We owe a debt to our society: Bud Curtis

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Lamont "Bud" Curtis, P.E., DEE, Independent Consultant, Curtis Consulting, Newport News, Virginia; past chair of the Top Ten Review Committee; and current chair of the Water Resources Management Committee.

Tell us about your background: I started out with the Miami Conservancy District, a flood control agency in Ohio. I left them and went with a consulting environmental firm called Havens and Emerson for about ten years, and then joined a firm which ultimately was acquired by URS Corporation. I was with URS for almost twenty years, and when I left I was a Senior Vice President.

  Bud Curtis

For two years I was with a small design-build, architectural-engineering firm in Virginia Beach as the president. I left them a couple of months ago to start Curtis Consulting, where I'm concentrating on civil and environmental engineering as well as water resources. I'm also helping my wife with a business that she's starting up as well, which deals with marketing and public information programs.

Education: I received my bachelor's degree in civil engineering at the University of Maine, and I did some graduate work at both the University of Cincinnati and Cleveland State University. Then as a kind of a concurrent activity, I began teaching at the University of Dayton, then at Cleveland State University, and most recently in Norfolk at Old Dominion University. I taught courses in civil engineering, water resources, and environmental engineering. My last course at Old Dominion was a televised course on their Teletechnic program, a very successful program. Old Dominion is one of the leaders in the country in televised teaching. That was a lot of fun.

Favorite Book: Well, I probably don't have a favorite book. I spend a lot of my spare time reading new textbooks and technical articles. During the course of the year I probably read a half-dozen new textbooks that come out. I started that, of course, because when I was teaching I had to stay abreast of everything that was new, but more recently I just enjoy being able to be conversant on state-of-the-art topics.

On the non-technical side, I read a lot about American history and the Civil War, because we live in Virginia, very close to Williamsburg and many of the Civil War battlefields. As authors go, I enjoy Stephen Ambrose very much.

I also have a great interest in food, so I read a lot of cookbooks. I don't cook much anymore, much to my wife's—well, I'm not sure whether it's to her chagrin or not (laughs)—but I do read a lot of cookbooks as well.

Hobbies/Interests: Oh, I enjoy working around the house. I do a lot of carpentry work, anywhere from rough-ins to finished carpentry such as cabinets and bookcases. I haven't tried my hand at furniture yet, but I might do that someday. I play a little golf, not nearly as much as I'd like to, because it is just too time-consuming. I used to do a lot of skiing, but moving to Virginia curtailed the skiing, unfortunately.

Role Model: I probably don't have a particular role model, but there are several consultants who I always admired. They were gentlemen first and engineers second. They include people like Tom Niles at Greeley and Hansen, Stan Sutton at Havens and Emerson, and Bob Tippett at Burgess & Niple. They would be some of the role models I would have. But at my age now (laughs), a role model would have to be pretty old...or young as the case might be.

Career Accomplishments: From the standpoint of really fun projects and projects I was particularly proud of, I would go back to some of the work I did in Ohio. Projects such as the long-term water resources planning for northeast, southwest and southeast Ohio and the Corps of Engineers' urban study programs which identified a lot of problems back in the seventies which we are facing today. I was the project manager on several of those projects. I worked on several programs in the Cleveland area that dealt with cleaning Lake Erie. Those were particularly gratifying because in the late sixties, the Cuyahoga River was burning, and Lake Erie was devoid of oxygen. By the late eighties, Lake Erie was sporting Coho salmon, and the flats had become a very exciting and entertaining place along the Cuyahoga River. I am pleased to have been a part of those projects.

From the standpoint of being involved professionally, I was very involved early on in my career with ASCE. I went through local and regional chairs, and on the technical side of ASCE through the Technical Activities Committee and through chairing the Environmental Engineering Division. Those were all very satisfying roles. I have made lifelong friends through these organizations.

More recently, being on the Water Resources Management Committee of APWA has been particularly gratifying. It's given me a chance to do some things I believe are beneficial.

Awards Received: I was Civil Engineer of the Year in the Cleveland Section of ASCE. I got a similar award here—Engineer of the Year from the Tidewater Chapter of Virginia's Society for Professional Engineers. I most recently got an award that's as prestigious as probably any in this area, which is the Hardy Cross Hall of Fame. It's given by the Norfolk Branch of ASCE, and is named for Hardy Cross, a great engineer and mathematician. He developed the Hardy Cross Network Analysis for Water Systems. He was from this area, so they named this award after him. It's given to an engineer who has made a contribution to the local and regional engineering community and to the area.

I also spent fourteen years as a city councilman in Ohio. Of course, that's not an award, but I ran for office four times and was always elected. I resigned when I moved to Virginia. I would encourage any young engineer to strongly consider getting involved in local politics and adding to those decision-making bodies. I consider the views of the engineer to be geared to what is technically correct and cost effective. I think we tend to look at things that way. I believe that as engineers we owe a debt to our society, and that society means the citizenry of the country as well as our professional societies, which is why I've been active in so many professional organizations. I think we need to give back to society, and I've preached that for a long time. Certainly, that is not an original thought and has been stated by many others. When I was at URS and ran the local office in Virginia Beach, my staff was extremely active in professional societies. Likewise, I have always encouraged my students to become active in professional organizations.

What are some of the projects and activities of the Water Resources Management Committee? Last year John Damico [President, ERC, Inc., Union, KY] and I rewrote and updated, pretty dramatically, a book called Financing Stormwater Utilities. That was a significant endeavor, a lot of fun, and I think it's going to be something that will certainly benefit the people in public works. Many of them have told me that it's good to have these kinds of documents that they can pass on to their city councils, finance directors and city managers to let them know what stormwater utilities are all about. This year we're looking to do a similar project on a water reuse publication. I'm not sure we are going to get it done in 2003-2004, but we're going to try. We're soliciting some help from some other organizations and people.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? I got involved in APWA back in Ohio, actually when I was on the city council. Probably, at that point in time, the stimulus of my getting involved in APWA was because our service director, Gordon Forsmark, was involved in it. He and a group of people from some other cities had formed the Northeast Ohio Service Directors Organization, which was similar to a chapter of APWA. I got involved through my association with that organization and with Gordon, who incidentally is still a member of APWA. I saw him out at the Congress in San Diego.

The reason I like APWA is that it reaches a tremendous cross-section of people—public works directors are just one group. There are a number of other people who are managers of public works facilities who are not on the technical side. They have their point of view, and when you look at the total agenda, their comments and their advice are oftentimes very interesting, because they bring a different perspective to the table from what I might as a civil engineer. That probably is what I've enjoyed most about APWA.