Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to get more trail connections. The cool thing about this project is it connects to the YMCA Challenger Park. It also allows everyone who lives along Line Creek Parkway and 152 to walk to Pathfinder Elementary and Barry Middle Schools. I also have some Panoramio™ pictures of the corridor uploaded here and on Google Earth™.
A PDF of the image above can be downloaded here.
I am going to try and not offend anyone but this project had me to the point where I was ready say "screw it I'm done with this all."
Why? I'd gone batcrap crazy. For the longest time the endangered Indiana bat had put some construction restrictions on road and trail projects. Tree clearing could not occur between April Fool's Day and Halloween.
Why? Well Indiana bats spend winters in caves and like to summer vacation in northern Missouri (seriously that's what I read on a regulatory page). Bats like to find dead trees with flaky bark or certain tree species which have similar characteristics because they have baby bats between the tree trunk and the bark.
However, since it was from Indiana (Big 10 joke there) and not found all over the state, those restrictions were just kind of out there with little enforcement. Enter white nose bat syndrome.
What is white nose bat syndrome? Read all about it here. It's a fatal disease decimating bat populations and has put the long eared bat on the endangered species list. Someone at U.S. Fish and Wildlife had a meeting with someone at Federal Highway Administration and now it's all bats all the time and our state agencies are scrambling to try and figure out what process needs to be followed and who needs to determine if a project impacts any bat habitats. For example, on this trail project , I submitted final plans before Christmas with the thought that KCMO would open bids first week of February and construction would start before the end of the month. Trees would all be gone before bat summer vacation.
Well it turned out the project needed an updated environmental tracking document and since the threatened and endangered species process had changed, work needed to be done to update that tracking form. I had to get representatives from the state out to walk the job and inspect all trees on the project. We identified a handful of solid dead bat trees.
What does a potential bat habitat tree look like? This:
<Jack Nicholson voice>— Wes Minder (@WesKCMO) February 20, 2016
Beware..........the BAT TREE pic.twitter.com/kepCqtrjcj
State staff had to take the pictures with a narrative and submit to Jefferson City. Jefferson City had to send to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. U.S. Fish and Wildlife had to okay removing the trees and communicate back to Jefferson City who then relayed the information to local staff and then to me. While that took place, the project couldn't bid. By the time the final approval was obtained, the earliest bids could be opened is April 5th which means construction would start during the restricted tree clearing time period which means the project would have to be delayed until 2017. Right now, gas is cheap and who knows what will happen in a year and construction prices always go up because American labor cannot be outsourced to China. The cost of the project would have gone up, no value would have been added by this process, and there would be a chance that the project would be cancelled due to it being over budget.
Rather than that happen, how does someone who wants to get things built cheap and fast get around that? One wanders over to the maintenance manager's office and asks if staff would like to do some extra paid work and clear trees. Fortunately I work with a great team and management wholeheartedly agreed to do it because their staff doesn't get the chance to earn some extra money and tree clearing is a lot more fun than patching potholes. From a taxpayer standpoint, paying staff on the weekends is cheaper than hiring a contractor to do it so everyone wins.
If you've driven by the new Costco™ site, along the south side of Route 152, some advance tree clearing has been done. The goal of this clearing is to just knock the trees down and try to leave roots and the waste along the cleared area to not cause erosion. This is on the southwest side of the US 169/MO152 cloverleaf.
Course the trail is along a great deal of farm ground which has acres of tilled dirt exposed all year round so minor clearing isn't going to cause any issues. Again, forest from the trees. At some point, I expect farmers to have to install silt fence around everything because we've lost our ability to think in this country (note-erosion is natural and streams need silt).
Now keep in mind if the project had bid in the first week of February, all the trees would have been torn down in March and no baby bats would have been impacted. The only thing this tree investigation accomplished was a great deal of frustration to me and a couple of months delay in opening the trail. No value was added to the project from this exercise in government process.
How do I respond? Encourage you to vote for Ted Cruz Tuesday. Why? Because he's the only one that has consistently been talking about taking on the DC machine and returning power to the states.
I feel he's the only one that is committed to less federal control and regulatory agencies. We don't need the EPA, USFWS, USACE, MoDNR, and MoDOC all regulating stormwater and endangered species. All this does is cause your local government to have to hire consultants to fill out forms and make sure all the T's are crossed. Luckily my professional background allows me to handle most of this. If I didn't do all this, the costs of these trails would go up which means they'd be less likely to be funded because money is tight and stroad widening projects are so massively expensive. Now if I was doing a landfill or a mining operation or something similarly big, I wouldn't be complaining about permits because those have true environmental impacts. It's an extreme analogy, but I honestly feel that if I wanted, I could get a child labor internment camp permitted if I hired the right consultants because civil servants are so focused on process following and never look at the big picture. It's like the captain of the Hindenburg worrying about making sure every bathroom has toilet paper on the roll right when the ship starts to burn. The process is TP on every roll all the time not is the ship going down.
There should be a requirement that every government agency start the day or meeting off with a pledge:
I pledge to provide value to the taxpayer today. I pledge to ask "How does this provide value to the taxpayer?" on all decisions and process changes. I pledge to ask "Who do I serve and why am I here?" every morning.
The amount of government we have in this country is a blob. I see it all the time with people who think having a big important process to approve and manage means job security. While that may be the case, it doesn't do anything for improving things. All is does is feed the blob. You know what else feeds the blob? When taxes go up, spending goes up. When spending goes up, the blob gets heavier. The blob never goes on a diet.
When people are upset about the lack of results in an area, the "cure" is often a new "coordinator" or "division" which is created to try and get results from within the blob which was supposed to do that job to begin with (ie thanks GWB for the Dep't of Homeland Security). Eventually that new creation becomes part of the blob. Unfortunately, many people entering into government jobs get demoralized and alienated because the system is littered with process focused managers who were once promising employees but absorbed by the blob. No matter how hard anyone tries, the blob can't be moved. Small parts of it can only be tugged away from the central mass. The key is to be so nimble that the blob can't move fast enough to thwart a new initiative.
I know a lot of you work in regulatory agencies and I really do appreciate your help and patience. I just wish it was easier to build things that really build a community and make lives better for everyone. A trail project should not have the same level of regulatory process as building an interstate or building a nuclear power plant.
If this post rubs anyone the wrong way, consider it a challenge. Want to work in government and make a difference? Focus on the end result which in this case is little kids being able to ride their bike to school or a park. When some poor citizen comes in wanting to build a deck or a shed in the backyard or finish a basement, try to get them their permit as soon as possible and with only one trip to blob HQ.
Has anyone in government ever gotten a gold star or award from the public for being the best at process government? I don't think anyone gets any reward from the "blob gods." The blob afterlife seems to be a meager pension and stress related health problems. The public doesn't care how something gets done as long as it's done in the most efficient and fastest way.
I can't tell you all how awesome a feeling it is to see a family or little kid out using a new trail/park or a disabled person being able to use a new sidewalk to get from home to the store without having to dodge cars in the road. Smile, be helpful, and if someone succeeds in moving the blob, try and learn from them and encourage it.
Thank for allowing me to vent my frustrations at the blob. This is my only release. It should not take so long to get from project initiation to project construction with today's technology. If the current regulatory and attitude of civil servants existed when JFK gave the initiative to get to the moon, we'd still be deciding on make up of the launch pad selection committee, doing an update to the tenth environmental impact statement, and fighting in the courts on the launch pad location. The only thing happening would be engineers/architects pocketing millions and millions of dollars in fees and they've become really good at studying and re-studying things lately.
I just know that at the end of my career, I will be able to look back at all the wonderful things I was able to help with and give the blob the finger much like one of the best leaders in this country's history.