Changing the guard at Blaine public works

Published on Fri, Jan 3, 2003 by Meg Olson

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Changing the guard at Blaine public works

By Meg Olson

Blaine public works director Grant Stewart is moving on to drier pastures. On January 3 he will leave his position in Blaine to take over the public works department for Los Alamos County in New Mexico.

“My working experience in Blaine has been both challenging and rewarding,” Stewart wrote in his letter of resignation. “For me it’s time to move on and dial in some new challenges.” He said the job in Los Alamos involves a bigger staff, bigger projects and a bigger salary. It also takes him closer to family and new outdoor recreation opportunities.

Stewart became Blaine’s public works director in December 1998. He saw his first major project, the sewer plant expansion at Semiahmoo spit, cancelled within seven months after the project’s archaeologist removed human remains from the site without notifying state and tribal authorities. Another of the major projects Stewart tackled as public works director, a new electric substation and express feeder, remains on hold pending a county rebuild of Lincoln Road. “The timing wasn’t right but it’s ready to go and we have the money in the bank,” he said.

During his tenure in Blaine Stewart did oversee the reconstruction of Odell Road and renegotiate a new contract for wholesale water sales to Birch Bay water and sewer district. He also worked with staff to make do with existing systems. “We adapted new procedures at the sewer treatment plant to give it new life,” he said.

Stewart said one of his biggest challenges was rebuilding a department that had suffered from a leadership void. “I came into a situation where the institutional memory was gone,” he said. “There was a lack of confidence in leadership and it took a while to overcome that.” City manager Gary Tomsic agreed, saying Stewart had brought a new level of productivity and professionalism to the department.

Stewart’s wife Kelly and their three children will follow him to Los Alamos in the coming months. Kelly Stewart has been very active in school activities during her time in Blaine, and is one of the primary architects of the popular school Halloween carnival.

Tomsic said assistant public works director Steve Banham, with the city since 2000 had been selected to replace Stewart. “The city is very fortunate to have someone like Steve to move into the top position,” Tomsic said. “I don’t think I’d find anyone better if I went out and looked.” He described Banham as focused, well organized and the best project manager he has ever worked with.

“I’m going to be a very busy person,” Banham said. “I’ve got lots of work to do and plenty of challenges.” Working with Stewart Banham has focused on streets, infrastructure and engineering while Stewart took care of water and sewer issues. “We did that division because we’re small and it let us tap into our areas of expertise,” he said. “Now as director I’ll take a very active role in siting the new treatment plant and the general sewer plan but we’ll probably bring in someone with water and wastewater experience as assistant director.”

There will be an open house to bid farewell to Stewart and congratulate Banham at the public works building on Yew Avenue January 3 from noon until 3 p.m..

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