A Perspective on Consultants

Using a consultant costs money.  Nobody wants to spend money.  This is probably the understatement of the year.  Spoiler Alert: this post is written and produced by a consultant.  That being said, in the constant hustle of this line of work, I routinely run into individuals who have experienced the good and the bad, with seemingly more of the bad.  Permitting of natural resources related projects can be problematic for the uninitiated.  This includes private citizens and consultants alike.

One thing we have no shortage of in northern IL is engineers.  I work for an engineering consulting firm.  The difference is that the multitude of engineers I work with understand what their capability is and we respectfully observe each others boundaries.  That is not always the case.  Trespassing disciplines also gets some non-engineers into trouble when they underestimate the type of design-build work they get into and the complexity of some hydraulic and soil erosion & sediment control (SESC) situations.  I am currently in a project trying to bail out a design-build firm that oversold their capability and is caught in a permitting loop.

Track records are extremely important.  Getting an understanding of the area of expertise that different consultants can bring to the table is important.  Often we get caught up with a firm because they “had the original idea” or “they seemed cost effective”, or “had a great presentation at a conference”.  The idea of “value design/engineering” is not a dead concept.  Knowing the agencies, municipalities, and players at the table is an efficient first step in getting a project done.  Having the proper consultant working with you ensures better delivery of the concept, more streamlined permitting, and better communication to all parties involved.

From a historical perspective, streams, lakes, and other natural areas were managed by scientists or people achieving education of a particular natural resources based background.  Over time, and especially within the urban and suburban northeastern Illinois the advance of urban sprawl has led to many natural places being commingled with our gray infrastructure network (roads, utilities, and homes).  This new connectivity leads to direct and indirect impacts to these waterways which left unattended permanently alters the way in which these systems function and ultimately respond to their surrounding environment.  Gray infrastructure is typically designed, maintained, and managed by engineers.  When properly managed the two professions can work in harmony.  When isolated they tend to serve individual purposes which may or may not be in unison with their surrounding environments.

The goal of this post is to illustrate that as consultants we are not all necessarily created equal and we all have our place in the world.  It is our job to properly explain the circumstances of the project so it is clearly understood what is all involved and the amount of work that goes into it.  Many times in a client’s effort save money or provide assistance they actually make things harder to either complete on time or with the allotted budget, specifically when it comes to agency interaction and permitting procedures.

Lastly, the year is no longer 1965 so most any project takes time to go from concept, to through design & permitting, to construction.  Unless you have a small project (< $5,000) in total value with almost no permitting, you should anticipate a minimum 6 month window to over a year to completed the process.  Trying to take shortcuts often leads to project elongation, disgruntled permitting agencies, and cost consequences.  If you cannot find it within yourself to trust that your consultant’s judgement will result in the shortest timeline to a better project, you should not have hired that firm in the first place.

-Posted by LL&S