Worley to lead wastewater plant upgrade
Tackling change at Fairfield’s wastewater treatment plant is “a moral issue” for its newly promoted superintendent Shawn Worley.
Worley, 38, who grew up in Fairfield and now lives in Birmingham with his wife and three children, began working at the plant in 2006 as a metal fabricator.
“Coming in, it was a known fact Fairfield has a failing infrastructure,” he said. “I developed a real interest in protecting the environment and protecting public health.”
Worley’s promotion coincides with the city’s resolve to fix its longstanding sewer problems as mandates from the Department of Natural Resource quickly approached.
“It is a fresh feeling to know Fairfield understands the importance of fixing the problems we’re having,” he said. “It was a deciding factor for me in taking the job.” Those needed upgrades are estimated to cost the city as much as $30 million staggered throughout the next 20 to 30 years to fix both the deteriorating sewer lines, some of which are 100 years old, and to update the plant.
The payoff for citizens will be a safe and efficient system, said Worley, where each time it rains, the contents of the sewer won’t overflow onto streets and into streams from more than 20 manholes in town.
“It will greatly reduce the chance of anyone getting sick while using the surrounding county parks and trail systems,” he said. “Keeping pollution to a minimum is our responsibility.”
Much of the current overflow empties into Crow Creek, which connects with Cedar Creek and Skunk River, both places Worley said he spends recreational time with his family.
“Iowa has some of the dirtiest water in the nation,” he said. “I want the streams to be clean and safe for my children.”
City administrator Kevin Flanagan announced he’d promoted Worley Monday night at city hall. Flanagan said he’d weighed the skills of six serious candidates before deciding on Worley. Choosing someone invested in the Fairfield community made the most sense, he said.
“He has worked up through the ranks and has the right set of skills … I really felt comfortable with Shawn from the beginning,” he said. “Sometimes you look around and find that the perfect employee is right in front of you.”
Worley grew up in Fairfield and has a background in various fields. He worked on his family’s century farm north of Fairfield and in auto part stores in the community.
Worley said experience with welding landed him the job at the plant, which was looking for a metal fabricator. He quickly began working toward a management role, training for an operator license online through Kirkwood Community College. Operator certification licenses rate from Grade I-IV based upon experience and training. Worley received a Grade I license within six months at the plant and completed Grade III training in October.
“There’s a lot of schooling, on job training and experience is a huge part of it,” he said.
Worley will be eligible for a Grade IV license in a little more than a year, which he said he will pursue.
“I want to excel as far as I can go,” he said.
Worley has worked under two superintendents, Ken Goering, who retired in 2010, and Ellen Myers who retired in June. Both times, Worley stepped in as interim superintendent. Even in a management role, Worley said he’s not afraid to jump in and help with physical work.
“I consider myself a working superintendent,” he said. “I’ve done all of the jobs employees are doing now.”
Worley is proud of recent improvements, restoring two ponds on the property for their original purpose of storing stormwater. Worley was able to clean the ponds, which were storing wastewater, after the city paid for a new sludge storage tank and backup generator during the summer. Headworks, where waste enters the system, will receive the next plant improvement, said Worley. It has not been upgraded since it was built in the 1960s, he said. Currently, workers manually extract inorganic materials, which won’t break down in the system, off a bar screen. A newer model would eliminate such material 24 hours a day, instead of once a day.
“My goal is to make Fairfield higher up on the list of efficient facilities,” he said.
Flanagan said Worley has shown leadership and ambition, both good signs for managing future changes.
“For him [Worley] it’s a dream come true to get a chance to set this entire system right for the next generation,” he said. “We are lucky to have him.”