Friday, September 30, 2011

Notes from the Breach: Assistant Resident Engineer Pablo Hernandez

Assistant Resident Engineer Pablo Herandez
For the last month, we’ve been keeping you updated daily on the progress of NCDOT’s efforts to repair damage done to N.C.12 after Hurricane Irene. The lion’s share of the information we’re passing on comes directly from one person, Assistant Resident Engineer Pablo Hernandez, NCDOT’s project manager on-site.  He spends every day, and even some nights making sure things are on track, overseeing the repairs on the S-curves near Rodanthe and the installation of the temporary bridge on Pea Island.  We caught up with him early this morning via cell phone from Dare County.

Hernandez is a 13-year veteran of NCDOT. He spent six years working for the Washington state transportation department before coming back to North Carolina where he worked on another famous span – the Virginia Dare MemorialBridge near Manteo, which happens to be our state’s longest bridge at 5.2 miles.

“I’ve been coming to the Outer Banks ever since I was a little kid,” Hernandez said.  “The beaches here are very similar to the beaches where my mother is from in South America.  Back in 1998, I was fortunate enough to get a job in a beach community like this.”

Among the projects he’s worked on in his NCDOT career, Hernandez said the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge was certainly the biggest.  He also recalls that an intense effort to repair seven bridges on Ocracoke in two and a half months in 2008 garnered much community attention. The Pea Island project, however, is the real standout.

“It ranks as the most unusual, most complex and most fast-paced project I’ve worked on,” he said.  

Hernandez said the way Dare County, North Carolina and the world is following the repairs is also notable.

“Back in 2008 on the Ocracoke project, all we had was the ‘straight’ internet.  We had a web page that we updated maybe every other day and that was all.  Now with Twitter and Facebook there’s more widespread interest.  It’s really having an impact.”

Hernandez’s updates and photos often include mentions of wildlife or pictures of a nice sunset over the marshes around the project.  In talking to him, it’s clear he has a connection with the whole Outer Banks area that extends well beyond the task at hand.   Recently, a tenacious snapping turtle tried to across the work zone, and it was Hernandez who went to the rescue.

“I just had to get him out of the road.  I didn’t want him to get run over by some piece of heavy equipment,” Hernandez explained. “But I did it with a shovel – people don’t understand how fast those things can move! “

Was he successful and did the turtle cooperate?

“Yes, but not without a fight!”

Hernandez doesn’t have much free time these days, but when he does, he enjoys hanging out on the beach with his family and traveling to see other members of his family who are in Uruguay and Mexico, and he’s learning to kite surf.

More from Hernandez in our video "Restoring the Link"

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