Credit: City of Eugene

Contractors complete work on the weirs for Delta Ponds project. The Eugene, Ore., public works department has worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a number of other groups.
Brickwork is in progress at the Charlottesville (Va.) Transfer Center. The center, shown in this artist's rendering, is due to be completed in the fall.

Local public works officials and federal bureaucrats often find themselves partners and adversaries at the same time. Although they serve the same citizens in the long run, they frequently have conflicting perspectives of the problem at hand. Bridging those gaps requires a relentless focus on open communications.

Bruce Florquist, retired public works director for Rawlings, Wyo., is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Drinking Water Advisory Council. He said an essential role for utilities—no matter their size—is to maintain full communications so that the public, government officials, and federal regulatory agencies will appreciate the need to advance projects and maintain or expand infrastructure.

Judith Mueller, public works director for Charlottesville, Va., has found that focused communications have helped keep a city bus transit center project on track. In the heart of its downtown, Charlottesville is building a transfer center for buses serving the city, Albemarle County, and the University of Virginia. The structure, on the east end of the downtown mall, would accommodate buses on the lower level and house a visitor information center on the upper level.

The latest estimate for the project is $10.5 million, financed through the U.S. DOT's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and state grants.

Adding to the costs has been the city's compliance with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria. Those standards stress environmentally friendly construction techniques, water and energy efficiency, recycled content materials, and indoor environmental quality.


Mueller, a past president of the American Public Works Association board, said the key to working with the FTA is to keep the agency briefed on a project's problems and progress. She praised the FTAfor working to ensure that Charlottesville officials fully understood the regulations behind the federal grants.

“We've tried to keep them informed every step of the way,” she said. “Our biggest success has come from our face-to-face meetings. I don't think that's always the case with other projects, and I think other projects may suffer because of it.” Completion of the Charlottesville transfer center is due in September.

Consultant William Spearman said that it is essential for public works officials to work closely with federal agencies well before—not just after—disasters strike. Spearman is vice president of Woolpert Inc., a Columbia, S.C., engineering, architectural, geospatial, and consulting services firm.

“One of the biggest issues that cities and counties face today is debris cleanup following natural disasters. Fortunately, you don't have those every day, but when they do occur, the debris can create many problems for local governments,” he said.

In declared emergencies—like hurricanes, tornadoes, and ice storms—the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps pay for debris removal from public property (including roads) and from private roads to ensure access by emergency vehicles.