July 2019

NACE Update from President Tim Hens

 

Happy 4th of July! By now I expect everyone is in full construction mode. Hopefully, you and your staff still get some time off during construction season to enjoy time vacationing on the beach, camping, hiking, grilling outdoors or just relaxing with friends or family. In my department, the week of July 4th is always a very slow week. Our crews work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday and they got 10-hours of vacation leave for the holiday, so it was enticing for many to take the entire week off and get extended time away.  

Last month I highlighted travel to Wisconsin with our friends at WCHA. At the end of June I was also able to head way out west and attend the Washington State Association of County Engineers (WSACE) for their Annual Conference. The conference was held at the beautiful Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, WA.  I’m not sure you can get any farther northwest in the continental United States. Although I did learn that there is a little sliver of Washington called Point Roberts attached to Canada that can only be accessed by traveling through Canada. Maybe they are the furthest northwest? Anyhow, imagine having to drive your crews and equipment across the border, and then overland for almost an hour, and then back across the border only to plow or to perform road maintenance? NACE Executive Director Kevan Stone and I had enough of an adventure getting to and from Vancouver Airport. I got severely delayed on the way in and we got “detained” by the Canadian Border Patrol on the way back. I guess a County Engineer traveling with a former Congressional Staffer turned Executive Director looked suspicious! After finding only golf clubs and dirty clothes in the car, they sent us on our way.

One of the sessions at the conference that was very interesting to me covered Washington State’s very ambitious fish barrier removal program. The program is a result of a court case between several Native American tribes and the State of Washington. In many of the American Indian Treaties signed during the 19th Century, rights to fishing and access to fish, primarily salmon, remained with Native Americans.  Infrastructure development over the years created restrictions that fish could not traverse.  Restrictions come in the form of culvert pipes, dams, narrow bridges, culverts with high benches and unnatural bottoms.  The court case, which was won by the tribes, forced the state to remove these barriers to enhance the population of fish and allow them to return to their previous range. These barrier removals come at a significant cost. The total state-funded program for fish barrier removals exceeds that of the entire state highway aid program for my home state of New York!  We don’t have a funded program like this in NY, but we too are now being required by our Department of Environmental Conservation to have natural bottoms in our structures and place bridge abutments outside of the stream channel. This is adding cost as we put in larger spans. What used to be two small diameter culverts is now a 10-foot concrete box culvert.  One of the curious things is that, while the State has been aggressive in upgrading its infrastructure to meet these new requirements, the local governments don’t have the funding to do the same. In many places there have been fish barriers removed only to have several upstream and downstream restrictions still in place.  I guess it all has to start somewhere.

In a few days I will be heading to Clark County, Nevada for the National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference. I will be making a presentation to the Transportation Steering Committee on behalf of NACE and we have several of our NACE members sponsoring resolutions at the same committee for consideration as part of the full NACo platform.  The growing NACE involvement on the NACo Transportation Steering Committee, and hopefully soon on other committees, is getting NACE recognized by our elected officials as the “Technical Experts on Local Roads and Infrastructure”.

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