By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
After 16 years of service, Jones County Engineer Mike McClain is retiring from his post. Derek Snead has been officially hired by the Jones County Board of Supervisors to take over as county engineer on Monday, Nov. 5.
McClain has worked in many engineering jobs over the years, but claims nothing can compare to the duties of a county engineer.
McClain attended the University of Iowa, joking he is the minority of engineers who did not attend Iowa State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He then had to put in four years of experience working with a professional engineer, which he accomplished working in Davis County, Iowa, (in southern Iowa, along the Missouri border) and working for the Corp of Engineers in Kansas. McClain became an engineer’s assistant while working in Davis County.
Before being hired by Jones County, he worked as a consultant for Snyder & Associates in Atlantic, Iowa.
“Consulting was not a good fit for me,” said McClain for the job.
It was then that a position opened up in Jones County for the county engineer’s job. McClain said this was his shot at getting back into what he enjoys best.
“As a county engineer, you get to see everything from start to finish,” explained McClain. He said with any project, he’s been able to carry out the entire process and see it through to fruition. His job has involved developing project plans, applying for permits, obtaining right-of-way, letting the project, building and maintaining the road or bridge after the project is complete. He said it’s satisfying to be a part of a project in this aspect versus working in civil engineering, where you might help get a project going, but never have anything to do with it again.
As county engineer, McClain’s job is much more than attending Jones County Supervisor meetings on a weekly basis.
“They are the ones who set county policies,” McClain explained, “and it’s our job to carry them out.”
Should the Board make a decision that McClain, or any other county department not agree with, he said he’s advised the Board along the way to keep them educated on the topic at hand.
On a day-to-day basis, the Secondary Roads Department, along with the engineer’s office, is responsible for 800-plus miles of county roads, which also includes 200 bridges.
“This work is all done by our maintenance staff,” McClain said. He praised the department for their hard work in making sure Jones County residents have safe and reliable roads and bridges to travel on. They keep track of snow removal, mowing, spot rock on gravel roads, brush and weed control, etc.
With every job, McClain said you have your ups and downs. He said he’s really enjoyed the project development side of things, seeing a project from concept to the end.
“There’s no place in the engineering field where you can be a part of something like this,” he said.
He has also thoroughly enjoyed working with his department and the residents and landowners he’s met over his 16 years on the job here in Jones County.
“People like what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
However, “there’s always controversy,” McClain noted. “You’d rather avoid it, but you can’t always do that. You just try to work with them to resolve it.”
In his 16 years here, McClain said one project that sticks out for him was the work along County Road E-34. This safety feature project was a joint effort between Jones and Linn counties, developing a 30-degree safety edge on both sides of the road, as well as widening the 2.7-mile roadway from 22 to 26 feet.
This was the first project like this to be accomplished successfully in the State of Iowa, which gave way to a couple of awards. The county and engineer’s office were awarded state and national awards for this project after completion.
“This was pretty satisfying,” remarked McClain.
There have also been miles and miles of roadways throughout Jones County that have been improved over the years. Bridges have also been rebuilt and repaired to allow for a longer lifespan.
“All this has been done to better serve Jones County and the residents,” said McClain.
Having worked in several counties in Iowa, McClain said each one handles their engineer’s department differently. He said counties in southern Iowa seem to struggle more financially than counties in the northern part of the state.
“There’s less tax base there to support the county,” he said.
He also said county boards are different in their policies. Some even rotate county engineers every so many years. McClain said this leads to poor management within the engineer department.
With Snead taking over the job, McClain had high praise for the new engineer.
“He’ll do very well,” he said. “This is a smooth transition and a good opportunity for Jones County.”
McClain said just like everything else, he expects changes on the horizon for county engineers with technology and state and federal regulations.
“He’s prepared to handle these changes,” McClain said of Snead. In the past, the two have gone into local schools and talked to students about the schooling it takes to become an engineer.
Over the years, McClain has seen changes himself in the engineer field, especially in surveying. Surveying data is used for many projects. Before it would take several guys to do the job, now all it takes is one guy with a GPS unit.
“It keeps labor costs down,” noted McClain.
He said when he started in this industry, it took a while to even get the survey results back, now you get the results in no time through a statewide GPS networking system.
He said the machinery and equipment used today on roads has dramatically improved when it comes to grading and paving.
“It’s much more efficient,” said McClain. “It can do more today with less effort and produce a better product that will hopefully last longer.”
With 26 people working for Secondary Roads maintenance and eight in the Engineer’s Office, McClain said everyone in the department works well together for the people of Jones County.
In his absence, he has no worries the department will continue to do great things. McClain and his wife, Lee Ann, plan to retire to Missouri to be closer to their kids and grandkids.
“It’s a little surreal to be leaving,” McClain said. “I’ll miss working with all county departments and landowners. The departments coordinate well together.”
PHOTO: The staff of the Jones County Secondary Roads Department and Engineer’s Office congratulate County Engineer Mike McClain on his 16 years with Jones County. McClain is retiring, with engineer Derek Snead taking over as county engineer. An open house was held on Oct. 19 in honor of McClain (front row, second from right). (Photo by Kim Brooks)