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A Passionate Engineer

Joe Raffaele was born and raised in Brooklyn, where his father worked at the Navy Yard. In 2012, Raffaele, 69, moved from Brooklyn into the River House, a 213-unit co-op in the Hudson River town of Peekskill, so he could be closer to his job as an electrical engineer at the Indian Point nuclear power plant. He joined the River House co-op board three years ago, and when Indian Point is decommissioned next year, Raffaele plans to keep working as an electrical engineering consultant.


Habitat: The co-op board’s attorney, James Glatthaar, described you as a board member worth your weight in gold. Why would he say that?

Raffaele: Well, I’m not overweight – but I did save the co-op a lot of money over the years. Just a few weeks ago, it became clear that we needed to replace our transformers. I got involved immediately, and I realized right away that these three units had reached the end of their life. They were the original transformers from 1975, and they were so old that there was no reliable documentation on them. Con Ed initially assumed that we owned them and that this would be totally our responsibility. I started doing a lot of research, started digging into my files with all my contacts at Con Ed. They really didn't know who owned the transformers. We found all the old paperwork, and it turned out that those transformers were actually owned by Con Ed, and it was their responsibility to replace them. And that's where I saved the co-op money. That would’ve been about a  $300,000 project for our co-op.


Habitat: Would you say that it’s your contacts from your job and your engineering expertise that saves the co-op money?

Raffaele: It’s that, but I’m also somebody who drives any contractor crazy. For every job we're required as a minimum to get three bids. So whenever you get a very, very low bid, you always have to be suspicious of two things. 1: Do these people know what they’re doing? And 2: Are they purposely underbidding the job to get it, and then planning to hit you with out-of-scope work, saying: "Well, we have to add this, and it wasn't in the proposal.” For instance, right now we're doing the sidewalk, and this guy sends in a letter saying it’s going to cost us $20,000. Then I drive them crazy with my questions. “How thick is it going to be? Are you going to put in a gravel base? What about reinforcement? Are you going to put in expansion joints?” Then he sends a crew out here to measure the footage, and we got a more detailed proposal. Then I went out there and measured. It turned out that the area in need of repair is 140 feet less than what his proposal said.


Habitat: How does your job influence your board work?

Raffaele: I work at Indian Point, and that place has to be safe. It looks like a brand-new plant. I’m just not used to sloppiness and bamboozling. You have to analyze every project; you have to have project meetings and status meetings. I believe that any engineer with years of experience would think that way. Any good engineer thinks about all the details; he knows that you have to anticipate what the problems are going to be. You just know in general how to plan a job.


Habitat: Your work as a board member sounds almost like another full-time job.

Raffaele: Yeah, sometimes I have to take some of my vacation time. Right now we have a water leak. We have a 12-inch main coming into the building, and it’s leaking. I wanted to be there when the plumber came, and I took some time off work. When the plumber shows up, he's really unprepared. He hasn't got the right material, he doesn't realize that there's a shutoff valve that's over 15 years old, that if that shutoff valve failed, there's going to be a water explosion. I told him to stop immediately. When we have pipe leaks at Indian Point, we can't shut down the reactor. We have a company come in – they’re experts at repairing leaks. I reached out to that company and had them come to the co-op, and they identified another valve that was leaking, which nobody could see. So in a nutshell, if that plumber had gone ahead and done that work, we would have had a catastrophe on our hands – a water explosion – and the building would have been without water for days, and the repairs would’ve been very costly.


Habitat: Why are you so passionate about all the projects in your co-op? You seem to take it very personally.

Raffaele: I look at this complex as my house. When I see a piece of garbage, I pick it up and throw it in the trash. Sometimes I do work here, and people ask me why I don’t leave this to the super. I don't see this as just my apartment or my unit; it’s my house. I lived in my own house in Brooklyn, and when I first bought the house, I completely gutted it, I remodeled it, and I put all the wiring and plumbing in. I made sure that things were done right.

It’s the same with my work place and the co-op. I look at all of this with the same eyes. I mean, from an ethics and professional point of view, how could you not take an active role? And if you know something, you just can't sit back and let something go to hell in a handbasket.

Why would you? Because you don't want to participate or it's not your responsibility? This is just not the way I operate. I never did operate that way. My apartment is not just an apartment; it’s my home. And I think it's sort of catching on, because a lot of the board members are becoming a little bit more motivated in that respect. And then you can get some of the residents to feel the same way, right?

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