The fact it has taken this long for Wapello County to find a new, permanent county engineer isn’t a particular surprise. But we’re glad the search is, apparently, over.
When Brian Moore left the county, most people probably thought the search would be routine. We quickly found out otherwise. Last July, supervisors noted several other counties in Iowa were looking for new engineers. That’s a seller’s market, and Wapello County didn’t get the applications it hoped.
Back in August, Supervisor Brian Morgan said he thought he had an option lined up. But the state said counties cannot have an engineer who also works for a private engineering firm.
Ads seeking new graduates fizzled, too. Someone fresh out of school would have required some supervision until they got used to the position, but it sounds like a good opportunity to most. Graduates didn’t think so.
“Even with that, no bites,” said Morgan at the time. “It’s pretty slim out there.”
But other factors suggest this won’t be a one-time struggle. When you can make comparable money for either a private firm or a public position, there are powerful incentives the choose the former. A private client may be high-pressure, but the work is much less in the public eye than a county engineer’s is, and that brings less public complaining.
If we’re lucky, the new engineer will stay on for a good long time. Brian Morgan, the prior engineer, was in the post for 15 years. We’re hoping for a bit more than longevity, though. We hope the new engineer will follow Morgan’s penchant for innovation.
One of the most important projects Morgan oversaw during his time in Wapello County was the replacement of the Mars Hill bridge using innovative techniques and materials. It was interesting enough to draw attention from the entire industry.
In 2007 “Aspire,” an industry magazine dedicated to concrete bridges featured the Mars Hill bridge. It was the first North American highway bridge to use ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC). Research and planning took three years. About 2 percent of the UHPC is actually steel fibers that reinforce the concrete.
Most projects won’t offer such opportunities. Routine issues like culvert replacements and making sure rural roads are rocked and graded will be much more common. But Moore showed there is room for innovation and that the county can receive positive attention if it takes advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
We’re glad the county appears to have found a new engineer. While the department seems to have been free of major disruptions since Morgan left, a tribute to the professionalism of the people it employs, there is simply no replacement for the certainty offered by a permanent engineer.
We hope this is indeed the end of the search. And we look forward to seeing what ideas the county’s new engineer brings.