Building relationships, and alleyways BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
When Jeff McNesby joined Lancaster city's public works department late last year, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
"They said, 'We have 25 years worth of work for you to do,'" McNesby recalled. "It's a long-term commitment. It's not three to five years."
McNesby, a civil engineer, was hired to be the city's stormwater program manager. He will be responsible for implementing a 25-year, $140 million plan adopted by the city that embraces "green infrastructure."
The plan is to plant trees, replace asphalt with porous pavement and add rain gardens and green roofs as ways to divert rainwater into the ground and out of the city's combined stormwater and sanitary sewer system.
If the plan succeeds, 750 million gallons of stormwater will be diverted, thereby preventing overflows of raw sewage into the Conestoga River from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Those overflows, which eventually find their way to the Chesapeake Bay, have caught the attention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The city hopes to stay ahead of mandated EPA orders by acting on its own.
And McNesby is here to make it happen.
He jumped in three months ago with projects that were already planned. Those are being funded with a $7 million loan from the state Infrastructure Investment Authority.
Many of the projects already in the works, such as adding rain gardens or porous-pavement basketball courts to local parks, are being done on city-owned land.
Yet 87 percent of the city is privately owned, so to reach its goal, most of the projects must be done in conjunction with private property owners.
On his desk recently, McNesby had plans for the repavement of a private alleyway. As with a city alley redone last year, it will be sloped to allow rainwater to drain between paving stones set along a center line into a stone drainage bed below.
The alleyway will be one of several project templates that can be reused across the city, he said. And, McNesby said, it's important that the private owners, whose property lines run to the alley center, come away pleased with the project.
"Our goal is to make these people so happy that they will help us talk to the next people," said McNesby, who sees his job as building relationships as well as alleyways.
McNesby, 47, is accustomed to dealing with private entities. That was his job before coming to Lancaster. He spent 15 years in coastal South Carolina working with developers in that growing area to have them use green infrastructure in new construction.
Instead of building raised islands with concrete curbs within parking lots, McNesby convinced developers to build rain gardens.
Rain gardens still would dot the parking lots, but they'd be recessed so that the rainwater would flow into the grasses and trees, then soak into the ground, he said.
Lancaster, he said, is in the opposite situation of coastal South Carolina. Here, he's using those techniques to retrofit an old city.
"I saw it as an incredible professional opportunity," he said.
Green infrastructure is not really new, he said. It's been talked about for nearly two decades. Still, few places have done more than a couple of demonstration projects.
In Lancaster, he was told that officials weren't interested in demonstration projects -- they're embracing green infrastructure comprehensively citywide.
"Lancaster is one of the leaders in the nation. That is one of the things that drew me here," McNesby said.
Another attraction of the $78,000-a-year position is its proximity to extended family. A New Jersey native, McNesby grew up in the Philadelphia area. The move to Lancaster brings him and his wife and four young children closer to home -- possibly for a long time.
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