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by Ram Tewari, Director of Environmental and Solid Waste Engineering at Total Municipal Solutions, Inc.,
trnarayan1@gmail.com
2011 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, Czech and Slovak Republics

The Czech and Slovak Republics are steeped in history and have unique picturesque landscapes and lovely people. Along with others in a high powered APWA delegation, I joined and participated as the Jennings Randolph International fellow in the 2011 Czech/Slovak Public Works Biennial Conference and Equipment Show held in Vyskov, Czech Republic, April 13 - 15, 2011.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic are members of both NATO and EU 8. We were met by Public Works Associations’ Presidents of Czech Republic (SVPS) and Slovak Republic (ZOPV) and Director of the International Affairs Committee of SVPS at the Vienna airport and driven to Bratislava, the Slovak capital.

On day one we toured Brno, Slavkov and Vyskov. Lunch at Slavkov Chateau, tour, and dinner reception the Vyskov Brewery, operating since the 1600s.

Day two the US delegation met with the Vyskov Lord Mayor and other city representatives and members of the Czech Republic Public Works Association and was treated to brunch of traditional foods. Following greetings discussion ensued about Czech  Republic relationship with the EU in general and EU 8 in particular. Public private partnerships (PPP) for delivery of services by the municipal public works departments are encouraged and prevalent in both Czech and Slovakia. Types of usual public services were discussed: drinking water supply, sewage, garbage, streets management (sweepings, operations, repairs, maintenance, lighting, drainage) and other such services. Renewable and sustainable operations were the priorities where USA and Czech Republic can collaborate. EU goals are being pursued - recycling, composting, energy from waste, and solar farms to meet renewable energy goals.

During the meeting, I explained the current successful sustainable programs in Broward County (a population of about two million, 31 municipalities), Florida, USA: recycling (about 25%), twin waste to energy (incineration of municipal solid waste) powers about 75,000 homes, landfill gas and anaerobic digestion plants generate electricity for on and off site consumption. Also, I mentioned that in Broward County PPP has been working with proper monitoring and controls. The need is to strategize on plans for resource optimized and environmentally balanced projects, which become feasible only with the government’s help - grants, loans, and bonds. To put it in a nutshell, a fair competition between public and private will succeed.  

The APWA delegation then attended and participated in the Czech/Slovak Public Works Biennial Conference and Equipment Show. The hosts were interested in learning about US perspectives about public and private firms focusing on employee/employer relations and human resources practices related to hiring, layoffs, skills development training, benefits, union and labor relations, employee assistance, and effective communications. I gave a presentation titled “An overview of the Human Resources Department Role in Broward County, Florida, USA.“ It included policies, procedures, labor laws (local, state, and federal), fair hiring process, and available resources.

On the third day, the combined group was welcomed at the Czech military base in Vyskov, the largest army base in the Czech Republic and a NATO training facility. The tour included control simulator room, auxiliary facilities, and military equipment.

The three - day program ended with a farewell luncheon and exchange of gifts. I remain optimistic that APWA, SVPS and ZOPV shall continue to grow to the benefit of all the parties. SVPS and ZOPV are great hosts!


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by Tom Jacobs, Director of Environmental Programs, Mid-America Regional Council, tjacobs@marc.org
2015 Jennings Randolph International Fellow, New Zealand

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
- Emily Dickinson

In the Kansas City region, there is hope and resilience in the time of COVID-19. We stand on the shoulders of leaders and poets alike, clear that we will overcome current challenges, creating a new if still undefined normal. And the process itself may prepare us to take on elusive future challenges with an expanded sense of possibility. One such constellation of challenges is climate change.

A collaboration among hundreds of community partners has been working to prevent the worst of climate change, and to prepare us to bounce forward from its expected impacts. Like COVID-19, climate change requires us to design for both short- and long-term community challenges. Our work to address public health, food security and economic stability during the pandemic may create a foundation for creating resilience in the face of climate change at the same time. Work among public works professionals and other community stakeholders is pivotal to this process.

Climate Action KC (a grassroots consortium of over 100 area elected leaders) and the Mid-America Regional Council (Kansas City’s regional and metropolitan planning organization) are facilitating a metropolitan collaboration to develop a Regional Climate Action Plan. The plan will facilitate actionable strategies in multiple sectors — transportation, energy, construction, affordable housing, food, water, waste and ecosystem restoration. In each area, multi-benefit strategies will address interlinked community issues of public health and safety, social equity, economic vitality, innovation and ecological integrity.

Like COVID-19, climate change is certain to concentrate its impacts on the most vulnerable among us. Ours is a giving and caring community. Yet social and environmental factors affect health outcomes, whether during the pandemic or future extreme weather events. Public works officials play an instrumental role in creating durable, resilient infrastructure while meeting imperatives of public health, environmental vitality and social equity.

A variety of proven solutions could be implemented at larger scales. Putting carbon back in the ground strengthens nature-based solutions, which are literally the low-hanging fruit of climate adaptation. Trees, forests, wetlands provide habitat along with clean air and water, infiltrate more water, make streets more walkable, save energy, reduce flood risks and of course give us places to hang our hammocks or park in the shade. Nature-based solutions can be designed to explicitly enhance food access, security and nutrition. Public health is measurably improved by local gardens and orchards, fueled by soils that could be restored with compost generated by the more than 350,000 tons of food waste our area throws out each year.

Reimagining public infrastructure management includes ecosystem restoration. Restored streams serve as urban air conditioners, offsetting worsening urban heat islands. While the environmental benefits of native landscapes stack up, they also add a measure of calm and beauty — crucial elements in times of stress and anxiety. Likewise, more efficient use of energy and water reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces economic burdens on vulnerable communities during heat waves by making utilities more affordable.

Both the pandemic and climate change create an opportunity to find elegant, flexible solutions. We have a unique opportunity in this moment to rethink the systems that structure and sustain our lives. Consider how our health, energy, transportation, water and food systems might be reconfigured to create resilience, beauty and vitality — and decrease barriers to accessibility. Or, given the remarkable new collaborations that have emerged in our region in recent months, imagine how our institutions might create enduring new decision-making processes that link community and environmental health with innovation, job creation and economic development.

Emily Dickinson reflected on hope, soul and song. I am excited to observe how the public works community continues to turn our dreams and aspirations into creative, effective community solutions.


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by Elia Twigg, PE, CONSOR Engineers, etwigg@consoreng.com

Figure 1: Manly Beach

As a recipient of the 2013 Jennings Randolph International Fellowship, I traveled to Australia in August 2013 for my study tour to learn how Australian public works professionals reach out to their communities.  Through this tour, I learned about, and personally witnessed, the Australians’ passion towards their environment.  Water conservation, proper stormwater management and solid waste and recycling programs were apparent, even for me as a tourist in Australia.

Some of the agencies I visited conserved their water by utilizing large rainwater tanks at their municipal buildings, park facilities and public restroom areas.  These water tanks captured rainwater for flushing toilets and for irrigation, which saved on the potable water used.  Saving money on water bills and reducing stormwater run-off proved to be benefits of this water conservation.  A lot of information was posted on the various local governments’ websites for water conservation, to include information for residents to do this at their own homes.

Figure 2: Water Tank Example at a Manly Council Park

Waverley Council did a Bondi Stormwater Project designed to harvest and re-use stormwater previously discharged into the ocean at the southern end of the world-famous Bondi Beach.  This project now delivers recycled water for irrigation, toilets and public cleaning at Bondi Beach, saving over 13 million gallons of drinking water, while also improving the water quality at the beach through stormwater filtration.  They have extensive information on their website for harvesting and reusing stormwater, along with an educational program for the community to implement their own water conservation measures.

Figure 3:  Bondi Stormwater Project completed in 2012

Many of the agencies were also conscious of the amount of waste produced in their cities.  For example, in lieu of handing out water bottles at public events, Manly Council reduced the amount of waste by encouraging the use of the water bottle filling stations located throughout their City.  The surrounding agencies in the Sydney area also installed these water bottle filling stations throughout public places such as in parks, at ferry stations, on trails, etc.), and many of these stations had information panels regarding water conservation.

Figure 4:  Water Bottle Filling Station

I loved the idea of reducing waste and encouraging the use of refillable water bottles, so the next year during our Public Works Day event, we implemented the idea of water bottle filling stations, and handed out refillable water bottles with the City logo as a memento of our event.  This saved on a tremendous amount of waste at the event.  The water bottles were well received and as you can see in the photos, many were used.

Figure 5: Public Works Day 2014 with refillable water bottles and water stations

Through this experience, I learned we can all do better to conserve water and reduce waste.  Using rainwater to irrigate our lawns or using refillable water bottles are simple steps to positively improve our environments.  If you have any other questions or would like additional information, feel free to reach out to me.


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by Helena Sullivan, Construction Engineer III, McHenry County Division of Transportation, Woodstock, Illinois
Interview with Karen Kase, Natural Resources Manager, Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick, Inc., Elgin, Illinois

Could you briefly share how you learned about the MEFV exchange offered by the Chicago Metro APWA Chapter, and why you decided to apply for the opportunity?

I received a Chapter email which described the opportunity for completing the travel exchange.  At first I dismissed it, then I pondered and deliberated applying, since I was unsure if the grant would be more suitable for public sector employees, and I work in the private sector.  After a branch executive meeting discussion, I decided to apply since I have done a lot of international travel and I love to visit new places.  I was very surprised and excited when I was informed I had been chosen.

When did you travel for the study trip to Australia, and during the trip, what were some main highlights?

My trip was August 2019, during their “winter”, and after 30 hours of travel, I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania to attend and present at the IPWEA conference.  This national event is the equivalent to our PWX.  The conference had about 800-900 attendees and it gave a nice introduction to the various areas of the country.  Next, for the following week, I visited nine (9) councils (cities/villages) in the Melbourne area to learn more about their environmental & green infrastructure.  I believe attending the conference prior to traveling to the separate councils was a good idea since it was a way to begin with a broad overview and then drill down to a more specific focus and help me see differences in how each council operates.

What were your some of your main objectives before you completed the exchange, and what was a surprise as a result of the trip?

I was quite surprised at the significant difference between our government structure compared to theirs, and how the amalgamation to 3 levels really makes it much clearer and simpler to complete projects or engineering work.  The Australian audience was shocked at the level and time required by our environmental permits process!  Aside from this interesting government observation, I traveled to Victoria so I could study and understand their approach to environmental efforts and green infrastructure.  I found that in most public works buildings, their electric power is completely provided by solar panels and they also incorporate other ways to conserve resources, such as recycling rainwater into use for flushing toilets.  Our infrastructure projects seem to be more focused on management of storm water and reducing environmental impact and Australia had more focus on energy conservation and sustainability.

Rooftop solar for the WaterMarc indoor water park in the City of Banyule with Sian Gleeson, Environment Coordinator and John Milkins, Environmental Operations Coordinator.

Please share how the international exchange has impacted your perspective on your work – what from your trip have you incorporated into your current job?

As a visitor, I wanted to bring a small gift to those I met. I chose the “First Responder” stickers we have available through APWA, which are part of APWA’s campaign for public works professionals to be recognized as first responders with police and fire.  However, the public works officials and employees are all already part of a responder network and it is built into their job description, so my little present was met with some confusion.  It was nice to see how the responder cooperation is already in place within the public works officials and councils.  Although the trip was very informative, my job relates to seeking permits and getting plans approved for native areas, and in Australia they are not as regulated by government agencies.  However, it has been so worthwhile to share perspectives and educate others about our differences.

Since your exchange, you have made many presentations about your experiences, and which of the presentations has been the most meaningful and held most impact, in your opinion?

The one I feel was most meaningful is when I presented my study trip and findings to the new incoming pool of candidates for the 2020 MEFV, so they would see how I prepared for the trip and what they could choose to do with their grant if selected.  I also presented at the local Fox Valley chapter, and internally at Hampton, Lenzini and Renwick, Inc. I estimate that I presented to an audience of 150-175 people in total.  In addition, I summarized my study tour for the Chicago Metro Chapter Executive Committee, so they would realize the benefits of the exchange and continue to support the program.  One conference presentation where I compared and contrasted the government regulations and explained differences in Australia’s government structure had very good feedback.

How are you continuing to strengthen your international relations, and in what ways have you remained in contact with the connections you made in Victoria?

I enjoyed assisting the new MEFV candidates with their study grant applications. For many years, I have been involved with APWA both on a local and national level, and now after my study tour, I am advocate for international exchange.  I had planned to present at the New Orleans PWX but the conference was cancelled so hopefully in 2021 I can have this opportunity.  I do stay in touch with many of my contacts via email and I invited them to come to Illinois.  I would enjoy having them visit me in Chicago if they are travelling, either for business or leisure.

If you could travel to another country for the purpose of furthering international relations in public works, where would you like to go and why?

I honestly would like to first return to Australia since I feel the 2 weeks was too short to really absorb everything I could.  There is so much to learn and the time I spent was such a whirlwind of appointments and meetings, next time it would be nice to slow down and not be as busy.  I feel our two countries are very similar in age of infrastructure and sizes of developments, and there is so much we can benefit from sharing experiences.  

Is there anything else you would like to add for those considering applying for an international exchange, either with APWA or another organization?

Absolutely just do it!  If you are contemplating applying or traveling for an exchange, it is unbelievably valuable to meet people who have the same role and do the same type of work but in another country.  We all have similar challenges and can help tackle them together.


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