By Donald Wittkowski
Somewhere underneath a mountainous stack of papers about two feet high is Dale Foster’s desk. His desk and office have been buried in an avalanche of transportation studies, blueprints, architectural renderings, memos and myriad other documents.
The massive clutter reflects his extensive duties as the Cape May County engineer, a position that he has held since 1994 and regularly produces 12-hour work days overseeing roads, bridges and construction projects.
“There just isn’t enough time to finish everything. You have to jump into one thing after another,” he said, explaining the mess of papers.
But there is one thing that Foster is about to finish. His lengthy career in Cape May County government is coming to an end. He promises that by the time Aug. 31 rolls around, his last official day before he retires, even the imposing pile of papers in his office will be cleaned up.
“I have been working on getting it done,” he said, smiling.
Although the 61-year-old Foster is retiring from the county, he will continue his career in the private sector as a senior project manager and vice president for Greenman-Pedersen Inc., a major engineering firm headquartered in New York.
Post-employment ethics restrictions will prevent Foster from working on public projects in Cape May County for the next six months for Greenman-Pedersen, which serves as a county consulting firm for transportation and construction projects. However, he will be free to begin working immediately on public projects outside of Cape May County.
Foster first came to Cape May County in 1979 while working as an engineer for HNTB Corp., a private construction and engineering company. His job with the company was to inspect county bridges.
He humorously recalled how his boss at that time assured him that even in winter, the shore would be relatively warm. Needless to say, he was bundled up in big “puffy coats” while out on a boat to inspect the bridges in winter.
Foster began working for Cape May County in 1990 as an engineer for the Cape May County Bridge Commission, the agency that oversees a network of five bridges connecting the seashore towns along the scenic Ocean Drive.
In 1991, he became Cape May County’s assistant engineer. He was promoted to engineer in 1994, a position that put him in charge of the county’s 212 miles of roads and 23 bridges. He is also involved with the engineering and maintenance of the bridges owned by the Cape May County Bridge Commission.
All of his duties as county engineer mean that Foster is routinely working 12-hour days in the office and “many more hours” at his Seaville home, said Karen Coughlin, executive director of the bridge commission.
During its Aug. 16 board meeting, the bridge commission honored Foster by presenting him with a plaque and a resolution. Coughlin noted Foster kept the bridges safe by completing numerous inspections and was instrumental in securing millions of dollars in grant money for county construction projects.
“I wish I could do more, but I did the best I could,” Foster told the commission members while thanking them for the honors.
Lately, Foster has been helping the bridge commission and county supervise the planned $8.6 million overhaul of the Townsends Inlet Bridge linking Sea Isle City and Avalon. Starting Sept 17, the bridge will close down for eight months to allow contractors to replace seven deteriorated spans on the Avalon side.
Foster’s crowning achievement as county engineer was overseeing the construction of the approximately $60 million Ocean City-Longport Bridge, which opened in 2002, he said in an interview.
Reflecting Foster’s prowess in securing grants, the county was able to obtain about $57 million in state and federal funding for the Ocean City-Longport Bridge. The county’s share of the project was only about $3 million, he said.
In 1996, Foster pushed for federal grants for the Ocean City-Longport Bridge during testimony before the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. Foster gave expert testimony at the invitation of Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, R-2nd, a member of the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee whose congressional district includes Cape May County.
Now, all these years later, as he prepares to retire as county engineer, Foster said he has just one regret – not being able to complete all of the projects that he started.
“You just never have the time to finish them,” he said.
After Foster retires, Robert Church will become the new county engineer and Nancy Mauro will take charge as head of the engineering department. Lewis Donofrio was named engineer of the Cape May County Bridge Commission at the Aug. 16 board meeting.