The Public Works Nerds

Infrastructure Resilience with Russ Matthys - an APWA 2023 Top Ten Public Works Leader

January 30, 2024 Marc Culver, PE Season 2 Episode 3
The Public Works Nerds
Infrastructure Resilience with Russ Matthys - an APWA 2023 Top Ten Public Works Leader
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join us for our first of hopefully many conversations with an APWA Top Ten Public Works Leader. In this episode we are joined by a Public Works Nerds Podcast veteran, Russ Matthys. In 2023, Russ was one of 10 professionals named a Top Ten Public Works Leader by APWA. We talk to Russ about the award and what that means to him.

We also talk about a new task force formed by the Minnesota Legislature. Russ teased about this when we last talked to him and since then he was appointed to the task force as the APWA representative.

With the formation of the Minnesota Infrastructure Resilience Task Force, Russ provides a window into the collaborative efforts aimed at elevating asset management and infrastructure coordination. From creating centralized project portals to grappling with the challenges of utility information sharing, he doesn't shy away from the tough conversations about accountability, legislative efforts, and the quest for excellence. Tune in as we unpack the intricate dance of public and private sector roles in shaping the sustainable infrastructure of the future.

Show Notes:

Minnesota Infrastructure Resilience Task Force
https://www.lcc.mn.gov/irtf/ 

Michigan Infrastructure Council
https://www.michigan.gov/mic

Institute of Asset Management
https://theiam.org/


Russ Matthys:

Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast.

Marc Culver:

Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast, a Public Works podcast of the nerds by the nerds and for the nerds. I'm your host, Marc Culver. Thanks for joining us. Today is hopefully our first in a series of episodes where we nerd out with APWA's top 10 Public Works leaders of 2023. According to APWA's website, the top 10 Public Works leaders of the year award seeks to inspire excellence and dedication in public service by recognizing the outstanding career service achievements of individual Public Works professionals and officials from both the public and private sectors. The primary focus of the award is on career service to the Public Works profession, rather than on any one single event or project. I think that whole paragraph is well embodied by our first top 10 leader Russ Matthys. He's a veteran of the Public Works Nerds podcast episode number five from season one, where we talked about asset management. First of all, congratulations, Russ. Welcome to the podcast.

Russ Matthys:

Thank you, Marc. I appreciate it. It's good to be Thanks for having me back.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, I re-listened to the episode and we'll get into a little bit of how well this episode plays into the end of the last episode a little bit later. It was a good reminder of everything that you've done in your career and talking about Egan and some of the influences in your career and that I encourage our audience, if you haven't listened to that episode, go back and listen to that or be great intro to this episode. Here. Let's again formally congratulations on being recognized as a top 10. Public Works leader. I guess I want to ask you what does that mean to you? How do you feel about that? Obviously, you're very honored, but talk about what that means to you, what this award means and why do you think you got it. How did you get here, Sure?

Russ Matthys:

Well, it was quite the surprise. To be very honest with you, I was asked to apply for it as one of the American Public Works Association Minnesota chapter does a great job representing the Public Works professionals of Minnesota. They want to make sure that our members are being recognized for our efforts. They also want to when there's opportunities. They want the chapter to be recognized for its efforts as well. There's always a PACE award. It's a presidential achievement. I'm spacing on what PACE means exactly.

Marc Culver:

Presidential achievement chapter or something.

Russ Matthys:

Yeah, it's a chapter award recognition by the president. So, part of that, in order to meet all the requirements to receive that award, you need to have somebody from your chapter apply for this specific award for a top 10 Public Works Leader Award. So I was asked to do that.

Marc Culver:

So you basically nominated yourself through that, by filling out this application.

Russ Matthys:

Yeah, in essence. Yeah, I was given the application of a previous award winner, bev Bev Farer. Bev Farer, thank you. City of St Paul. City of St Paul. Oh, my goodness, bev's application was incredible. If you know, bev Bev is an incredible person as a professional but personally as well Just a very wonderful person. And it's like, oh, there's no way I'm going to be able to have an application that's going to look anything like Bev's and in mind didn't. But the person that asked me, I said, okay, if it's going to benefit the chapter, sure I'll do it. I'll be honest, I'm not going to put my best effort in necessarily, but I'll do it. Well, as you get going and you're working on things, it's like, okay, well, I'm not going to do this halfway, so let's put some effort into it. It was fun For me. It just kind of went through history. I mean, I've been doing this for 35 years and, honestly, as I went through it, there was some standout folks in my life professionally that opened doors for me, that, as I'm looking at this list of achievements or things I've participated in, that those were the ones that had led me down the roads or opened those doors or guided me through those doors or showed me how to do things. And for me it was Tom Kildonsky, it was Ken Heider and it was Tom Colbert and some of those some of you folks listening are probably going to be familiar with some of those names, if not all of them. But professionally I was able to do things that no one else was able to do or no one else had done yet in some of the instances and was just got to do things well because that's how they did them, so there was no other options. So that was a good reminder to me as I filled out the application. And then the other thing is just this chapter and the leadership in this chapter and all the opportunities that this being a part of this chapter for me to be active, taking an active role, and honestly, the only reason I did that was that Tom Colbert's encouraged, you know, 20 plus years ago, and so that's, you know. That's the reason I received this award was because of this chapter and because of other chapter members, in essence that I mentioned earlier, that were mentors to me in my life. So it's thanks to them, you know, that I received this. And you know, and the thing I say about Egan a lot of times, it's all about location, location, location. Egan is in large part what it is because of where it's located you know, but it's also been all about the people you know that have been a part of developing Egan and that were influencing me and that I got to work with throughout the years. So you know. One last difference, but I wish to say that Tom Colbert was with Egan, so that's how it came to be, and what I always tell everyone else is I'm old. I've been doing this for a long time. So after a while it's like, wow, you've really done a lot. Well, yeah, okay, yeah, you've got a lot of time to do it too. Exactly so.

Marc Culver:

So how do you? You have a pretty seasoned staff, but overall, how do you then kind of pass that along? How do you make sure you're being Tom Colbert in making sure that your staff at all levels get engaged in their professional organizations?

Russ Matthys:

Yeah, that's a great question. I would encourage anyone listening that has staff to make sure that they're developing their staff and enabling them to be successful, and for me, it's been encouraging folks to become members of professional organizations such as APWA and the City Engineers Association and a number of other ones. It's also giving them opportunities, trying to create opportunities at work and then enabling them to be a part of that and for them to take a chance or take a risk, but not and maybe we all fail and I think we learn more because we do fail but being the person that's going to be there to pick them up, or being the person that's not going to criticize them or beat them down because they did make a mistake or something didn't go as well as you would have hoped it would have gone, but and just encouraging them to do it again, to try it again in the future, and looking for folks that have that passion or have that interest and then just stir it up and I'll stir it up in them and then push them a little bit maybe to do things that would stretch them and aren't things that maybe they're not even comfortable doing those things necessarily, but just say just try it and I'll just give it a try and see what it's like. And if it doesn't work out or it's just not their thing, cool, that's fine.

Marc Culver:

Find another thing that you're thinking so yeah, well, I think, you know, I think, and there are so many different ways to participate in these professional organizations and obviously you know being a part of the leadership is one and anything. You guys are very well represented in that between you know yourself and your city engineer, john Gorder, and even Tim Plath, and you know being involved and engaged in the leadership of these organizations. But you know there's also a lot to be said for, just like you said, you, egan, is, I think, has a really great reputation for trying new things and being a leader in asset management or alternative. You know contracting and things like that. And what I think is great about that is you then use these professional organizations to pass that knowledge and experience to other cities. You know other agencies so we can learn from you, and sure you've learned from other agencies too. Absolutely you know, but but it's it's that sharing of, it's not it's being, it's not being afraid to fail, and then passing those successes, and sometimes failures, onto the rest of our peers, your peers and colleagues.

Russ Matthys:

Yeah, helping people learn lessons that that we learned, so it's maybe a little, a little less costly to them, whether that's financial or embarrassment or whatever, right, so, yeah, no, and I appreciate you, you recognizing that, mark, and, yeah, I've, you know, I've been doing STEM outreach for 25 plus years and that's all about education, yep, and, and, honestly, you know the trails into some of the other stuff we're going to talk about, but I'm, I'm, I'm big about education and it's you know, whether it's educating kids about what public works is all about and how they can take their interest and problem solving or math and science, and and apply that to a career and as an engineer or as a public works professional. Or else, you know, educating the public about you know it takes some money, you know, and some effort to go and provide the excellent road system that you like and the trails that you like and the safe drinking water that you are, you're demanding and you should, right, and and the ability to, you know, keep your homes from flooding and getting that wastewater away from your home as soon as you're done with it. So, so that you know. So it's all kinds of education and, likewise, just educating our peers that you know about different ways that they can consider doing things? Yeah.

Marc Culver:

Well, let's, you know, let's spend a couple more minutes talking about your volunteer efforts. Let's just call it within the industry. But you know you touched on STEM and I think you've also been pretty involved with Future Cities as well. So talk a little bit about what you've been doing to promote STEM. Like what have you done, you know, with the schools and such to be intentional about that.

Russ Matthys:

So you know, as a part of APWA, we have a public awareness committee and really the focus of that is educating the youth. And so STEM science, technology, engineering and math for those that don't know STEM is a big aspect of that. So we worked with a variety of different organizations, including Spark Path. That used to be successful. Beyond the classroom, we've worked with 4-H organizations before. We've worked with the Science Museum and are continuing and developing even more so to work with the Science Museum. But we'll go to different events sometimes, and what the events will typically do is they'll break in students from, I think, third grade is probably the youngest and then upwards to high school, you know, juniors and seniors, and then we'll, you know, usually have hands-on type of activities for them to get involved with. So at the same time, we're telling the students about us, what we were like when we were their age, what our interests were.

Marc Culver:

And not scaring them off yet. No, no.

Russ Matthys:

I hope not. Most of these kids are good students and they have similar interests, you know, so it's. I think it's valuable for them to see and understand that maybe those interests that they have right now could pan out to be something that would they could make a career out of and then just doing different that variety of activities is. Maybe they're building interchanges, you know. Maybe we're talking about how you know to go from a four-legged intersection with stop signs to a signalized intersection, to an interchange, you know. Or maybe we're showing folks about teaching them about drainage and how the variety of different activities that go on the surface of the ground can actually become part of, you know, once it rains or the snow melts, that can become part of the runoff and maybe that's. You know, water's okay to be going in our ponds and lakes and rivers, but maybe that other stuff that's sitting on the ground isn't necessarily and there's ways that we can capture those things and then just let the water go where we all wanted to go but capture the other things. So those are just one of, or a couple of a variety of different sessions we do and have for the students, so and other things. We're at the State Fair and have been for the past 10 years now, I think, and a lot of times we'll bring our sessions. We'll maybe have a model of a water system and we'll have a water tower and we show the kids how the pressure works, you know, to get the water, distribute the water throughout the community, you know. But it's a variety of different ways like that. Now we are beginning to work with the Science Museum and we'll we've gone to events at the Science Museums. Where there's one day events, we'll have a lot of table you know and the kids can come, but maybe there's an activity where they can flip up some. They can look at a cross-section of a storm water system or a storm drainage system, in essence, and kind of look at what happens to the variety of different pollutants, like I talked about before. But we also, well, we're starting to work with the Science Museum on mentoring to some students that they have, and so we're inviting students and we're just beginning this, but it's pretty excited about it. But we'll have them come to our shops you know, and then they can see what it's like, you know, to do maintenance work and maybe they'll get to drive in the snow plow truck, you know, or a pickup truck and go to different projects and things like that too. So we've done shadowing with the school district that's in Eagan with 196 for quite a few years. John Gorders does great with that he's had a lot of students shadow him.

Marc Culver:

What age group?

Russ Matthys:

is that usually that one's usually high school, so it's usually juniors and seniors for shadowing, but for the for work with the Science Museum it might even be some middle school students as well. And just again, let them help them see what it is that public works is, because it's some very few people fully understand what public works is, as you know.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, it's. You know, we say it a lot and I have to quote Mr Ray, mark Ray on this. You know we make normal happen and that's the thing is we are normal so we don't stand out. You know, plow events are probably the biggest thing that we stand out on maybe water, main breaks, you know something like that but otherwise we're kind of in the background by design and we're okay with that. That means we're doing things well, so it fits us for the most part. Well, cool, that's great. And I love the fact that your you know not only just pushing the, you know the science and technology and engineering and math, but you're also talking about you know driving the plow trucks and you know the maintenance side of it, because I think it's important for kids Understand that they don't. They don't have to go to college to have a good career. No, you know, and they can still make a difference. Yep, so, and that's, I think that's, given the state of our workforce right now, it's a really important message. You know we need people understand that we need good people In these maintenance positions too.

Russ Matthys:

Yeah, we definitely do, mark, and I'll throw this out. This is one new thing that we're Just starting to talk about and and at the national level, they've had discussions with it. But working with high school guidance counselors and helping them to are encouraging them to put public works in their list of potential career opportunities and, to your point that you were just, you know, going into, going from, it's not just all about the engineers and the scientists or the science and and and math folks that are probably gonna go Into college. Yep, there's just as many, if not more, positions available for those that you know Don't think college is an opportunity or an interest that they would have. And I'm telling you what there's good paying jobs, as you know, in public works for doing maintenance type work and and Field work, you know, and driving the snow plows and things like that, and there's still loot leadership opportunities In those roles as well.

Marc Culver:

So, yep, well said, well said, and you know, even in between, that you know there are a lot of we have a lot of really well qualified, smart technicians Out there to you know, maybe went to tech school for a couple years and and are doing some Amazing things, yeah, and really doing a lot of the work, a lot of the design work For us engineers you know, and being out in the field and and making calculations on the fly and stuff like that. So, anyway, all of that, just it's that big picture of all of the different careers and opportunities that there are in the, in the public Sector, in the public works world. So well, thank you for your work in, you know, mentoring and and introducing that to to the middle school and high schoolers, and that All right. Well, let's. Let's move into the topic of the day. It's it, like I said earlier, I was listening to our previous episode, episode number five, and talking about asset management and and getting in, you know, getting in this Tangents, about pavement management and stuff like that. But towards the end it was an interesting Conversation because I asked you about why. You know, I think there are some other states that have actual requirements for asset management reporting and you mentioned Michigan's got this asset management coalition, or or.

Russ Matthys:

Michigan infrastructure council.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, the Michigan infrastructure council. Yeah, and you know, like you know, and this was in April that we recorded this, and so the session was just going on and you're like, yeah, I've got this state representative that's kind of talking to me about something you know, so we may end up with something similar, and lo and behold, I think we did we did so in that legislative session. They formed this Task Force, so it's called the infrastructure resilience advisory task force, which is a mouthful and not a very good Acronym no.

Russ Matthys:

I've tried it's not, no, no.

Marc Culver:

We got to, we got to be more proactive about that. You know, like good acronyms. But so what is this task force? All right, ross, and and I should point out that not only were you involved in the early discussions of this, but you have since been appointed correct to this task force as the APWA Representative. That's correct. Yeah, all right. So, talk about what this task sure.

Russ Matthys:

So what the task force is is the Minnesota legislature established this task force to Create a report that was due to the governor on February 1st of 2024. So what they did is they the legislature Required that there was a number of different representatives that would be a part of this task force. So they had the various commissioners of all the departments within the state of Minnesota, a selector person, and then they also Chose a variety of different professional organizations I'd say which APWA was included as one and then those organizations then selected representatives. So we've been meeting since, I think, september 26 or the end of September, every other week for the most part. We had maybe a Few weeks in there that we we didn't keep on that schedule, but we have through most of the past three months and what we're trying to do is, an essence, replicate what the Michigan infrastructure council is in large part. So if you're you know, if you're wondering, well, what is that? You know you can always go to the website. Yeah, it's pretty easy to find for that. But so we've been talking. We had, we've had, a couple presentations, or a few presentations as part of the task force. The executive director for the mick or, you know, the Michigan council Presented to us. We've also had local presentations by the University of Minnesota staff, as well as a new, a newly created entity and Space and, on the name of the break and find it here anyhow with me, within Minnesota, another creation of the most recent legislative session that is going to help local agencies Utilize federal funding. Oh, I think Minnesota and this is going back a little bit, but Minnesota historically hasn't Received as many federal tax dollars as they've contributed. Right, and I think that's, you know, I had 80% of some of the numbers I've heard in the past, but Whatever Then? So this organization, this Entity within the state of Minnesota, would help local agencies, townships, cities, counties, counties recognize what all is available and then enable them to Apply for and be successful and receiving those applications. So, and that's part of what this task force efforts are as well so in essence, it really comes down to encouraging public agencies and as well as private companies to To practice good asset management. So it's about it's trying to make sure that we're getting, as as taxpayers and as customers and as members of this state of Minnesota community members, that we're getting the best bang for our dollar, and so it's trying to make sure that all there's an. As you well know, there's a lot of different parties, a lot of different entities that have infrastructure within, even within our public right of way, in our within easements, or you know that's. They provide Collectively, they provide the quality of life that we, we all have here in Minnesota. But and and there's means, there's go for state one call. That goes a long ways and helping us to coordinate our efforts so that when somebody's digging in the ground to install or repair or one of their infrastructures there, recognizing that there's others in the close proximity and that there, you know, go for state one call is marking those, are, identifying those. So ideally there's nothing as damaged or nothing as hit while we're trying to work on work on our things. Well, it goes a long ways to know that ahead of time than just to find that out, you know, in the 48 hour period in which the, the call was made and the markings were placed on the ground. So part of what the task force is doing is just trying to encourage and enable and educate all of us, but in particular those entities that are that are handling or managing the infrastructure to the best, be able to work with one another so that we can limit damage or you know worst case scenarios, emergencies you know from occurring, but also starting to plan to do things together so that you know, once the ground is open and I've opened the ground to put in a sewer pipe or a water pipe well, there's other things that could go into the ground at the same time.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, and that's, and I think, hearkening back to that Michigan Infrastructure Council. You know, just looking at the presentation that they gave you guys, you know they have that dig once project portal. So, with that intent, like you are notifying everybody in this area that you're going to be opening up this street, so if you need to replace your electrical lines or something like that, you're encouraged to do that. Yeah, but you know, I think there's a big difference between encouraging and trying to, you know, develop this coordination and such, and mandating it. Yeah, and do you see and then I don't know how much you can talk about or what's being talked about, but do you see any mandates coming out of this task force?

Russ Matthys:

No, no, and that's something we've talked about, mark, to quite a great extent, we've made it very clear this will not be. There will likely be a board that's created or recommended. The task force will likely recommend the creation of a board, an ongoing entity, an ongoing entity, but they're making it very clear that it will not be a regulatory. They have any regulatory. What I want to say? It won't be a regulatory agency or anything like that. So that's the challenge. And so there's a lot of focus on education, educating the public, educating all these various entities, whether public or private. Some of us have some ideas that maybe we need to do a little bit more than that, and I think those discussions are yet to be had. We've started those discussions and we'll see how that goes, and I've shared and I just shared, as you and I were talking. I've been working on educating students and others about STEM for 25 plus years and I like doing it. I think it's a good thing. I'm not doing it just because I enjoy it. I'm doing it because I think it makes a difference. But I'll be honest with you, I'm not seeing a lot of difference. Now. I'm not necessarily tracking or inviting folks to come up and tell me whether or not they participate in the future city competition when they were in eighth grade or seventh grade or sixth grade. But I think we do need to do a little bit more, and so we'll see where that goes and we'll see. I'm really excited about what's going to come out from the efforts of the task force. I think it's going to help change the way we do things in Minnesota and hopefully with that others will recognize the value in that to all of us. And out of that I think there may come a more of an urgency on the need to ensure everybody's making similar efforts, because it's not just about the coordination, as you know. I mean we've got so at the city of Egan. We have a variety of different utilities that are ours. We've got water pipes, we've got sewer pipes, we've got drainage pipes, we have roads. You even probably have some fiber. We even have fiber, we do and so what we're starting to look at as part of our asset management is it used to be because Egan is fairly young. It used to be. Our capital improvement plan was all about okay, what street needs to be? overlaid next you know, and we didn't worry about the pipes underground because they were pretty new Well, not all of them are new anymore. And so now we're starting to look at and it's a whole, it's a much more involved effort, but we're starting to look at, okay, well, is it really the road that's going to need to be improved next, or is it the water main that's going to need to be improved next? And you know, when does that water main or when does that sewer pipe need to be improved next? And I do not want to reconstruct a road. And then, you know, this is a thing we're trying to avoid with, you know, conflicts with others, but I really don't want to reconstruct a road, a city of Egan Road, and then three years, five years, even 10 years later, go and tear up that brand new road to put in a water main pipe that I really should have known was pretty close to be in need. You know pretty close to be in need of replacement. So that's, you know that's a big part of the education for this, because you know, you know you've sat in the same chair I'm sitting in A lot of times. You're just, you're just reacting. You're reacting to the water main break. You're reacting to the snowfall, you're reacting to the potholes, you know, and so it's time for us to. I mean, we have to react. We're always going to have to react. That's the nature of what we do. But we really all need to be focusing on that future and how we can best coordinate those efforts of all the different assets that we have to manage, because we cannot. What I've grown to recognize is we cannot afford to continue to go on the course that we're currently on. We can't afford to address what we currently have to manage. We have to do it. We have to do it on a more organized and coordinated basis.

Marc Culver:

Hey everyone, I just want to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor, Boltman Bank, who is producing and editing our podcast.

Bolton & Menk:

At Boltman Bank, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us and, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Marc Culver:

Do you see this task force and the subsequent board presumably making some recommendations about reporting? Yes, and is that a mandate or is that a recommendation?

Russ Matthys:

Right now I would tell you it's going to be a recommendation, that'll be a like an annual report that would go to the legislature and there would be like best management practices that would be suggested for public agencies and private companies, utility companies and such. At this point I would see it as probably just being recommendations and then, ideally, the legislature is going to act on those and maybe provide some incentives. A suggestion I would have is that I mentioned before about this new state entity that is going to help all of us recognize hey, there's some federal money that we can utilize for the needs we have and, in essence, addressing the assets that we have. Well, perhaps those that have an asset management program and that best understand what their needs are should be prioritized for that federal money.

Marc Culver:

Or maybe even state bonding.

Russ Matthys:

Maybe even state bonding.

Marc Culver:

I think it's a much harder sell because it gets very political. But I think we could certainly make an argument that if more and more communities had an established asset management program and, as we've talked about before and we'll talk about in the future, that can mean many different things, but just having an idea of the age of your infrastructure and having a replacement plan in place would probably save that community money in the long run and probably result in fewer emergency bonding requests. So why not say well, if you don't have one of these plans, you're going to, like you said, maybe you're just it's not that you can't get the money, because some communities just are going to need the money, but you're not as prioritized. But I love having that carrot to it and I do think that it's something that for some communities, just because of the size of the community, the resources that they have, the other priorities that they have, there's a lot of things that these cities are dealing with. If you don't have that incentive, they're going to keep putting it off. Maybe it's something that you know it's not in their budget because there's not a priority. Does Michigan require reporting? I can't remember. I thought that one of the states out there required some sort of reporting.

Russ Matthys:

Michigan. My recollection is Michigan does a lot of work towards creating champions. Yeah, and so what they're?

Marc Culver:

what does that mean? Because I saw that on the presentation too yeah.

Russ Matthys:

So what they're doing is they're trying, you know, if you're listening to you know me talk about this. You know, in our conversation now, I mean, I think you could probably take away that I'm a champion for asset management, Absolutely the champion in Minnesota, perhaps but, yes, so that's what that's what the MIC is all about is educating folks and helping them understand the value that their community can receive by making the extra effort to do asset management. We all do asset management. For some of us, it's up in our head, you know, and that can work. You know that can work. All right, if you're smarter than me, it probably it could work really well. But you know, for most of us, as our systems grow or as they age, we need to track things a little bit better. And so, yeah, I think so for the champions. In essence, that's all about encouraging them to collect data, to track the data to whether it's the age, the pipe type, the soils that's been installed and all the variety of different things that can impact the aging and the life expectancy in all of our assets and our infrastructure.

Marc Culver:

And I don't know again. I just keep pointing to Michigan because it's an established council and effort and everything. So I'm just kind of curious where they have evolved to and maybe where they think they're going. But do they provide any basic tools for agencies Like, hey, here's a template for a spreadsheet for asset management or here's maybe even an ArcGIS plugin or something? Is there something like that that they provide? And do you see the advisor, your task force, maybe advocating for something similar?

Russ Matthys:

Yeah. So some things that they actually provide are things that they're doing or ideas. I guess that we've garnished from what Michigan's doing is having like a website where you can go and probably you would be an approved user as a representative of a public agency or a private company that has assets that you could go on there and you could see where Egan's water and sewer and storm sewer is located, and because you're a certain electric company that's going to go into Egan and you have a big project and you want to see where everybody else is at. So that's going to take some effort to get towards that, but I know that that is something that Michigan has started. I'm not sure if they've completed that and then just best management practices. So the other thing is just creating, like this, templates that you referenced. So having templates so that folks that maybe really don't have anything other than maybe things written on a sheet of paper, that there could be templates even for coordinating installations of both public and private utilities. So those are two of the things that we've talked about on the task force. That would be recommendations, I think, as part of the report that we're going to provide for the governor and the board. In and of itself, that's likely going to be recommended. Those recommendations may come from them. So I'm not sure if the task force is mainly going to just recommend having the board with suggestions of these other recommendations or if it's going to be a package deal.

Marc Culver:

So you keep talking about private entities private utilities presumably, and I was trying to scan through the list, but, like, what kind of representation is on the task force for the private utilities currently?

Russ Matthys:

So currently we have the only electric utility that manages nuclear power plants, and that was the language that was used for the Excel. Energy is involved, that's a pretty important asset. That is a very important asset. And then we also have the municipal utility. Folks are represented. So a lot of there are a lot of utilities electrical utilities within the state that are municipally managed, and so they are represented as well. We have talked about in fact we spoke about this yesterday at our latest meeting about having rural electric co-ops to be a part of this effort as well, and so then there was also discussion about gas too.

Marc Culver:

So, and telecommunications, I mean yeah, I was going to lead into that because obviously, when we think about vital utilities and services to the general public water, sewer, electricity, gas all of those things are vital to our way of life, to just basic living. As a way we've established it anyway. We need to heat our homes, especially Minnesota, we need to cool them in the summer, we need to have lights and obviously we need that running water and you mentioned it. We have to make sure that water gets away from our house when we want it to. But it's getting to the point, in this technologically advanced society that we've built, that we've evolved into, that internet is no longer a, even our cell phones. It's not a luxury anymore, it is a basic need. If you want to be able to register for things I mean, talk about applying for federal funding or public assistance or this, that and the other I mean you need the internet. Yes, and yeah, you can go to a library or something like that, but you have to have an email in order to be notified about things. So it's interesting to me, and I don't know what kind of conversations and maybe this is the question is, what kind of conversations have been done have it at the task force level about internet as a vital component, and when do we have stronger requirements, because I think that's one of the things as city engineers and public works professionals. There's a couple of telecommunications providers out there that have been infamous for not locating their facilities or not locating them well or not responding when something happens, because stuff happens. But have you had conversations about more mandates or something on the telecommunications industry?

Russ Matthys:

The discussion about telecommunications has been to ensure that they're a part of this discussion and we're really focusing on asset management and, even though I could argue along with you, I think that part of that asset management is managing your asset when you need to they have assets, exactly yeah.

Marc Culver:

Exactly.

Russ Matthys:

We're not talking about the task forces and talking about getting quite down into that bunch of the weeds.

Marc Culver:

I guess I'll just say but no, I would strongly encourage that, though, and support that, yeah, and to your point, they should be more, they should be integrally involved in the whole dig once well. And there are other conversations going on in other circles and obviously it's the Venn diagram. We are certainly a part of that other circle but talking about different requirements for locates and there's talk about more repercussions, more outcomes, negative outcomes to these companies that aren't locating their facilities. So I know that's going on in different circles, different legislation that's likely going to get proposed this session, but just curious what was going on at the task force level on that. But it's good. I mean they should be involved in these conversations.

Russ Matthys:

And I would say to what the task force efforts I think are trying to do, mark, is they're trying to head it off at the very beginning by encouraging that communication upfront so that three, five years before the projects are being done, that there's this coordination, so that when we do get to actually dig in the ground that you probably know the utility guys son's baseball schedule by that time, because you've been working for a few years on making sure everyone's on the same page, so that at the point you're doing the construction you could almost call them on as probably your personal cell phone, as they're like hey, are you coming out? Yep, yep, I'm on my way. So I think that hopefully would circumvent what you're talking about, what we see happening with the conflicts. Again, one of the driving force for the two representatives that are chairing and then vice chair of the task force is to avoid those messes. You know those, you know going in and someone going into project one year and somebody else coming in tearing up the same section of street the following year or having those big holes open for way too long because, people can't resolve their issues, you know. So those are definitely things that I think they've experienced seen that kind of drove them to the passion that they have now for this.

Marc Culver:

Do you ever foresee us getting to the point and I think that other legislation also wants to talk about, you know mandating these, all of the utilities, public and private, to digitize their infrastructure? You know the digital twin kind of concept, and I would say, the public agencies, we've got that, we've got that. But do you ever think we'll get to the point where there'll be, like this project portal, this place that we can go to and we can, and we have confidence in the lines that we see on the map, that, hey, this is where the gas line is and this is the material that it is, and things like that. Do you think we can get there?

Russ Matthys:

That's the hope of the task force. So do I think we can get there? I hope so. Yeah, I've you know a lot.

Marc Culver:

It's a lot easier said than done.

Russ Matthys:

It is, it really is, and you know, as you know as well as I do, you know we've tried to various degrees, just within our own communities, to do that, you know, over the past 25 years, and it's been challenging and you know I'll be honest with you, you know we're part of it. The challenge was us too initially, but I think we're there. Like you said, I think most cities are there, most public agencies are there and I feel I'm completely confident that the private entities are there as well. The private companies is just the sharing of the information, and so I spoke earlier about you know there potentially be a website that folks could go to. Well, it's not going to be open to the public. You know it'd be open to approved. You know representatives of the different entities that you know I don't know if they'd be sworn to secrecy or what, but you know that they could see, ideally be able to see, all the other existing utilities in their area where they're doing the project, so that you know they could go ahead and do a design that actually would have the least amount of issues when you're actually out in the field building it, because I pretty much knew where everything was going to be.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and I understand, I get the. You know the perspective of obviously there's security issues, you know. I mean there's a telling the public where all the electrical infrastructure is and things like that. Now, some of it is pretty obvious, you know. You see the power pole, you see the tower, you see the transformer, the, the, the transfer station, what have you? Okay, it's pretty hard to not know where those are, but to put it on a map, there's. There's some security issues and I also understand that from the private side, that there are, you know, kind of trade secrets, yes, that they're investing new cabling or what have you in certain areas and maybe they don't want their competitor to know that they're investing in that in order to expand their service in there someday. But if you're, I guess my perspective on it is, if you're putting something in the public right away, it is public data, I'm sorry, that's just that's the cost of using our right away, because for the public good we need to know what that is and where it is and things like that. So, anyway, it'll it be interesting to see how that evolves. It sure would make life a lot easier if we yes, we look at a map and say, I, because we do design. Locates, sure, but even those aren't always 100% accurate. No, and and where's the accountability? That was what I was looking for earlier. Where's the accountability for at the design level of a Utility not locating their line or not putting it in the replays? Yes, there's not much there. So anyway, it's hard enough to prove, to prove a Blame when something gets hit.

Russ Matthys:

Yeah you know, and it doesn't matter. I mean really. I mean it's the, the consequences of it being hit. Is is what matters. Yeah, we don't. None of us like that to happen, right, right right.

Marc Culver:

So, as we get towards the end of our hour here, how far behind do you think like agencies in Minnesota are on asset management? You know, like, if you, if you could grade us like a through F as a whole, yeah, across the state, where do you, where would you put that grade? Oh wow From what you've heard, and you're pretty tied into a lot of different asset management groups, so I Um, I would say Probably less than a C.

Russ Matthys:

So is that a D and C minus, d plus. And you know folks listening to this may go. You know, we know better than you we're doing things a lot better than you think we are. Again, I think we, when you look at just as a comparison, okay, if you ask somebody, well, who's got the most roads in Minnesota, you know most people, priceable Minda. Oh no, it's not Minda, it's not the counties, it's not the cities, it's the townships. Yeah, okay, so the townships, you know. And then I'm not. I'm not being critical of anyone that's managing townships, but talk about reaction. You know that's, that's, that's their lives for the most part, in large part, you know.

Marc Culver:

And and right. When you talk about reaction of the township level, I mean there's, the roads are one thing, yeah, there's a lot of conversation, while funding for roads for townships it's still not nearly enough for them.

Russ Matthys:

But there's a lot of conversation about it.

Marc Culver:

It's the stuff underneath the right. That's really the the biggest concern for them, Right you know the biggest expenses right.

Russ Matthys:

So and then they're all connected, you know. So, once you start addressing issues on the ground, you're creating Problems or things that need to be addressed above ground to. So you know, I don't know, that's C minus D plus. I do know that and I don't know if you're gonna go there or not, but you know the Institute of Asset Management.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, I wanted to talk about that too Okay, why? Don't you go ahead and mention that? Yeah, what is that?

Russ Matthys:

So that's an organization, it's a, it's an English, you know, it's got an English source or, I guess, base you, and by English you mean like Great Britain, english Britain, english.

Marc Culver:

Yes, yes, yes.

Russ Matthys:

So and so England, australia, new, zealand, new, zealand, a lot of, I guess, the British Empire, I guess I would say former British, former British, For those of us we know, you're not part of the British Empire but you know they are those, those countries are really. I mean, they're, they're, they're at the A plus level. You know, for asset management and you know just some of the discussion we had earlier there's some mandates, there's some requirements for public agencies, and I think private companies as well, to have A level of asset management in order for them to get funding, in order for them to, you know, get approvals and things like that. So you know, we've got a chapter of the Institute of Asset Management here in Minnesota. The latest meeting we had met council Make a presentation, as well as Robin Stale. Oh, richard. Richard. Excellent job.

Marc Culver:

Talk about Aussie, yeah, yeah, talk about Aussie. So, and I think part of Richard's passion as may, have to do with his.

Russ Matthys:

You know, australia origination. But, yeah, I think there's a lot, of, a lot of communities within the state of Minnesota that are doing what they can with their assets and and, and Some of them maybe are starting to recognize that you know they're gonna have to replace what they have or they're. You know they're gonna have to do more and more repairs, but I think For most of us we've just been getting by and out of sight, out of mind. You know it's a lot of as, as long as things aren't breaking great, they must be working. I guess the potholes we see, you know we can patch them. But the broken pipes on the ground that are leaking into the Groundwater, you know, are taking in infiltration, you know, and Overflowing our sewage treatment facilities. You know the big thing that I think we're going to see more and more of, and I and I've been hearing of it Already Clean Water Act 1972. Feds provided a lot of money for sewage treatment facilities In smaller communities. So 50 years ago, 50 years ago, I can.

Marc Culver:

I see where you're going on this truck, okay, so a good, a good, you know.

Russ Matthys:

Just, and everybody listening probably knows that for those that aren't public works folks and happen to be hearing, a good waste wire treatment plant Will last 50 years. You know, a well-designed, well-constructed. A lot of those haven't necessarily those are. Those are complex Operations and You've had good people, I think the communities have, that have ran those and operated them and Maybe done as much maintenance as they were afforded money to do, maybe haven't done as much maintenance as should have been done or was needed and regardless they're, they're coming up to the end of their life and they were millions of dollars, you know, back in 1972 to construct or the mid 70s to construct. We, some of those communities, have maybe grown. A lot of them have probably stayed the same or even shrunk a little bit. They don't. They have not been, and I've had, I have had a recent conversation on this they have not been Planning for the replacement of those facilities. They have not been increasing their utility rates to Provide money or you know, a savings account, inflation, yeah, exactly, and I think that's a good thing to do is to keep up with the Account inflation. Yeah, exactly. And so Once your, your Sewage system fails, that's not a good situation, you know, and it could be impacting your drinking water or not. But Similarly, your drinking water system was probably on a pretty equal course. Maybe, maybe it's got a few more years, decades to go. But my concern is and I'm not a Usually not a negative person, but my concern is the, the little towns in outstate Minnesota when I love to go grouse hunt or pheasant hunt, or you know, or just Get off the freeway and drive through and show my kids what small town America can be like or Minnesota can be like. They may not be able to Literally provide A healthy you know community where someone can actually live and thrive. And so we may lose, you know we may lose communities because people can't live in them. Right, it's not healthy for them. And who knows if the health department comes in or the PCA, the pollution control agency, and says you know you don't have a viable sewer system here, you know you can't live in these homes? Yeah, you know.

Marc Culver:

So I recall last year, so a year or two ago, reading a story about a community I don't remember the name of the community is in Minnesota somewhere. That's probably best I don't call them out anyway, but they were. It was interesting because they were a community of septic tank systems, okay, and the septic systems were all failing at the same time and they weren't going to be able to build them to modern standards. Sure, you know, they weren't going to be able to meet the drainage field size in the set and the other for their septic system. So then they were looking at, I mean, tens of millions of dollars to install a sewage treatment facility, you know, system, yeah, and it's just. I don't remember the population of the town, but it was a pretty small town. There was no way that this community was gonna be able to burt. You know, carry that burden, yeah. So then they need extra funding and then it's. It's that question, you know, to your point of well, do you help them? Or because that same community in 50, 60 years is probably gonna have the same problem, right, right. So it's, it's an interesting question and about small town America, like you said, a lot of these small communities and maybe we can find ways to to be more efficient and how you treat the water and things like that but if they're not being proactive about asset management and those things, they can't at least help themselves Right by saving some money up over time to to address that situation Correct. So a very important topic. Will be really interesting to see what the outcomes of this task force are. February 1st yeah, good luck, thank you. I know you're gonna be here in January sometime, but yeah, you don't have a lot of time to finish your report.

Russ Matthys:

I think we're gonna be doing some homework, so yeah, yeah, well, good luck.

Marc Culver:

Look forward to the outcome of that and thank you for all you've done for Public Works and this asset management topic. You're in, you were, you were appointed to this task force for a reason, so thank you for that. Yes, and again, once again, congratulations on on your top 10 Public Works Leader Award.

Russ Matthys:

Thank you yeah.

Marc Culver:

Alright, thanks, russ. And one last thing before we go. We hope you've enjoyed the episode and the podcast in general, and you know, all we ask is that you help us spread the word. So, social media Instagram yeah, I have an Instagram, we have an Instagram account, yeah, and LinkedIn is kind of our big one. So, like it, repost it, spread the word, tell your colleagues about the podcast. But, as always, thanks for listening, thanks for watching and we will see you next time. Nerds out.

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