The phrase “10,000-foot view” usually refers to the ability to see the big picture. Engineer Tom Hansen has a bit of familiarity with the concept, stepping back to see all the elements in a project before delving into the details. He’s also a fan of the literal 10,000-foot view as a private pilot—and he’s found the shoreline a great place to bring that view into focus.
Tom and wife Wendy have lived in Madison for almost 28 years. Both of their sons, Jeffrey and Stephen are graduates of Daniel Hand High School.
Tom grew up on Long Island with five siblings and moved to Buffalo, New York to attend SUNY to work toward his B.S. in civil engineering, which he earned in 1973. He also earned an MBA from Boston University in 1984 and has a certificate in personal financial planning from Manchester Community College.
After a 40 year career as an engineer, he’s scaled back a bit, working as a consultant in a private practice. His activity in the community though, extends far beyond his role as a consultant. He not only serves as a tutor to high school and college students, he is the chairman of the Madison’s Water Pollution Control Authority, which is charged with implementing policies and procedures that protect ground and surface waters,
“In 2010, I earned a teaching certificate through the Connecticut Department of Education’s Alternative Route to Certification program,” says Tom. “So now, in addition to consulting, I am spending some time tutoring science and math to high school and college students. Some of my tutoring is done for a couple of school districts who need tutors to handle some kids that cannot attend classes for any number of reasons. This has turned out to be one of the most rewarding activities in my life.“I’ve worked with so many kids I’ve lost count,” he says, “but every time I get a new request, I get excited and can’t wait to meet them.”
Tom says his began his work with the town government about 12 years ago.
“I did some work for the town and was acquainted with the public works and heath director’s office,” says Tom. “I attended a few meetings with various town representatives and the health director asked if I would become a member of the authority. Having worked in this field professionally for so long, it was a good fit and I felt that I could contribute to the authority’s mission of protecting the ground and surface waters of the town.”
Tom is a licensed professional engineer in three different states—Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.
“My first professional position was right out of college when I worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City,” says Tom. “I handled compliance permits for construction in waterways for the region. After that I worked for several New York- and New England-based engineering firms doing environmental projects such as wastewater treatment plants, water treatment systems, and other projects, mainly for municipalities all over New England.”
In Madison, the WPCA works with a health director to develop a “pollution control plan” for Madison including plans and guidelines for septic systems in addition to other wastewater facilities.
“From the WPCA’s perspective, Madison’s impact on Long Island Sound water quality may not be huge, but we believe in the phrase ‘think globally-act locally’ when it comes to setting environmental standards,” says Tom.
The board is made up of volunteers and has no budget.
“Our role is to advise and recommend actions that need to be taken in accordance with the mandate to protect ground and surface water,” says Tom.
The team members are dedicated and generous with their time, according to Tom.
“We perform duties similar to Connecticut DEEP [Department of Energy & Environmental Protection], but at a local level. We provide an annual report to DEEP and advise them of any possible issues,” says Tom. “We are also responsible for long term planning and for regularly updating our wastewater management plan. Long term planning for wastewater disposal isn’t a sexy or high profile mission, but it is absolutely essential if we want to maintain our great quality of life here on the shoreline.”
Tom says that the WPCA has advocated for a consultant to be retained by the town to update Madison’s wastewater management plan for the long term—a plan that was last updated in 1986.
“A lot has changed in 30 years. The density of development has increased in town,” says Tom. “New homes, seasonal conversions and infilling of small lots near salt marshes and beaches poses an ever growing threat to these natural resources. We should also be looking at how we can incorporate better technology into new and repaired septic systems. These technologies can dramatically reduce waste loads from certain constituents such as nitrogen which leads to hypoxia in Long Island Sound. The updated plan will give us the tools we need to evaluate regulations and technologies that we could adopt in a cost effective and environmentally sound program.”
Despite the fact that an updated wastewater management plan is a project eligible to receive state funding, the WPCA hasn’t been able to attain local funding. Tom says that this lack of funding for long term planning has been his “greatest disappointment” as chair of the board. He has also served in other leadership roles in different organizations. Tom is a past president of the Connecticut chapter of American Consulting Engineering; he was a Boy Scout leader (and sometimes still helps out with events); and he helped the Planning and Conservation Commission to update Madison’s Plan of Conservation and Development a few years back.
In his spare time, Tom loves to fly and is a licensed private pilot. “I obtained my license a long time ago when I was single and living on Long Island,” says Tom. “Now I belong to a flying club in Chester. The whole family enjoys going on trips with me. This part of the country is so beautiful to see from the air. The coastline is always interesting. Every time I go up I see something new. In the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, you can see miles and miles of old stone walls built by farmers a hundred years ago. I love taking new people up in the plane so they can see it, too. From the air you can really appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Connecticut shoreline.”
Additionally, Tom enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking throughout the state, swimming, going to the beach, working on cars and he has also done some geocaching with his sons.
“Every day I give thanks that we could settle and raise our family here,” says Tom. “Being part of the community, and helping to contribute in some way, has been a privilege and I hope I will always be able to do so.”