by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — According to a recent city manager’s report by William Fraser, the week of May 15 to 21 is National Public Works week, sponsored by the American Public Works Association.
The Bridge reached out to Thomas McArdle, Montpelier Department of Public Works director, to find out about the inner workings of the department that deals with the city’s inner workings.
The Bridge: What should Montpelier residents keep in mind about Public Works this week?
McArdle: Montpelier residents and residents across the state and country should keep in mind what Public Works professionals are all about, what they do and what a large portion of their taxes are being spent on to support. National Public Works Week is a celebration of the tens of thousands of men and women in North America who provide and maintain the infrastructure and services collectively known as public works. As stated by the New England Chapter of the association, “The National Public Works Week calls attention to the importance of public works in community life. The Week seeks to enhance the prestige of the often-unsung heroes of our society — the professionals who serve the public good every day with quiet dedication.” Public Works professionals also respond to render assistance and support in times of disaster, such as severe weather events, making sure our roads and bridges are passable and our utilities are functioning no matter what time of day or day of week. This years’ poster theme is ‘Public Works, Always There.”
Fraser: Residents connect with Public Works efforts every single day — water, sewer, roads, sidewalks, bridges. Residents’ homes or streets may be stabilized by retaining walls maintained by Public Works. DPW employees work around the clock when necessary to remove snow, fix water and sewer lines, paint safety markings and other such work.
The Bridge: What are the biggest challenges in town?
McArdle: The biggest challenges faced in Montpelier and by most communities in New England is the fact that our infrastructure is aging. Like an old house, the repairs, maintenance and general upkeep is an everyday challenge. These challenges extend to well below what can be seen on the surface, down deep in the ground where we find the pipes that deliver our drinking water and carry the waste away for treatment, the foundations that support our bridges and the wires that light our street lights and traffic signals which guide our safe passage through a busy intersection.
Fraser: Trying to maintain and improve aging and deteriorating infrastructure in an aggressive but affordable manner.
The Bridge: What is the greatest achievement of the DPW recently?
McArdle: We’re proud of all of our achievements every year whether it was the successful installation of new culvert, exceeding water quality standards at the water resource recovery facility (a.k.a. waste water treatment plant), or completing all of our planned street and sidewalk projects on time and within budget. Truthfully, our objective is to be taken completely for granted in your daily lives; that water is safe and plentiful, the roads & sidewalks are convenient, reliable and clean, the street lights all function, traffic signals are timed to achieve minimal delay, and the bridges carry us safely from one side of the river to the other so that everybody can go about their daily lives and do business without needing to worry about something we rely on not being available or not working.
Fraser: We changed the method for salting roads which resulted in large savings (not counting the weather related savings) and was more environmentally friendly. The Water Resource Recovery facility has drastically dropped its energy consumption over the last three years. The City Council and DPW have put together a strong funding plan for steadily improving road conditions, and more.
The Bridge: Any particular employees or departments that should be particularly commended?
Fraser: Under the leadership of Director Tom McArdle, the department has improved responsiveness and creativity. Every employee is a leader within the department and has made significant contributions to recent successes.
The Bridge: What is the “dirtiest job” you’ve had to do in the line of duty?
McArdle: The dirtiest and least desirable work is anything that regards the fundamental necessity in the health and safety of our lives which is the sanitary sewer system and treatment process. Many may not appreciate the highly complex science — chemistry and biology — and engineering involved to transform waste water and recover this valuable resource to a level of cleanliness that it can be safely returned into our ecosystem. Clearly, wastewater management is the winner in the dirty category while also at the top of the list in complexity and one the most expensive operations. The Water Resource Recovery Facility is also the most valuable asset owned by the city followed by the water treatment facility.
Fraser: I once did the trash route and cleaned public bathrooms with highway department employees. This was in a different community in the 1980s where I was the Town Manager. They were short an employee for a week and I volunteered to help them to save us hiring in someone.