Petree will broaden and expand his role outside of the Minnesota market
Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that Chris Petree has been named director of operations. Petree joined WSB in 2019 as the firm’s director of Rochester operations focusing his efforts in and around the southeast Minnesota market. Since then, his skills and expertise have extended beyond the Minnesota market. As director of operations, he will now support WSB’s firm-wide operations.
“Since joining WSB, Chris’s leadership and expertise have become true assets for our external clients and internal teams,” said Jon Chiglo, WSB’s chief operating officer. “We are growing quickly into new markets and service offerings and broadening Chris’s role will allow us to continue to drive momentum for WSB.”
Petree will remain at WSB’s Rochester office and will oversee and lead the firm’s work in southeast Minnesota in addition to supporting operations in Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and Arkansas. He will continue to support municipal clients across all offices by sharing best practices around project management, quality control and client engagement.
“For nearly two years I’ve had a front row seat to supporting WSB’s growth efforts and I’m looking forward to supporting our teams, clients and partners across the nation,” said Petree. “Working in a strong community like Rochester while having the opportunity to support WSB’s big picture efforts is really the best of both worlds.”
This strategic alliance allows WSB and BTS to deliver solutions to new regions
Engineering and consulting firm WSB and Business Technical Services, LLC (BTS) announced today they have formed an alliance. The two companies will work together to provide comprehensive energy solutions to new clients in new regions.
Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, BTS is an energy services company specializing in maintaining our existing infrastructure and helping to deliver safe and reliable results. WSB and BTS have a shared vision for protecting our energy infrastructure and a passion for making our communities safe and sustainable.
“We understand the importance of our energy infrastructure and how it powers the communities we support, and call home,” said WSB’s president and CEO Bret Weiss. “The demand for alternative and traditional energy resources is increasing and we are ready to support the needs of the market. This alliance with BTS can help us explore new avenues to share our services, expertise and experience to new and existing clients alike.”
The primary focus of this alliance will be the energy market. WSB and BTS bring unique expertise to the alliance and will position their collective skills and services to meet the growing needs across the industry.
“We are impressed by WSB and what they do in the industry,” said Jim Vickers Jr., president of BTS. “Over the last year, we’ve been working together on projects and have formed a strong relationship. We are aligned on how to serve our markets and clients and have a passion for improving our infrastructure. It only made sense to move towards a more formal relationship.”
WSB and BTS have collaborated on projects over the past year. This new alliance strengthens that relationship and enables both companies to deliver a broader service offering.
“I admire how BTS approaches their work and how they support their clients,” said John Gerlach, director of pipeline at WSB. “They focus on safety and integrity and have a level of passion for delivering results. I look forward to working more closely with the BTS team and I’m excited for what we can do together.”
In honor of International Women’s Day Shibani Bisson, Associate and Senior Project Manager on WSB’s municipal team, reflects on her experience working towards a more inclusive AEC Industry through the Zweig Group’s ElevateHER program.
The AEC industry statistically lacks females, but we are fortunate that WSB goes beyond “checking the box” when it comes to creating programs and initiatives to promote diversity in the industry.
Over the past year, I became more committed to elevating women within the AEC Industry. In 2020, I was honored to be selected for the Zweig Group’s inaugural ElevateHER cohort group. The cohort group included 26 women and men across the country working together to address recruitment and retention of women working in the AEC Industry.
What drew me to apply to this program was a staggering statistic identified in a recent Zweig survey of AEC firms – that 100% of women surveyed considered leaving the AEC industry. This stat, along with other staggering statistics about the number of females entering the industry and then leaving, helped form the foundation for ElevateHER. Jamie Claire Kiser, Principal of Zweig Group and creator of ElevateHER said, “The goal is not to check the box but make a cultural change that changes the shape, color and outline of the “boxes” themselves with a sweeping paradigm shift in how we understand the potential of our teams.”
My cohort group’s initial goal was to address and mitigate biases and stomp stereotypes in the industry. This was a big issue to tackle. During our ElevateHER kickoff meeting, I kept thinking back to how I felt being an engineer in this industry, the stories I heard from the cohort and how at times, we felt like we did not belong. These thoughts eventually spurred what would later be our #SheBelongsHere campaign to reinforce that women belong in the AEC industry.
Our research identified that because of established traditional female roles, society often does not associate or expect women to be engineers, hold positions in construction or leadership. It’s not necessarily that our employers, co-workers or clients make us feel that way, but it’s the unconscious bias and expectations of the traditional female role. These biases and stereotypes are improving, and we are making progress with diversity initiatives in the industry, but the statistics of the number of women entering the AEC industry is still not improving and we wanted to better understand why.
From our research, there is a leaky pipeline in the industry where girls interested in STEM are passively falling out of STEM because of biases and self-image. Confidence levels in girls typically starts dropping at the 4th grade level. We knew this was a narrative that needed to change and there were actions we could take to help open the world of STEM to girls and women. One other finding from our research was that if females persisted in STEM at the same rate as males starting in Calculus I, the number of women entering the STEM workforce would increase by 75%.
To provide the most impact, we needed to start changing that visual with school aged girls and boys. Our message was, “We need to see it to be it!” We developed two campaign messages, #SheBelongsHere and #GirlsCanBuildTheWorld, that illustrate to girls that someone who looks just like them belongs in AEC careers to help shift the narrative. The materials created included two YouTube videos and educational materials for students.
Although there is still a lot of work to do, it feels good to take action and to support women within the AEC industry and our future female engineers. The ElevateHER experience was and continues to empower me and was the highlight of my 2020! I’m thankful that WSB was supportive of my involvement with ElevateHER and of this initiative. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion at WSB is something I’m proud to be part of.
Shibani has over 20 years of experience as a municipal engineer for several communities. As a City Engineer, Shibani’s role is to oversee project delivery, provide quality assurance and quality control reviews and be a liaison between the City Council, City staff and the WSB project team. Her experience working in the public sector makes her particularly well-equipped to provide project management, quality control and a liaison to City Councils for municipal improvement projects with impacts to local infrastructure.
Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB & Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director, League of Minnesota Cities (LMC)
The Minnesota Legislative Session is well underway and as usual, there is a lot of ground to cover. I recently spoke with Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relationship Director at LMC, to discuss the current session and the top issues communities should be paying attention to.
BF: Thanks for taking the time out of what I imagine is a busy schedule right now to dive into this topic with me, Gary. There are many ideas being discussed right now at the Capital, but what are some of the most current issues communities should be paying attention to?
GC: This is an exciting and busy session and as you know, the League works on a variety of issues, but I think there are a few topics that should be front of mind for both cities, counties and even private developers. Let’s first discuss the status of the state budget.
BF: Great! A new budget forecast was released recently. What are the takeaways?
GC: It was a relatively positive forecast. The state’s projected outlook went from a deficit to a positive budgetary balance meaning the state will have some money available for projects, although the bulk of the improvement is considered to be one-time resources, which raises concerns about long-term spending commitments. However, one-time resources increase the chances of a bonding bill, which is positive for our communities as it relates to funding sources for capital projects.
BF: That’s good news, especially with the uncertainty over the past year caused by the pandemic. What else should we be paying attention to?
GC: Good transition – the American Rescue Plan Act was just approved by the Senate and the House. This $1.9 trillion stimulus package means a lot of funding for Minnesota that can be used for a wide array for purposes. Minnesota is expected to receive approximately $4.8 billion total. Of that $4.8 billion, the state will receive $2.6 billion, and cities and counties will each receive a little more than $1 billion. It appears this funding will be fairly flexible, and communities should start thinking about any one-time improvements or projects that can be completed using this funding.
BF: That certainly could have a large effect on our communities. Anything at a more local level occurring?
GC: Yes, sales tax authority. Currently, there are 22 cities and counties seeking local sales tax authority. These are being proposed for projects ranging from libraries, road infrastructure, ice arena upgrades, public safety facilities, etc. This is a growing trend, and more and more cities are looking for a dedicated sales tax to fund capital projects that they feel have significance in their communities.
BF: Yes, it seems more communities are taking that approach in recent years. I’ve heard some talk surrounding the sales tax exemption process. Can you speak to what’s happening there?
GC: The sales tax exemption process for local government projects has been a focus for nearly six years. Most cities and counties are forgoing the sales tax exemption process when working with a contractor for a local project because of its cumbersome nature. It also can be financially risky to pre-purchase materials, etc. We have a bill in to do a general simplification of the process. This is really important and could save cities and counties a lot of money. The legislature is considering a general law to streamline the process however, in the past several years, they have opted to only grant project-specific exemptions. I would encourage cities to put a request in for this and watch how things develop at the capital in the next year. If we’re not successful in securing a general law change, cities should consider mounting an effort to work with their legislators to position those bills.
BF: Any high-level takeaways from the pandemic or lasting effects communities should be prepared for?
GC: The housing market is crazy and that is great news – it means a larger tax base, but there is a countervailing force creating significant uncertainty for retail and business properties and it is unclear just how deep the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on that sector of the tax base. There are conversations occurring that the effects of the pandemic will hit communities in 2022 as more commercial and industrial properties seek an appeal of their property taxes or struggle to continue operations. This is a long-term topic to be thinking about and something to keep in mind as communities plan their budgets in the future.
BF: Thank you, Gary. This is all really great information. Is there a place we can watch the action unfold and go to for updates?
Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator. Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.
Gary Carlson has 37 years of experience in government affairs. As the Intergovernmental Relations Director at the League of Minnesota Cities, Gary leads the League’s legislative efforts that matter to cities including aid to cities, economic development, employment and human resources, pensions and retirement, public finance, taxes, tax increment financing (TIF) and workers’ compensation.
By Dan Pfeiffer, Director of Public Engagement, WSB
Spring is rapidly approaching; in Minnesota the snow is melting and talk of spring load restrictions has begun which means the construction season is just around the corner. Now is the time to start thinking about successful project communications and engagement, the first step is planning.
2020 brought out our adaptability showing that we can continue to move projects forward, engage the community, and bring decision-making to the virtual space. The focus on spatially distanced engagement will likely continue through at least the first half of 2021. We are optimistic that the second half of 2021 will bring us together in-person while continuing to offer virtual engagement, including virtual options will encourage increased community participation moving forward.
Develop a Plan
Identify your engagement goals, audience, and messaging before focusing on the tactic or tool you want to use. Your selected tactic or tool is only effective if your audience can use it.
Early and Often
Communicating clear usable messages early and often with the community reduces uncertainty and mitigates anxiety. Develop messages and calls-to-action that your audiences can read, understand, and use the first time they encounter it.
Tools and Techniques
Use tools and techniques that are familiar to your targeted audiences, including the physical space in your community. Even as we’ve all socially distanced in the pandemic, many of us still get out to the parks, trails, and community gathering spaces. Consider including in-place signage along roadways and trails, posters and sidewalk decals at faith institutions, and grocery stores to help inform residents.
A critical measure for when to begin in-person engagement, beyond public health official’s guidance, will be our communities themselves. When our communities begin to hold in-person events we should ask to be there with them.
Finally, remember that your communications and engagement program should be monitored and controlled like other project management processes. This allows for controlled changes to the plan to reflect on-the-ground conditions.
As another construction season approaches, it is necessary to ensure plans are in place for staying connected to our communities. WSB’s team of communications and engagement professionals are ready to support communities through all phases of the project.
Dan has more than ten years’ experience leading teams, as a team leader and operations assistant in the Army, and Minnesota Army National Guard and over eight years in public engagement. He has completed the International Association of Public Participation’s Foundations in Public Participation, the National Transit Institute’s Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-making courses.
Minnesota’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4s) are currently in the process of applying for coverage under the revised MS4 General Permit. The updated MS4 General Permit creates changes in the ways that MS4 permittees will operate, starting with modifications that address procedural and programmatic changes needed to comply with updated rules.
One of the main changes is new performance-based responses to Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and Total Phosphorus (TP); including a TMDL assessment to identify and prioritize activities to achieve reductions. WSB’s SWAMP system helps to address these new regulations by streamlining TMDL compliance through tracking and documenting improvements that have been completed to date or since the baseline of TMDL development. The SWAMP system also helps target subwatersheds that are underperforming or lacking the necessary treatment to meet water quality goals. SWAMP improves efficiency by saving time on planning and modeling when developing an efficient plan to address TMDL requirements.
Aside from improving compliance with new MS4 TMDL requirements, SWAMP continues to help address existing MS4 requirements.
Estimate TP and TSS reduction from existing ponds and BMPs
Prioritize inspection and maintenance activities related to ponds and BMPs
Ensure standard operating procedures are in place and stormwater management features continue to function as designed
Inspection and maintenance activities are automatically updated and reflect real-time information
Tracks and stores completed activity records for on-demand reporting
Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.
On Friday, February 26, the American Council of Engineering-Minnesota (ACEC/MN) presented WSB with two Honor Awards for the Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Water Treatment Plant in St. Paul Park and Highways 169/41/78 Interchange Improvement Project at the virtual Excellence in Engineering Awards.
For over fifty years, the association has been recognizing outstanding engineering projects through their awards program. Minnesota engineering firms across the state enter their most innovative projects and studies hoping to be recognized for the work they’ve done to make the state stronger.
Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Water Treatment Plant ACEC Honor Award
The Granular Activated Carbon Water Treatment Plant was constructed to provide residents a sustainable solution for bringing cleaner drinking water to the St. Paul Park community. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of manmade chemicals that do not naturally decompose due to their heat and water-resistant structure. Studies have found that consuming drinking water with elevated levels of PFAS can be associated with high cholesterol, reduced immune response, thyroid disease and kidney cancer. In response to this pervasive health threat, WSB partnered with the city to design the water treatment plant to remove PFAS from public drinking water and the surrounding environment. The implementation of the plant is anticipated to improve water quality and reduce the impact of harmful contaminants on community residents.
Highways 169/41/78 Interchange Improvement Project ACEC Honor Award
Scott County partnered with WSB to address freight, mobility, and safety problems on TH 169 between TH 41/CSAH 78 and CSAH 14, south of Shakopee. WSB completed preliminary and final design, environmental documentation, public engagement, permitting, and construction staging. The project included: replacing a signalized intersection at TH 41/CSAH 78 with a diverging diamond interchange; constructing a partial interchange at CSAH 14; addressing flooding at Picha Creek; improving an at-grade railroad crossing; geometric improvements at adjacent intersections on TH 41, CSAH 78, CSAH 14 and Red Rock Drive; closing 30 access points; constructing trails and noise barriers; and constructing 3.2 miles of frontage roads, 1.3 miles of CSAH facilities, and one mile of local routes; and reconstructing four miles of trunk highway.
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