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.
- Township Engineer
- Township Traffic Engineer
- Township Sewer Engineer
- Township Landscape Architect
- Township Lighting Consultant
- Township Land Planner
- Township Fire Marshall
- Township Zoning Officer
- County Conservation District
- PA DOT Engineers for Highway Occupancy
- PA DEP NPDES Engineering Review for Stormwater
- PA DEP Sewer Engineering Review for Sewage Disposal
- PA DEP Wetland Permitting Review (if needed)
- County Planning Commission Review
- Township Planning Commission Review
- Township Historical Commission Review
- Township Solicitor Review
- Township Board of Supervisors Review
- Water Company Review
- 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.