INSIDE HAWAII INC.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Walter Billingsley, Hawaii chapter president of the American Society of Civil Engineers for 2006, looked over some drawings on Wednesday in his role as project manager for Belt Collins Hawaii.
Engineering a broader outlook for society
The new president of isle civil engineers wants to serve the neighbor islands better
Question: The local construction industry is facing a big shortage of skilled workers. Civil engineers also?
Answer: Pretty much the same. The Hawaii market is pretty small and pretty isolated. We tend to feel either extreme of the economic cycle. When the economy is real strong there's a shortage; most larger employers have openings for qualified personnel.
WALTER A. BILLINGSLEY
» Age: 56.
» New job: Billingsley is new president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Hawaii Section.
» Day job: A project engineer for Belt Collins Hawaii, which he joined in 1992.
» Field: His background is in environmental and civil engineering and his specialties include water and waste-water treatment. He received his engineering license in 1993.
» Pastimes: Tennis, running, hiking and camping.
On the other hand, when the economy is slow here in Hawaii, young engineers often have to go the mainland to find employment. Only rarely it balances. It's never balanced for long, it seems.
Q: Have you heard of a project being delayed because of a shortage of civil engineers?
A: Usually engineers ... tend to do what needs to be done, meaning that you know when the pressure's there from the developer; engineers will find a way to do it, if it means finding a lot of extra hours.
I'm sure there have been minor delays because people had a hard time getting things out, deadlines missed, etc. But actual significant project delays? I'm not aware of any developers that said, "I'm not going to do this project until next year."
Some companies are certainly hiring engineers from out of state. They find ways to meet the demand. It's certainly more of a struggle. But generally it gets met.
Q: What's the most interesting project you have worked on?
A: As a subcontractor, we did the environmental documentation for a new ocean outfall for the waste-water treatment plant of Fort Kamehameha in Pearl Harbor. We extended the outfall a couple miles out into the ocean. The outfall had discharge into the entrance channel and now it discharges into a couple hundred feet of water. The alignment goes across a coral reef, so there were a lot of environmental issues.
Q: What did you do?
A: Most of the reef is not completely living coral, so there were surveys done to identify the richer areas of coral and avoid those. Also, areas were microtunneled, meaning it was not open cut. Also there was an issue of putting a plan together to avoid green sea turtles being killed or injured by unexploded ordnance. We had to develop a comprehensive plan for making sure that that wouldn't happen. It was more the procedures that would be followed if they had to blow up something in place.
Q: With a building boom, are we likely to see an increase in construction defects?
A: I can't say that. I don't think there's any basis for that type of statement. Designers like ourselves, contractors, the companies that go out and put the construction in the ground, all these companies are on liability to watch out. They don't want to get careless and make mistakes that would cost them their business or exorbitant insurance rates or things like that. A company has to know what its limits are. Any engineer has to know what their limits are and work within them to stay in business.
Q: What prompted you to join your engineering society's executive committee?
A: It's a volunteer organization. I have a lot of respect for the organization. I first joined ASCE as a student at the university, and as a volunteer organization, they're always looking for people to serve, and about the second time I was asked I decided I can't pass this up forever, I better say yes while I have a chance. My employer has been supportive as well.
Q: What are your goals as president?
A: My biggest goal, I don't know how achievable it is, is to represent the entire state a little better than we did in the past. Our state is an archipelago of islands and we tend to be isolated within the state as well. Most of the firms and major entities are in Honolulu, but there are certainly practicing engineers on the outer islands.
I feel our section could do a better job in providing services on the outer islands. In our island situation, we tend to act as a Honolulu section or Oahu section.
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