake Mead is a prime example of extreme drought conditions. Water levels have dropped to the point where they are within 150 feet of reaching the dead pool condition. Dead pool refers to when a reservoir reaches a level where water no longer flows out, causing all downstream rivers and streams to dry up. This dead pool elevation is separate from the minimum power pool elevation, which is what allows the Hoover Dam to generate power. This power elevation is roughly 50 feet from falling past this minimum elevation, which would cause roughly 1.3 million people to get power from alternate locations.

A similar problem is occurring in China, which is currently in the middle of a massive heatwave. They have already experienced many rivers and reservoirs drying up, which has unearthed old stone carvings and monuments. This has also resulted in increased use of coal for power due to the lack of water to power their hydroelectric power plans.

Some of the instances of these rivers and streams drying up as part of the dams could have been alleviated if smarter water usage had been put in place to manage what they already had. For instance, for the areas in the desert and other regions of the west that the Hoover Dam services, water restriction needs to be enacted to reduce water use to the greatest extent possible. This would include eliminating traditional lawns and using native hardscaping and fauna that use less water, using grey water for toilets and to water trees, etc. Another practice that would help more substantially would be to limit the expansion of desert cities, communities, and agriculture unless there is available capacity to feed the expansion. Unless strict measures are enacted soon, water levels may drop below the critical levels and leave areas downstream of the Dam without water.

How Can This Business Be Better?

How Can This Business Be Better?

This can be a frustrating business on many levels. Unlike a normal job or career, this business tends to fry people quickly and frustrate them and make them want to leave the sector altogether. And in many ways, I don’t blame them. I have sadly had the displeasure of watching this happen to many who have worked with us. Young people come out of college, and after a few weeks of using their new engineering degree they decide… I am OUT OF HERE! Why? Well, I will tell you, but you may want to grab a drink and have a seat. Our plans undergo a massive amount of scrutiny and review. That is right, not just review but scrutiny. Every subdivision or land development project gets reviewed by numerous regulatory agencies. There are Township engineers, PA DOT engineers, Department of Environmental Protection engineers, County Engineers and Commissions. Below are the regulators that will review a typical subdivision in Chester County.

  1. Township Engineer
  2. Township Traffic Engineer
  3. Township Sewer Engineer
  4. Township Landscape Architect
  5. Township Lighting Consultant
  6. Township Land Planner
  7. Township Fire Marshall
  8. Township Zoning Officer
  9. County Conservation District
  10. PA DOT Engineers for Highway Occupancy
  11. PA DEP NPDES Engineering Review for Stormwater
  12. PA DEP Sewer Engineering Review for Sewage Disposal
  13. PA DEP Wetland Permitting Review (if needed)
  14. County Planning Commission Review
  15. Township Planning Commission Review
  16. Township Historical Commission Review
  17. Township Solicitor Review
  18. Township Board of Supervisors Review
  19. Water Company Review
  20. And my personal favorite is the neighbor review

Is your jaw on the floor yet? Well, hold on, I will get it there. And sorry, but it is time this story gets told. Now with any luck, ALL of these reviews will conflict with each other in some way or another. Meaning that one agency will want one thing and another will want something else and you will bounce around looking like an idiot trying to address the flurry of comments, review letters and criticisms that come flying your way, all while trying to manage the project budget as well as a client that understandably is losing patience with the entire process and confidence in YOU! I am not saying it is all intentional or purposefully made frustrating, but it IS frustrating and inherently expensive. And no one is ever glad that “I am in town .” Meaning, we don’t want townhouses, or houses, or an office building, or a warehouse, or a school, or a daycare, or a church, or anything. After all, these are terrible, awful and disgusting things. They bring things like children, stormwater, traffic, tax revenue…whoops. You get the point, these are terrible and awful things and they must be resisted at every single turn, and believe me, THEY ARE! Trust me when I tell you it takes a special person to stay positive and work through this process and not want to go home and start drinking and kicking Rover. It chews the average person up and spits them out. Not me; I LIVE FOR IT! I live for the challenge, the fight, the win… and I NEVER, EVER give up, ever! This not only makes it very difficult to hire and retain people, but it also significantly contributes to unnecessary costs, frustration, anxiety and high blood pressure. It simply should not be this way.

About 15 years ago, I started an organization called Chester County Engineers (CCE) in the hopes of making things better for our profession, and I truly believe it has helped. As engineers and planners on both sides of the project, we work much better together to come up with the best plans possible, which, at the end of the day, is what is best for everyone. But the “process” is still very difficult and very expensive and, in my opinion, flawed. We still see engineering firms becoming “weaponized” by their Municipal clients to fight projects. Believe me, we can tell the difference between a professional engineering review of a set of drawings and a review that is fully intended on killing a project. It is wrong, plain, and simple, and it needs to stop. And frankly, when our plans are being reviewed by a non-degreed, non-licensed individual, it is a slap in our professional face! Ordinances and regulations are in place to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and to create healthy development, not crush a property owner’s rights or a real estate developer’s livelihood. And the problem is that we, as engineers, are caught in the crossfire. I know of NO other business where a degreed, licensed professional can be heckled, ridiculed, and treated this way, and it is accepted as normal behavior. Having rocks thrown at you as a professional isn’t fun, but it is less fun when those rocks get caught and launched back twice as hard (one of my favorite pastimes). Those who know me and know me well know that I don’t stand for that kind of BS. I am a nice guy but can turn into a problem-solving, vengeful 8-year-old in the blink of an eye when treated this way and even faster if one of our team members is treated this way and I find out. As I have said many times when you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it. And I do enjoy it, but I don’t enjoy seeing it done to my family here. And so… at 52 years old, I am going to begin my mission to improve this business and improve the lives of those that work in it each and every day. This won’t happen overnight, but the process needs to change. Maybe some changes come through legislative revisions to the process, and maybe some come through the way we conduct ourselves professionally, but one thing is for sure, the problem will not fix itself. More to come!

I was going to try to explain my average day as a Civil Engineer… but I think Neo explains it the best.