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Credit: Jay Walter

Construction of the Damon-Garcia Sports Fields in San Luis Obispo, Calif., took months of work with community sports groups, local officials, and environmental groups to get consensus on a location, determine its various uses, and clear a variety of regulatory and environmental hurdles.
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Credit: Teresa Scott

Progress on the ambitious Depot Park brownfield project in Gainesville, Fla., has been helped by open communication among all the agencies involved, and with area officials and citizens.

“A new salt storage area was first requested as a capital improvement item for the public works operation in the five-year capital plan back in 1987,” he said. “I became the public works superintendent in 1990 and encouraged it to be kept in the plan, and I was actually assigned a year for funding.”

When Kappel left the city to work for Milwaukee in 1992, the city instead doubled capacity of an existing shed. While this provided some relief, the area proved inadequate for major storms, and on several occasions the town had to borrow salt from a neighboring municipality just to keep roads open.

Kappel returned as Wauwatosa's director of public works in 2000 and brought the dome to the top of his operational priority list. While capital repairs to infrastructure took a priority position, Kappel discussed the matter with the city's budget committee to work out a solution.

“Two main reasons were discussed,” said Kappel. “We had to make sure there was enough sodium chloride available for back-to-back storms before a delivery could be received. Second, there was the economic argument for taking advantage of a reduced per-ton price for what is known as an ‘early fill.'” After these discussions, the salt storage area was introduced as an unfunded project beyond Wauwatosa's five-year plan, but in 2004, it was placed into the 2005 budget and constructed.

In many budget-related discussions, Kappel is aided by Wauwatosa's city engineer, Bill Wehrley. “He is much better equipped to handle the hard engineering questions, while I am much more familiar with the operations end of public works. He is an excellent engineer and makes a great teammate,” he said.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Communicating with local officials, constituents, and other agencies becomes even more important at the outset of a highly complex project. Wauwatosa is in the midst of such a job. The multi-million dollar Hart Park floodplain project is being coordinated by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD). Because it is smack in the middle of Wauwatosa and has caused major disruptions to the city itself—including snarling traffic and dislocating social events such as the city's Independence Day celebration—Kappel and his team have had to work and talk extensively with other agencies.

“After two years of back-to-back floods that saw State at North 68th Streets literally submerged, something had to be done to protect structures in the area from future flooding,” said Kappel. The city worked with the MMSD and used district funds to acquire 46 homes and 10 businesses along the Menomonee River; the city also procured 23 homes in the area with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. When the project is completed (ahead of schedule) in fall 2006, the floodplain will have been lowered by 3 feet, and it will feature levees, flood walls, and storm sewers to prevent future flooding. Also, the park will be restored, with its size increased from 20 to 50 acres.

MEETING OF THE MINDS

Meeting early and often with your constituents before a project begins, while not completely silencing citizens' cries of dissatisfaction, can go a long way toward alleviating concerns. Long before the homes were procured, approximately 400 trees uprooted, and the massive excavation effort undertaken, Wauwatosa officials met several times with citizens to inform them of the project's importance and address their concerns about disruption to city life.

“Several open houses were held throughout the design process to keep residents informed,” said Kappel. “MMSD sought residents' input when appropriate on issues, such as whether residents along the parkway to the south wanted to have a floodwall, or have the roadway elevated to serve as the floodwall barrier between their homes and the river to the north.” Kappel made an effort to be present at all of the events to answer questions from residents and officials.

Most public works leaders meet with their city council regularly at open meetings several times a month. In Wauwatosa, for example, Kappel usually is present at the twice-monthly open council meetings and at the twice-monthly committee meetings, engaged in discussions about large ongoing projects, citizen complaints about dangerous intersections, and other issues. Such meetings are an important tool; keeping constituents and elected officials informed can help ease their concerns and avoid conflicts in the future.