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Seminar attendees can gain information about environmental conservation topics through classroom events and roundtable sessions. Photo: George Pfoertner

Months ago, I serendipitously received your magazine by mistake (March 2005). Your Headworks Editorial (page 5) was right in stride with the theme of our regional environmental education conference we had in October. I pushed this group to try to see the world in the way you described it in your editorial. It's exactly what environmental educators should start to focus on, the reality of environmentalism. I truly enjoyed that editorial.

You and your magazine are further along the “Environmental Realism” spectrum than many of the environmental educators who I know. I personally laud you and encourage you to continue your efforts to change the definition of the term “environmentalist.”

Mike Dattilio, New England Environmental Education Alliance, 2005 conference co-chair.

I enjoyed your Headworks Editorial in the October 2005 issue (page 5). You hit the nail square on the head. I just hope it does not puncture someone's infrastructure.

Steve Haywood, building code enforcement officer, Williamson, N. Y.

I read with much interest your editorial in the October issue of PUBLIC WORKS that forecasts the blame that will ultimately fall on us as engineers and public works professionals for the failures of our nation's infrastructure resulting from Katrina. What bothers me most is that we public works professionals too often bring it on ourselves. Not the cause of the failure, but because of the fact that we operate so far below the radar screen that the public does not even know that we exist or that we see a problem until there is a catastrophic failure.

I presented a paper at this year's National Society of Professional Engineers meeting in Chicago entitled “Dealing with Elected Officials and the Public,” and I was amazed at how little most engineers knew and understood about the political process and how critical being able to operate in a political environment is to our public works success. In fact, I was asked by an audience member why elected officials rarely seem to appoint an engineer to be on a committee or to be part of a task force to resolve a technical public issue. I, in turn, responded to see how often this individual interfaced with the elected official in question. The answer was “not often.” The answer to the instant question was “Because, too often, the elected doesn't know who you are or what you can do.” Elected officials will typically appoint someone with whom they have confidence—this means that they have to know who they are appointing.

As most of our careers were formed in our early years, we often heard one of our colleagues disparaged by another as he or she was called, “He's not an engineer, he is a politician.” This was the individual who learned early on that we live and work in a political environment and to get ahead, he needed to get along and be part of a broader vision.

The same is true of our infrastructure today—we as engineers have a duty to warn. It is part of our training and part of our fundamental oath to protect the public. I think that we owe it to our public to be more involved and to be a constant advocate for needed infrastructure repairs, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. How many of us public works professionals truly know our decision makers? How many of us are regularly called upon for our opinions and views? How many of us advocate for infrastructure dollars? How many of us write guest editorials in the local papers?

I think that this nation needs us, and we in turn owe it to the nation to be more visible, more active and to be more a part of the decision making process in the communities that we serve.

Thanks for a great editorial—we need more on this subject.

Michael S. Ellegood, P.E., director of public works, director of transportation, and county engineer, Maricopa County, Ariz.