Ode to Infrastructural Heroes

August 24, 2010

We at Rivanna love to provide a little fanfare for a job well done when we see it. It’s what we do. As such, we have long been fans of the American Public Works Association, an organization set up for those unsung heroes of the American infrastructure: the highway construction workers who go through four pairs of tar-soaked work boots each year; the civil servants trying to do ever more with ever less; the watermains experts who spend half their lives underground, and possibly the other half drying off; and the street cleaners whose job it is to scrape up our expired gum.  As the largest and oldest organization of its kind in the world, APWA have 64 local and regional chapters throughout the US, all ready to support the 29,000 member organizations striving to make our country’s infrastructure work seamlessly so that we can take it for granted.

What makes APWA doubly great is that they place such a strong emphasis on sustainability. Their 2009-2014 five-year strategic plan states, “We recognize that building sustainable communities is the greatest challenge to public works in the twenty-first century. We are committed to promote and support our members’ continuing efforts to advance sustainability in their communities and to ensure that our organization embodies sustainability in its operation as well.” Their vision also incorporates the development of an actual brick and mortar Center for Sustainability.

We recently had the good fortune to discover more about the Arizona chapter of APWA. The chapter celebrated its annual state conference and awards show, in association with the Arizona Recycling Coalition, on August 4th,, for which we proudly provided the award plaques. Arizona has one of the largest APWA chapters in the nation with nearly 1,000 members and is an example of environmental leadership. Their conference and awards show, held at the LEED silver-rated Phoenix Convention Center, diverted 94% of their waste from the landfill, according to Deirdre Booth, Chair of the Arizona APWA Awards Committee. She was also excited to tell me about one of their award recipients, who won statewide recognition for environmental excellence.

Bill Mattingly, Director of the Peoria Public Works and Utilities Department, received the Charles Nichols Award for Environmental Excellence for transforming Peoria, AZ into a recycling, LEED-certified, water-harvesting, energy-saving and sustainability-educating phenomenon—a shining example of the possibilities in sustainable development. According to Jesse Duarte, who nominated Bill, “Through his leadership…The City of Peoria Public Works Department has chosen to demonstrate through its own actions that sustainable development is both feasible and financially viable within the City of Peoria.”

Under Mr. Mattingly’s watch (only since 2007), Peoria instituted curbside recycling and created recycling initiatives in 80% of the city’s multi-family dwellings, annually diverting 16,000 tons of waste from the landfill; replaced lighting in parks, streetlamps, office buildings, and parking lots, with an expected electricity usage reduction of 70 percent; oversaw the construction of the city’s first LEED-certified building (silver level), leading to a commitment to make all future civic buildings LEED-certified; installed the city’s first solar panels on a water-treatment plant, guaranteeing a savings of 26% of annual energy consumption for the plant; and collaborated with a neighboring city to harvest surface water for potable purposes, rather than depend solely on groundwater—a logical step forward for such a thirsty state.

Upon hearing of Bill Mattingly’s tireless efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle, and inspire, we were only too pleased to have been a part of the huge thanks that he so deserves. We hope that this story inspires others to recognize their own local unsung heroes, and to become civic pioneers themselves. And while they may say they do it out of the goodness of their hearts, we know it doesn’t hurt to see their name etched across a designer earth-friendly plaque in special recognition.

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