Inside Engineering, untold stories and fascinating people from the world of civil engineering. This is Episode 11, recorded in October 2019: Construction Management and Environmental Compliance with Clayton Ballard and Patrick DiNicola. Inside Engineering is an RK&K podcast. Learn more at rkk.com.
Welcome back to another episode of Inside Engineering. We've got a couple of really great guys with us today. Directly to my left here is Clayton Balla... I knew I was gonna do that Clayton. Clayton Ballard. He's a Project Manager on the construction side of things. Welcome to the show, Clayton. Thanks for being here. Thank you for having me. I'm sorry I screwed your name up right away. I know, right. No big deal. That's alright. Ballard's really hard. Yeah. It's a tough, bad name. It's so, so hard. Ballard. Is it Ballard? Yes. I don't say it that way. OK. Is it really? Yes. Alright. Should we start over? No, let's not start over. We're good. We'll keep rolling with it. This is how construction goes. This is perfect. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Patrick DiNicola. He is a Manager on the construction side. Welcome to the show, Patrick. Thank you, Tim. Thanks for being here. Patrick, we'll start with you. Since your you just said you're a manager on the construction side, but that is relatively new being on the CM side of things. In name. In name. Okay. Tell us tell us about the genesis of you to work from where you are now to from where you've been. Sure. So I've been with RK&K for about 18 years. The first 17 or so I was technically in the Water Resources group because I came from an environmental background. That's kind of where I fit in when I first got started. But not so long after starting, maybe after three or four years, I really got pushed into or not pushed into — maybe sucked into a little bit better word — doing construction management for environmental type projects. So I always just stayed in water resources, worked on those projects. I've been out of the office for pretty much my entire career with RK&K, in and out, but mostly working on projects and then eventually we had a sit down and said we think you should officially transfer into Construction. So I did. But nothing's changed. I basically do the same work. OK. A lot of interaction with different groups within RK&K — Clayton. And I always worked with construction, so it was more of a name change only. Mm hmm. But more of the same type work. Well, Clayton, what did you tell us? Kind of the same thing. But then get into how you and Patrick worked together on on things. Okay. I guess I've been with RK&K now for 15 years. And when I first started, I started on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. And that's where I met Patrick. I was there two years and then they say, hey, there's guys coming up. We need you to show him around a little bit. He's going to be handling the mitigation projects. He works for RK&K. I said, 'Oh, okay, cool.' And lo and behold, across my cube there's Patrick. So that's how I met Patrick. So you showed him the ropes? Oh, yes. Yes. What was your favorite rope, Patrick, that Clayton showed you? I remember I was working as an in-house consultant at State Highway Administration, doing permitting mitigation work and then a role opened up down at Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Clayton had been down there for a couple — a year at least — doing environmental compliance inspections. And I was slowly getting ready to transfer into Woodrow Wilson Bridge project officially, I had been working on it but from, you know, the home office, so to speak. And yeah, I remember you picked me up. I got in your car. You had that white jeep. Yes. Yes. Yeah. We drove around and took a look at the project. That was 2006, I think. Yeah, I got down there. 2005, the old trusty Jeep Cherokee. Yes. Yes. So I don't know if he showed me the ropes, but he definitely showed me around the project. I was to show me around. But you guys have both mentioned the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. For anyone listening who's who's not from the Baltimore/D.C. area. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a was a major project project that RK&K worked on and a lot of firms worked on. Yes. Can can one or both of you just sort of give us an overview of that project and how significant was it was in terms of scale and length of time that it took and just the importance of it to the region? I'll let Patrick start and I'll chime in. OK. Yeah. Clayton and I are both in the environmental construction world. And we've taken I mean, our paths overlap, obviously, but I guess our differences mostly, where I'm more of the manager of a construction contract from a standpoint of, you know, going out, making sure things are built per plans and specifications. And Clayton has been more of the track of environmental compliance. Yes. That's fair to say. Yeah. Making sure that contractors not, you know, abusing any of their permits or impacting the environment in a way that they're not supposed to be. Right. So at Woodrow Wilson, which was a huge project, I mean, it was not only the bridge, but it was major interchange work on both the Maryland and the Virginia side. There was a whole environmental compliance
management team that we were both on. Yes. And I obviously I was more focused, at least in the initial part, on the mitigation package of which was substantial. So all the impacts that were done within the river system had to be mitigated. So we had over 50 mitigation sites that were located in Maryland and Virginia. And I didn't oversee the construction of all of them but a good majority or a lot of them, I guess. And they went from anything from like tidal wetland construction to fish passage, stream restoration type projects, even some reforestation. So it was a pretty big program. I mean, certainly at that time, it was the biggest program around. Yeah. As far as environmental work, mitigation that was associated with one huge project. Mm hmm. I was on the project from about 2006 to, you know, around 2010 or 11,
you know, slowly kind of weaned off it as things winded down, but then there was a very long period of monitoring for other sites, which as part of RK&K, as part of the joint venture team. We kind of managed all that monitoring for stuff that was completed. So that was a very neat aspect. There is a lot of that at Woodrow Wilson where we took things from plan into construction and then the actual post construction monitoring. So you got to see the whole lifecycle of a project, which was neat from an environmental standpoint. And where Patrick kind of handles more of the environmental construction aspect of the project with me and my compliance role I'm in more of the heavy civil construction portion of the project, which is dealing with the erosion, sediment control and actually stormwater management. So while we are both doing environmental roles, ours differ a little. Where he's... I'm monitoring the impacts. Making sure you're not impacting more wetlands than you're supposed to. Making sure you're not doing more stream impacts than you should, and as well as making sure that we are containing all of our runoff in that we are building not stormwater management facilities per specification.
In terms of what you do Clayton, like what are some of the challenges in that you face in doing those things on a day to day basis, not necessarily on that project? But I will say some of the challenges on a day to day basis will be plan interpretation. Getting people to really dig into the details of the plans and making sure that they follow those details of the plan that is the most difficult thing. It's like when you bring in an IKEA furniture, you may feel you can build it because it's just a shelf. But if you don't put that wooden pin in, your shelf would fall apart. And that is one of the things that people — I've been doing construction all my life, I know what I'm doing — but when you get into the details and the engineers are writing these sequences for the project to be built in a certain manner and you want to build it the way you feel you should build it is not the way to plan should be, say, build it. And that is the most difficult thing, is getting the contractor to realize — dig into to the plains, read the plan sequence and dig into those details and build it according to what the engineer designed it to be built. You have a lot of interpersonal interactions, don't you? Yes. Your interpersonal skills are high. Yes. Yes. Yeah. A lot of convincing. Yes, a lot of convincing. A lot of face to face interaction. So. Yeah. Personable skills would be one of the biggest things to have in not taking things personal on a job site. Sure. Yeah. How does how does what you do? I mean, I think I might know the answer to this question more readily for you, Clayton, but this kind of for both of you, how does what you do benefit our clients? That's kind of. I mean, in some ways, that's a very simple question because they've asked us to do something, but we always get interesting answers so I like to ask it. Ah what I do that benefits our clients is to help keep them out of the paper when it comes to environmental violations. So my job is to help assist our clients to ensure compliance on all of their construction projects. And the last thing we want to hear is a dump truck backfill or stream or wetland, and it was unpermitted. And that is newsworthy. And it makes our client look bad. So my job is to go out and make sure that we don't have those type of slip ups on the job site. Patrick?
I think from my perspective, it's more of a role of a problem solver, like we try to keep projects — I mean we're there to manage the construction for the owner. And part of that, while there's this compliant standpoint, whether environmental or whether just making sure it's being built correctly, it's also just solving problems that come up day to day. There could be big issues, there could be small issues to try to keep the project on schedule and try to keep things, you know, within the costs that are in that contract. So that's the role that I see us play as a day to day thing, is just making sure that we keep these projects moving forward and on schedule and solving problems as they arise as quickly as possible for our clients. Can you — I mean we did a little bit of this with the Woodrow Wilson thing — but can you walk us through perhaps a typical project? I don't even know if there is a typical project to be fair. I would imagine maybe we start with Patrick here and then Clayton. You probably come in later, but I might. No. Well, I might be wrong about that. But you know what? In a typical project, how does it go between the two of you? I'm trying to think of a good example Clayton where maybe we've had overlap, but you know, we talked a little bit about Woodrow Wilson, but then we both went to the Inner County Connecter project, which was just just as big, just as large. And that's a that's a big toll — free flow toll highway that connects Montgomery and Prince George's County in Maryland. So that was a that was a project decades in the making. Yes. And finally was was built was finished... 11/11/11. 11/11/11. Yep. There we go. That wasn't accidental or anything. So we had we had a lot of environmental mitigation stewardship projects associated with the ICC. There were a lot of impacts with a lot of projects. And so I don't know if I could think of anything completely specific, right, but my role on that project would be if there was a, let's say, a stream restoration ongoing, I'd be the construction manager. There'd be project engineers, inspectors out the field. We'd be working with the contractor day to day. A typical problem that may arise is we have this set of plans that we're building off. It had been approved for a number of years and then we get out of the field and, you know, change... things have changed, especially in stream restoration system where one storm could could change the existing conditions. Right. So you have to be flexible. You've got to be ready to make changes. Well, it's all well and easy to make changes, you know, but you've got to make sure that you're getting the appropriate approvals to make those types of changes. So Clayton's role at the ICC was sort of the quality assurance environmental compliance manager. He'd be the one who not only would be managing different inspectors that were doing compliance, but you'd also be the one that I would call when I had a problem and I knew that we had an issue with an environmental type situation where we are going to need a modification. That's why I'd call. Right. Yup. So that's how we would interact. I mean, it I can't tell you how many times that happened. Tons. Or how many different types of projects. But Clayton was our call. He wasn't only just like this compliance insurance person, he also was kind of the go to on. OK. We have this issue. Something's changed. We need a little bit more limits of disturbance. Let's start with Clayton. Let's talk to him. Who do we need? You know, how do we need to submit this? How do we get permission to move forward in all of that? Goes back to what I was saying as far as you know. Other places, other projects, I mean, changes like that, the whole project comes to a standstill and everyone could be standing around for a couple of days waiting for a response from maybe in another different agency. So the way that we had it set up and working that that type of relationship, that type of... I don't know the right word, but I guess we just knew how to keep things moving when we ran into problems. So that's an example, I think, of one way that we've worked together. I guess a typical day for me is. At the end of the day, trying to plan my schedule for the next day and hoping that none of the guys that worked for me had any difficulty out in the field from the previous day that would actually change my entire schedule. But as a typical day, I wake up. My first order is and Patrick alluded to changes. My first thing is, I review modifications and changes that projects need to keep moving forward. So I want to make sure I get those things out first thing in the morning. Give those approvals or send those modifications and those changes to the appropriate approval authority. So I go through it and then. And these are changes that have come in from the previous day. Yes. So, that day so the following morning, your following morning, you're looking... If I'm looking at my inbox, I probably have typically about 60 different changes that needs to happen through statewide. So I'm part of a statewide program where we deal with over 250 projects. So. OK, so across all those projects? Throughout the state of Maryland for all of State Highway. OK. So I'm dealing with that program and there could be changes for from different projects. So I'm running through those modifications, discussing things with the the guys I need to feel whom I need to speak with. But I'm, you know, reviewing those change and approving those changes or sending them to the appropriate people and then I may have meetings. As things change you end up having meetings after meetings to help projects move forward. So is this all about trying to get things done and get them done fast as you can. Quick as you can and with all the approvals. So just going from meetings to discuss things with different agencies from different construction managers, environmental permitting and all of those things. So my day is just I'm bombarded with issues constantly all day. So I'm problem solving all day long. So that's mainly what I do every day is problem solve. What for you is a day where at the end of the day you're like, 'Yes. Today was amazing.'?
I'm glad he asked you. To say today was amazing is when I get a call, an email from a senior manager thanking me for finding a way to keep the project progressing. And to me, that is an accomplishment for me. Absolutely. And it feels good. Nice. So, that's a yay. I feel like we should end the episode right now. That's such a feel good moment. That's a yay moment. Patrick, do you have a... for you? I don't know if I have a yay moment.
I think and we've talked about this because we've been sort of brainstorming where our roles are in the company and how we want to move environmental construction forward and it's... You get that satisfaction from, like you said, problem solving. I think, you know, and we do it in the sense of the work that we really enjoy, like, you know, we're both focused mainly on environmental work, whether it's compliance, whether it's restoration. But it's all environmental work. And that's kind of our backgrounds. And I think that doing that type of work is a little bit — it might sound cheesy — but a little bit of a satisfaction every day. You know, I mean I can't ask for something different, that's what I like to do. And I think like to kind of copy what Clayton said, I mean, that's what it's all about. You get satisfaction from solving problems and keeping things moving forward. I think that's the best thing. Let's rewind back to the beginning of your career or maybe even before that is — as early as you want to go back. What's something that you wish you had known earlier on in your career?
It could even... This could even be like a little bit of advice that you might give to our listeners, a lot of whom I think are probably That I would end up in construction. earlier on in their career. You would have done things differently?
Would you have done things differently? No, I would have embraced it early on. I wanted nothing to do with construction. My father. Was always in construction. My father built high rises and he always said, "Construction, construction, construction" and I thought I was doing something slick by going to school for environmental. Jokes on you. And lo and behold, I'm here in construction and I never knew that there would have been a job where doing environmental in construction didn't thought there was a possibility. I thought we... Well there were no degrees back then. Yeah. Yeah, it was. You were building and that was it. You know, and I was never a person that liked to build anything. That's interesting. Well, I mean, it speaks to the kind of opportunities there — these kind of cross discipline things that are happening. So, you kind of both got... You and your dad got both got what you wanted. Oh Yeah. He's proud. Yeah, he's proud. He said, "I told you son, construction was the way to go.". "I told you, Dad, environmental.". "Construction will give you a good life."
You know, if I could go back, I think. I think the biggest thing I don't know how you, you know, get any training or education in this, but you alluded to it like a lot of what we do, it's it's personal skills. And really in construction, that's what you need. You need the soft skills. You know, you need to get people to do things for you that have no reason to do them other than that you need them to get it done. So I don't know, going back how I could have maybe focused a little bit more on that. I mean, hopefully it comes naturally to you when you're in this type of field. But that, I think is is important and it took a while to get there. I think another thing, too, that I didn't realize when I first started was that sometimes I felt like as the owners rep or working on a big project, you know, the contractor was the other team and I was on another team and it was two teams. And I think that over the years I've learned that it's really more of a partnership. When you're working with a contractor and owner and you're kind of the mediator, you're the go between, you're trying to get everybody working together to get that common outfall or that outcome. So that's one thing. I think when I first started in this industry, it was more of a, 'you are on that team' and. More of a zero sum. Yeah. And I think it's not like that. I think the way to get things done is to really work in a partnership. So I think those are the two things. Soft skills and make sure you're partnering. Yeah. Soft skills. Interpersonal skills. Really a lot of a lot of strong people skills. Yes. It's not just being great at math or numbers or all that stuff. What is something that you guys are curious about right now? Either professionally or personally? Is there anything that's kind of got your fancy? You go first. You keep making Clayton go first. He keeps making me go first. What's curious to you. What am I curious about right now? I'm curious how that Lizzo, right. Yeah. The kids love Lizzo. Yeah. That first song was terrible. Yeah, but then the new one. The new one. Number one. Number one. Number one. Yeah. I am along with that, social media.
Ok, that was not where expected you to go. Not that I'm so much curious about, it's just the way that it's changed society. Yeah. Everything is and information is so Ah, indeed. Yeah. rapid. Rather if it's accurate or not, but it's rapid at the fingertips. You know, and don't know where we're going from here, but curious to find out. What the next phase is. Yeah. What's the next phase? And so I guess, curious to see, ok, what is the next big app that is gonna change our lives and keep us glued to the phone? Do you want to put out your social media handles on the podcast so everybody can... I'll take that as a no.
Patrick, you got anything you're curious about? Not as deep as Clayton's. How about a pick?
I think from an industry standpoint, one thing I'm interested in is seeing how it plays out is a lot of these types of projects that I'm associated with are are moving to a full delivery type package. Okay. Where it's a little bit different. It's not Design Build anymore or Design Build Build. It's you know, you're just kind of putting out an RFP and saying, "Hey, bring me a project and tell me when you're done." I'm interested to see how that all kind of works out and how the industry evolves and changes. And if it works that well or if it kind of regresses back to the way that we've done things in the past, that'll be interesting to see over the next several years how that all comes to fruition. I'm interested in that we talked on another episode with Jim Burnett and Barry Brandt, traffic engineers. They talked about Design Build and Progressive Design Build, and now you're talking about Full Delivery. You sort of just summed it up right there. But is there anything else about that that is unique? It's an interesting concept. You go from, you know, things having been separated to kind of separated to now, you know, all together in one package. What... can you talk about a little bit more? Well. I'm interested in the sense of how the outcomes, you know, will happen. Like will things turn out the way that you know, that people are expecting. And what are they expecting? Well, I mean, like, let's say for a stream restoration site, that it's going to be completed on time and under budget. It's going to last. You know, it's going to. Why would full delivery make that better compared to what's happening now? I think owners are looking at it from why it's better, because it is supposed to speed up the process a little bit from a permitting standpoint, putting it all on to a private contract or a group of contractors or consultants like us too, where they kind of remove themselves from the situation and just let the private development take it over and put it in the ground. So, OK. So the owner would say, "I want this stream restoration project done. Here's an RFP. Do it.". "I need so many linear feed done." I need so many linear feet. They won't tell you where. Yeah. They don't tell you where. Okay. So it's in some ways it's. It's like an open ended contract. It might be a watershed. Yeah. They'll say hey this watershed or this county or something. So it's like an open ended contract in some regards. In that way they're gonna say, "I've got this general kind of work I want done. I'm going to eventually tell you where I want it done. And you're just going to do it." Right now. Okay. So how do they measure how does the owner measure the success of what you did? That's the big question. To ensure that it complies with what they actually want. Is that the big question? Yes. Yeah. Okay. Hey, look at that. Yeah. That's what I'm waiting to see. Right, right. It seems like there's not a specifications for how they... Well there are. I mean, it's like any other project and believe, you know, we as RK&K our on some of these full delivery on the design side projects. So but it's just a matter of how the implementation goes. We have a lot of experience in the field in construction guarding the henhouse, so to speak. And now. You know, the fox is guarding the henhouse, in some respects, yes, because it's all private development. It's all you know, you're relying on contractors and all private development to take care of that on to completion and then turning it over without a whole lot of oversight — third party oversight for the owner. So it'll be interesting to see, you know, how well these turn out. And if they can stand the test of time. Interesting. From an environmental restoration standpoint. Yeah, for sure. Alright, well, we've I think we've reached a point to show where it's time for your picks of the week. Clayton's first. Clayton's first.
This is. I'm sorry, I should do a better job as a host to help you out. No problem. I think quick on my feet. Okay. Alright. Oh, good. So what? So what is your pick then, as we hear silence. My pick of the week is the Joker. Go, go see it. It starts off slow, ends great. OK. Interesting, new movie just came out recently. The Joker. I heard lots of things about it. I don't have a pick of the week. What's something you're interested in right now? I'm interested in sleeping eight hours a night. I want to recommend a good.... Do you track your sleep? He has young kids. I do not to get it on the watch. My wife's been doing that lately. I got a lot a lot of energy with the kids at home. So I'm looking I'd recommend eight Eight hours of sleep. hours. Good. That's a good pick. A good night's rest. That's what I need and that's what I'm recommending. Pick of the week, eight hours of sleep. Yeah, that's it. I like it. Eight hours for the week.
Extra sleep is gonna play well with our listeners. I think they're gonna appreciate that. Oh, well, guys, this has been fun. Thanks for coming by. Actually, before we wrap up, I should I should ask, is there anything we haven't talked about that we should talk about? Absolutely not. No, Tim, I think you covered it all. We literally covered it all. Not unless you have more questions. I mean, I could sit here all day. I could too. But I know. I appreciate it. Thanks, Clayton. Thanks for being here. Clayton Ballard. Thanks for having me. Yeah, man. No problem. Patrick DiNicola,. Thank you. Thanks for stopping by. Hey, thank you all for tuning in. We appreciate you being here. Inside engineering comes out every Tuesday. Head to our website at rkk.com/podcast where you can stream all of our episodes on demand. You can also find us on your favorite podcasting platform. We are just about daggone everywhere. Apple, Spotify, Speaker, Stitcher, Tune-in, Blubrry, Google. I mean, if there's somewhere that we're not, fill out the feedback form on the website and tell us and we'll try to get there just for you, but also give us some feedback on that feedback form. We'd like to know you can rate this episode. Tell us if it was, you know, five stars, which it obviously was. Yes. Just because of these two guys. So, again, thank you for joining us. We'll see you next time on another episode of Inside Engineering.
Wishes He’d Known Earlier
Patrick says that earlier on in his career he wished he’d have realized it wasn’t a zero sum problem. “I didn’t realize when I first started was that sometimes I felt like as the owners rep or working on a big project, you know, the contractor was the other team and I was on another team and it was two teams. And I think that over the years I’ve learned that it’s really more of a partnership.”
Clayton wishes he’d have known that construction was a viable career — or that environmental construction was an available mashup.
Pick of the Week
Clayton’s pick is the new movie ‘The Joker’. “Starts off slow. Ends great.”
Patrick is interested in getting eight hours of sleep a night and recommends it for everyone.