TPR is pleased to offer the following interview with Jack Baylis, an accomplished engineer and leader in both the private and public sectors of California’s environmental infrastructure scene. In September of 2011 Baylis left AECOM for the position of Executive Director, Senior Vice President of the Shaw Environmental Infrastructure Group in The Shaw Group. The focus: his past and present projects, the future of water and transportation infrastructure investments in California, as well as his role on the California Fish and Game Commission and his appointment by President Obama to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council.
“We import about 75 percent of our water into LA, so another issue that I believe in is doing a better job of capturing our stormwater...” - Jack Baylis
It’s been more than a year since we last interviewed you about your work on ‘One Water’, and your transportation and infrastructure projects in California. Update our readers.
I continue to be involved with aspects of One Water globally as well as continuing to work with clients who manage our local and state environment and public and private infrastructure. About seven months ago, I joined the Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Group, where I have a couple of roles and responsibilities. I manage the operations for one of their divisions for the Western US, most states west of the Mississippi, and I also have a global responsibility, mostly North American focused, managing Shaw’s water and wastewater market and practice.
Over the last year you’ve successfully done infrastructure work in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Middle East. What are some of the specific projects that you have worked on and what have you set your sets on next with the Shaw Group?
Well, specific to San Francisco, I worked with some great teams with my last firm where we, as a joint venture, were selected to be the Program Managers for San Francisco’s Central Subway that’s going to connect folks down from the new AT&T Ballpark up through Chinatown. I was the Chairman of that joint venture. It’s a very important transportation link—over a billion dollar project. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the second most congested area in the US next to Manhattan. With the great transportation network in San Francisco provided by Muni, BART, and the Caltrans system, you will be able to get on a train in San Jose, Oakland, or other areas in SF and end up in San Francisco’s Chinatown when this system is completed.
I was the executive sponsor of a large program assisting the San Francisco PUC on the last phase of the $4.6 billion Hetch Hetchy to the San Francisco Bay area upgrade. This laudable award winning effort supported by many consultants and constructors and led by many great SFPUC staff is improving the seismic and conveyance of their water supply.
Lastly, I chaired a joint venture that was selected to support San Francisco’s wastewater program. They are launching a $7 billion effort to upgrade the wastewater collection and stormwater combined sewer system in San Francisco along with their treatment facilities. They’re looking at practices and at involving a lot of great technical expertise into improving San Francisco’s wastewater treatment and effluence.
San Francisco is one of the top agencies right now in the US investing in their infrastructure. They recognize that day lighting streams and improving their collection and treatment is good for the environment, their stakeholders, and their ratepayers. They’re really getting ahead of the curve on the best technologies.
Given those accomplishments, what led you to move to the Shaw Group? And what are your priorities as the Executive Director, Senior VP of Shaw Group’s Environmental and Infrastructure group?
Among other priorities, we are investing in the Western US and in the water and wastewater markets. They have four main business lines and—I’m in the environmental and infrastructure group responsible for their Commercial, State, and Local (CSL) business in most states west of the Mississippi. Within our Western Region, we have three districts: the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, and the California Southwest. All of those districts and the folks in them are my responsibility. I’m also the lead for Shaw’s wastewater practice, and I now sit on four joint ventures in New York as we’re providing construction management on nine separate sites for New York DEP. NYDEP is spending about a billion dollars a year on their capital program improving New York’s water and waste water collection and treatment systems. Shaw has provided me that platform and opportunity, and, again, it’s working with teams of very good people.
Shaw is a great story. It’s a Baton Rouge-based company that started out fabricating specialty pipes and now is one of the leading engineering constructors in the power, energy, chemicals, environmental, and infrastructure markets.
What are the engineering opportunities in metro Los Angeles? Are they similar to those in San Francisco and New York?
They’re similar in that Los Angeles is the home of almost a third of the population in California. California is the ninth largest economy in the world, with 35 million people. California has an economy bigger than Russia’s, and it’s got great infrastructure that needs continual attention.
LA County, as you know, passed the self-help tax where they’re spending billions of dollars on upgrading transportation. LA, with the leadership at the City’s Bureau of Sanitation, the Department of Water and Power, and the County’s Department of Public Works, is improving stormwater capture, collection, and treatment. We import about 75 percent of our water into LA, so another issue that I believe in is doing a better job of capturing our stormwater and utilizing our treated effluent from our wastewater plants, especially when those big rains come every four to six years. Some would argue that it’s too expensive, but I think it’s the right thing to do, and will prove itself cost effective over time (especially when considering energy costs). I think in the long run this investment will lessen our dependence on imported water and would make us more resilient by using local water.
We currently release most of that water out of the LA River and other storm drains in an expeditious manner because of the flooding that occurred over centuries. We realize now that we should really be retaining that water and not flushing it out so quickly. I think the transportation and water opportunities in LA remain significant.
Clearly, you and Governor Brown have a common infrastructure agenda and attitude. He’s recently stated that fiscal restraint can’t limit big thinking and bold goals for California. What needed investments are realistic given our fiscally constrained public sector?
I’ve seen, particularly in LA, some of the best leadership in my business: the environmental and infrastructure world. Agencies have had their challenges, but it’s their leadership and infrastructure investment that makes us a great nation. To try to shut off the tap to government as a solution is fractured. I think we have to recognize that government and private sector industry need to work together. We need to solve some of our budget issues quickly and in a smart fashion, but not by cutting off needed infrastructure investment, which sustains businesses and our homes.
President Obama appointed you to the National Infrastructure Advisory Council. Give our readers a sense of what that body is about and why it’s a priority of the President’s.
Soon after 9/11 President Bush formed NIAC to advise the White House on 18 sectors, from nuclear to oil and gas, from transportation and communication to water. It addressed the communication and planning needed to counter, absorb, and correct a potential terrorist act on our nation. It’s an effort working with 18 industries, the intelligence community, and law enforcement on understanding those industries better and understanding cooperation with the federal government and local government. I’m honored to be part of it.
Obama has embraced that council and not only appointed me, but some other key leadership across the US. These are very thoughtful people who care about doing the right thing and about working with the federal government in smart policies and smart planning. The council has issued over 20 reports in its ten years of existence.
Shifting to the environment, you’ve long been a favorite engineer of California’s environmental community, which perhaps explains why you were appointment by two governors to California’s Fish and Game Commission. Address that responsibility and how the Commission’s focus overlaps with your other work.
Environmentalists are key stakeholders. They recognize the long-term needs for taking care of our environment and its infrastructure. Specific to Fish and Game, I was asked to be on the Commission because of my background in marine protected areas, and there’s a critical marine protection act that the Legislature passed on protecting our fisheries and eco-system. The act requires setting aside coastal reserves—marine protected areas—where we either don’t allow or significantly limit fishing in those areas. It’s similar to designating a wilderness area on land.
The data makes it very clear that when you set aside marine protected areas fish come back. So we’ve set aside a little less than 15 percent of the coastline. I was asked to join Fish and Game and help implement the marine protection act. It’s a very interesting commission; it’s the oldest commission in the state of California going back to the 1800s. We regulate policy, we form regulations, set bag limits, and commercial fisheries quotas. We are the body that determines whether species are endangered or threatened when they’re up for candidacy. We take care of the critters, animals, and fish.
Lastly, let’s get back to water, which has been a focus of yours for years. The Governor has suggested waiting another year before placing the $14 billion water bond on the ballot. Talk about the need and California politics of this water bond.
I started my career as a student engineer at DWR and used to examine the water quality of the Delta. We’ve known for decades that we’ve needed to do something with the Delta. The liquefaction of the levees, the peats that provide the trihalomethane potential, the water needs for the ecosystem, fisheries, farmers, and urban users, create a need to address this complex issue. As former Governor Pat Brown had the leadership to build the state water project that provides over 25 percent to Southern California, we have the responsibility to upgrade that great system he and others built. It’s critical that we make that supply resilient and sustainable, not only for the urban users but also for the fisheries and agricultural needs of farmers who are great strengths to the state.
Gov. Jerry Brown recognizes how vital that water lifeline is and that it needs significant improvement. Fisheries, local agencies, the California Resources Agency, State DWR, the MWD, water contractors, and the agricultural community have worked on a plan. What’s good about this plan is that it, at it’s baseline, will consider and care for the sustainability of the fisheries, the delta, and the ecosystem. There are a lot of good people investing a lot of effort to do this the best way possible.