Many of us have heard this famous expression: “All Politics is Local.”
Incidentally, the same idea applies to the geotechnical and environmental engineering profession. In that sense, we can say “All Geotechnics is Local!”
Local building codes, guidelines for work in the profession, and standards of care vary greatly by both region and local agency jurisdiction. The rules that govern what can and cannot be constructed on a property can also vary considerably from city to city, such that local knowledge is key to a smooth project execution. Sometimes even properties across the street from one another can have vastly different rules and requirements for building and improvements. Failure to be aware of these discrepancies can lead to overages in terms of time, budget, and fees.
A frequent cause of frustration for clients is when they contract with an engineering professional from several cities away, who doesn’t practice regularly in the city where the project is located. Eager to earn the business, unscrupulous firms can — and often do — make statements about their qualifications and experience working in certain jurisdictions in which they actually do not have the proper knowledge and expertise. On the customer’s end, clients often (and understandably) look for the bottom-line cheapest option, without considering whether the consultant is the right person for the job. This combination can lead to untold frustration, delayed projects, and sunk costs.
Make sure to ask your potential geotechnical consultant if they have experience working in a certain area, or on a certain type of project. Frankly, there is no substitute for local knowledge and a working understanding of a local agency’s rules and guidelines for professional practice. Cheapest is not always best, and experience is key.