The Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program

its stakeholder management

April 1991



Henry F. Padgham Vice President, CH2M Hill, Oakland, California

Stakeholders have a major impact on the success of projects. Sometimes these groups or individuals appear in most unexpected manners and at most inopportune times. Society requires that they be dealt with, one way or another, This Showcase Project documents the case for being proactive in this regard. The story of Duke Power's Bad Creek facility (PM NETwork, August 1990) also demonstrates this concept, as do several other similar articles in these pages. We are grateful to Hank Padgham, CH2M Hill, and all the others who helped prepare this story.


Sewerage systems are among the least-favorite items on the public agenda. They are expensive. They involve a smelly product the public would rather not think about. And the public sees little tangible evidence of its big tax investment. Sewerage systems are underground and treatment plants tucked away on the periphery of the city purposely out of public view.

So when the metropolitan Milwaukee ama was forced by judicial and regulatory order to sink $2.2 billion into a sewerage renovation and expansion program, local citizens and their elected officials were something much less than ecstatic.

Most project managers today recognize the importance of public support for large projects, both public and corporate. Many have learned the hard way. Without abroad base of public support, these projects can be killed in midstream by a comparative handful of people with private motives, altruistic or otherwise. Without broad support, a project can be delayed, or it can be changed and subjected to multiple retrofits, two major causes of costly overruns. The Environmental Protection Agency has long recognized the need for citizen involvement in the planning of major public works projects and requires a public involvement program on EPA grant-supported projects.

Milwaukee's huge and complex project, therefore, carried with it the essential task of keeping the public informed every step of the way Of course, “the public” really consists of a variety of separate publics, each with its own interests and stake in the program. The information program, then, included a number of targeted communication tasks containing the information that the various stakeholders needed about the project.

During the project, several major controversies developed that called for massive communications efforts. One involved the decision on whether to completely rebuild the area's sanitary and storm sewer system, or to construct immense underground storage to prevent sewage overflow into rivers and Lake Michigan during heavy storms or snow melts. The other controversy dealt with the method of paying for this $2.2 billion project—through ad valorem taxes as the city of Milwaukee and some suburbs want, or through user fees, as other suburbs advocated.


CH2M Hill … no, the name's not a formula. It's a combination of five men's names. Four of them were founders of the original firm: Holly A. Cornell, James C. Howland, T. Burke Hayes and Fred Merryfield. Clair A. Hill and Associates merged with them in 1971 to become CH2M Hill.

CH2M Hill has been in business for forty-three years. It:

  • Is an international firm of engineers, planners, economists and scientists

  • Is an employee-owned firm of 4,500 people in more than sixty offices throughout the world

  • Provides services to clients in both the private and public sectors in energy, energy-related, industrial, water, wastewater, solid and hazardous waste management, transportation, planning, environmental science, construction management and economic fields

  • Has been ranked in the Top Ten on Engineering News-Record's list of Top 500 design firms for the past twelve years



Much had been made of the legal imperatives that led to the expenditure of $2.2 billion to renovate and upgrade the sewerage system of Milwaukee and its suburbs. Often lost in the rhetoric was the vision of what the community will have when the Water Pollution Abatement Program (WPAP) is completed in 1996.

In effect, this is what the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD) was marketing

  • A cleaner Lake Michigan at our doorstep, cleaner by 600 million gallons of raw sewage and 7.5 billion gallons of raw sewage and storm water mixture that will no longer flow into our streams and watercourses and ultimately into the harbor and lake every year, as it presently does. The positive effects will be especially noticeable in Milwaukee's inner and outer harbors.
  • Cleaner rivers—the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, and Root Rivers will have fish in them once again. They will be more pleasant for boating and canoeing, as well as simply sitting alongside their banks. The rivers will be community assets, not the effluvial eyesores they had become. Land values along the rivers will increase as development and redevelopment become attractive investments.

    The two reconstructed treatment plants on the Milwaukee Project under construction.

  • A modern sewerage system able to support steady economic and population growth well into the twenty-first century, giving our area decided advantages over many other cities that are just beginning to faceup to their own inadequate sewerage systems.
  • A project recognized nationally as well-designed, well-built, and well-managed. A massive and complex undertaking, which will be finished on time and only about 5 percent over the budget projected back in 1983. It's a public works project of which the Milwaukee area can be extremely proud.


Metropolitan Milwaukee's Water Pollution Abatement Program has its roots in two separate legal actions in the early 1970s. The first of these disputes was between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Milwaukee Metropolitan City and County Sewerage Commissions, which resulted in the “Dane County Circuit Court Stipulation.” The second was a lawsuit filed in 1972 against the City of Milwaukee by the states of Illinois and Michigan.

In neither instance was there a question about whether metropolitan Milwaukee would have to undertake a huge renovation of its sewerage system. That was acknowledged. The questions involved the extent of the renovation, the methods of correcting the problems, and the timetable for the renovation.


Legislative and judicial actions set the direction and pace of the Water Pollution Abatement Program. Implementing it was the responsibility of the Milwaukee City and County Sewerage Commissions, which were subsequently merged to become the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission. A $2.2 billion public works program, on a tight timetable and involving twenty-seven separate municipalities, is a gigantic task under any circumstances. In the case of the WPAP, it was compounded by the fact that this massive renovation must take place without disrupting present sewerage services. The old system must remain in operation while the new elements are put in place.

Table 1 displays the formidable array of program statistics as it stands today with the program approximately 75 percent complete.


Faced with that challenge, the District had to resolve the question of organizing for the massive effort. They essentially had two choices on how to manage the project: MMSD could staff up and manage the effort by itself; or it could put the day-today management responsibilities into the hands of outside consultants.


A deep storage and conveyance tunnel … 32 feet in diameter … 300 feet underground.

Table 1. Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program Statistics as of January 1991

Original Estimated Program Cost at Completion $2.11 billion
Total Present Program Cost at Completion $2.28 billion
Value of All Contracts Awarded to Date  
(Construction and Professional Services) $2.11 billion
Program Started 1977
Program Scheduled Completion 1996
Number of Engineering Personnel Working  
at Peak of Design 600 people
Number of Professional Service Firms  
Contracted to Date 88 firms
Number of Construction Personnel  
Working at Peak of Construction 1,500 people
Total Projected Number of Construction  
and Procurement Contracts 306 contracts
Number of Prime Construction and Procurement  
Firms Involved to Date 121 firms
Area Served at End of Program 420 square miles
Number of Communities Affected 27 communities
Percent of Program Covered by Grant Funds 60 percent
Total Miles of Deep Tunnel 20 miles
Total Miles of Deep Tunnel Excavated to Date 15.0 miles
Total Miles of New Near-Surface Tunnel and Sewers 62 miles
Percent of Program Done by Local and State  
Contractors to Date over 60 percent
Number of Real Estate Parcels Required 750 parcels
Program Physical Percent Complete 73 percent
Total Elapsed Time into Schedule 70 percent

The nature of the project was such that the demand for design, engineering, and construction services would fluctuate greatly over the multi-year course of the project. Similarly, the demand for various engineering skills and experience would vary considerably during that time.

It would have been difficult to recruit the experienced, multiple-disciplined staff necessary for short-term assignments with the District, since there would be several cycles of staff buildup and layoff over the course of the WPAP. Such a process would have had a large impact on the District's unemployment insurance costs and its basic salary structure. For example, between late 1980 and 1981, the project staffing re quirements during its early planning stage changed from over 600 to less than 300.

For those reasons, the MMSD Commissioners and staff members recommended hiring a single manager to provide all program management services. A joint city/county task force studied the question and concurred in that recommendation.

CH2M Hill and its consortium of principal associate consultants were selected to manage the Milwaukee WPAP. According to the resolution passed by the Commission on 31 May 1977, the lead consultant (CH2M Hill) was hired “to schedule, coordinate, and technically manage the various project elements of this Program.” The consortium of firms working with CH2M Hill included:

  • Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff

  • Donohue & Associates, Inc.

  • Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer and Associates, Inc.

  • J.C. Zimmerman Engineering Corp.

  • Polytech, Inc.

Program Management Functions for the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program

Figure 1. Program Management Functions for the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program

In mid-1977, the consortium established the Program Management Office (PMO) in Milwaukee. Construction contractors and equipment suppliers are under direct contract to MMSD. The program manager is responsible for all the functions depicted in Figure 1.

The objectives of the program, as defined in 1977, include:

A. Physical Objectives
  1. Develop plans to achieve areawide water quality standards;
  2. Plan to achieve effluent standards to meet Dane County court, state and federal regulations;
  3. Plan to achieve effluent standards consistent with the federal court if necessary;
  4. Plan for sewers and treatment capacity to permit adopted growth projections;
  5. Plan the Program considering use of energy and its availability;
  6. Plan, design, and build facilities to meet specified quality standards; and
  7. Plan a residuals management program to achieve optimal utilization of resources.
B. Community Objectives
  1. Plan the Program seeking the involvement and input of all segments of the community throughout the Program;
  2. Plan the Program taking into consideration environmental concerns and impacts;
  3. Plan and implement the Program to provide multiple public benefits where possible;
  4. Plan and implement the Program to meet community goals and priorities;
  5. Provide training opportunities for MMSD staff throughout the Program for future needs;
  6. Provide the opportunity for minorities and small businesses to participate in the Program; and
  7. Plan a pretreatment program for industrial waste.
C. Funding Objectives
  1. Attain maximum funding from state and federal sources;
  2. Plan the Program taking into consideration funding and cash flow constraints;
  3. Plan, design, and construct facilities at the lowest cost to the user—both capital and O&M costs;
  4. Plan the Program taking into account tangible community costs and cost impacts; and
  5. Carry out the Program sharing reasonable risk with all participants.
Management Model of the Milwaukee Water Polution Abatement Program

Figure 2. Management Model of the Milwaukee Water Polution Abatement Program

Nearly fourteen years into the Program, with virtually all design complete and construction over 70 percent complete, these objectives have all been met. Some 285 construction contracts out of a total requirement of 300 have been awarded. They range in price from $100,000 to $200 million.

PMO Organization

Since the beginning of the Program, the Program Management Office organization has changed to meet changing requirements throughout the phases of evaluation and planning, design, construction and startup. However, as it has throughout the project, MMSD controls all aspects of the WPAP through its policy, contracts, and overview activities. Figure 2 illustrates the basic management and project oversight relationship between the owner, the Program Management Office and the numerous design firms and construction contractors. Figures 3 and 4 show the change in the onsite PMO organization between 1984 and 1987 as design reached completion and construction volume increased.

The PMO onsite organization is presently staffed with personnel from fifteen different firms and the MMSD. Approximately thirty-five MMSD personnel are assigned as an integral part of the onsite PMO staff.

Members of the PMO onsite staff are dedicated full-time to the WPAP. Staff is regularly added or returned to their firms depending on the workload requirements of the Program.


Patrick Marchese Director of Public Works and Development Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

The sudden imposition of a Project Management Office on a small but experienced engineering staff of a sewerage district can create serious morale problems. In the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program, the district staff, quite understandably had difficulty accepting the PMO, viewing it initially as a suggestion that they, themselves, were not competent or could not manage a large program. As an official of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District at the beginning of the Program, I saw it happen. And I saw it solved.


Patrick Marchese is currently the director of Public Works for Milwaukee County. In that role he is responsible for $400 million worth of capital facilities ranging from a $100 million jail project to expansion and planning of transit systems, including light rail.

Previous to his position as director of Public Works, he was the executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and in that role was involved in the planning, design and construction of a $2 billion waste water treatment plant expansion. He is a registered professional engineer and has been a member of PMI for ten years.

It took a great deal of patience and interpersonal skills on the part of the District, CH2M Hill and the other engineering firms in the PMO. They spent countless hours discussing roles and responsibilities with the MMSD staff, and they bent over backward to ensure that effective communication took place and to avoid personality problems. It took a couple of years, but serious conflict between the two able organizations was avoided, saving the untold millions of dollars that conflict of that nature would have wasted.

That sensitivity typifies the relationship that has existed between the PMO and the client, MMSD, from the start. It made my job as executive director of the District much easier. The District staff reports to a board of commissioners, a public body subject to Wisconsin's strict open records laws. The $2.2 billion program attracted an aggressive, dedicated news media in Milwaukee. The MMSD staff's primary function with respect to the PMO is as a watchdog over the public's stake in the project, ensuring the quality of the work and the wise use of public funds. Throughout the life of the program, the media and the commissioners raised questions about specific projects, the staff, consultants and costs. The integrity of the firms in the PMO and their recognition of the need for public accountability enabled the intense questioning to be answered and the relationship to go smoothlv.

The early actions that we took to define roles and responsibilities helped a great deal in keeping the project on time and on budget. Another critical activity was our joint planning for the eventual phase-out of the PMO as the project nears completion. This was done through extended and thorough negotiations, and we came to a good meeting of the minds. This process assured any doubters on the District staff that their long-term futures were secure, and it confirmed their ultimate responsibility for operations. And it developed a “we're in this together, so let's do the best job we can” attitude on the part of both the PMO and the District staff.

What could have been a costly and debilitating series of conflicts between the two organizations was avoided through the integrity of all of the people involved and their sensivity for each others’ responsibilities and interests.

Organization Structure of the Program Management Office in 1984

Figure 3. Organization Structure of the Program Management Office in 1984

In addition to the PMO onsite staff, there are numerous consulting firms that are subcontractors to CH2M Hill, providing such technical services as final design plans and specifications for bidding, landfill siting analysis, geotechnical services, start up plans by the designer, and miscellaneous consulting services as needed.

One subcontractor is a Milwaukee public relations firm, Barkin Paulsen Meissner & Kimball, Inc., which was initially engaged to plan and carry out the community involvement component of the project. Another was a large Milwaukee law firm, Quarles & Brady, which provided legal counsel and insights into the community's business and governmental structures in the early years of the program. Cook & Franke, another Milwaukee law firm, served as CH2M Hill's legal advisers. It is important that a law firm in this situation be extremely sensitive to public relations and political realities, as ours was. Virtually every legal matter in a project such as this has public relations and, often, political implications. Because of their long-time roots in the Milwaukee community, both firms were well acquainted with the political and cultural forces; they worked together as a team on many issues and were able to resolve a number of potential problems before they became serious. Working in the background much of the time, they helped enlist key support when it was needed.


The problems that led to the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program stemmed basically from the fact that the area's sewerage system was simply outdated. It w-as inadequate to serve the needs of the time (the mid-1970s), to say nothing of future needs. Significant population and economic growth within the District was inhibited, a problem affecting the suburbs more than the city of Milwaukee, because most of the growth would likely take place in the suburbs.

The system could not cope with overflows caused by rainstorms and melting snows. As that water entered the system, it mixed with raw sewage and overloaded the system. Those overloads of polluted stormwater were discharged through hundreds of illegal bypasses into our streams and rivers, eventually flowing into Milwaukee's inner and outer harbors and, finally, into Lake Michigan.

It was a situation that could not be allowed to continue.

Organization Structure of the Program Management Office in 1987

Figure 4 Organization Structure of the Program Management Office in 1987

After evaluation and study, the solution was to repair, improve, and expand the entire sewerage system serving metropolitan Milwaukee. Old sewers have been rehabilitated and new ones are being built. Improvements include new and rehabilitated sewers in the local systems of the twenty-seven communities served by the District. New interceptor sewers will carry wastes from local sewerage systems to the two MMSD wastewater treatment plants, which have been modernized and expanded.

The most dramatic part of the Milwaukee sewerage project is the 18 miles of deep tunnels bored through limestone at depths ranging from 270 feet to 325 feet, with diameters from 17 feet to 32 feet. Their purpose is to store rain and melted snow runoff, mixed with sewage, until the treatment plants can accommodate it. The recommendation to build “deep tunnels” became the cause of the first of two major controversies.

There were basically two quite different ways to solve Milwaukee's sewerage problems. One would have involved the separation of sanitary and storm sewers throughout the metropolitan area. The other, the method chosen, was the so-called “deep tunnel” method of storing polluted storm water underground until the treatment plants can handle it. Although more costly, the first method had a number of proponents. Many of the newer suburbs, for example, already had separated sewers, while the city did not. They felt that the city of Milwaukee should be forced to reconstruct their system and bear the brunt of the cost.

Local excavators and pavers could see a huge expansion of work if sewers were separated. And there were several self-appointed critics who felt a responsibility to “quarterback” the program from the sidelines. In effect, all of these people became important stakeholders in advocating an expensive and basic change in the project scope. They campaigned vigorously for their preferred method.

Our response was to listen carefully to their arguments one-on-one and in groups. We placed speakers on key community platforms; sought editorial support from the media; and secured the endorsement of top political, business and public interest leaders who spoke to the economic and social realities. Tearing up the city's streets and properties, for example, placed an enormous financial burden on those people who could least afford it. Finally, we secured the official support of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, an influential community leadership organization.

Norman Paulsen, Jr., Chairman of the Board

Barkin Paulsen Meissner & Kimball, Inc. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My firm originally became involved with the WPAP because of the EPA mandate that the federally-funded work required public participation. Our client, CH2M Hill, retained us as one of their consultants to plan and implement this phase.


Norman Paulsen, Jr., chairman of the board, Barkin Paulsen Meissner & Kimball, Inc., has a broad background in rosiness as well as the practice of public relations.

He joined the firm in 1968 from Allied Chemical Corporation, New York, where he was corporate director of public relaions. He has also been director of public elations for the A.O. Smith Corporation and the Wisconsin Blue Cross Plan.

He has served as a member of the executive committee of the Public Relaions Society of America's Counselors Academy, past director and vice president of the Wisconsin Chapter of PRSA. Ye has also served as chairman and diector of American Red Cross, Milwauee Chapter, and as a director of the United Way, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and of Milwaukee Psychiatric Services. He is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and a member of the board of directors of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee foundation, He was educated at Duke and Northwestern Universities and the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

In the twelve years since then, we have helped them address a great number of stakeholder issues. It was our first experience with a huge public project and we found there was very little case data to work from. We simply employed common public selection practices and exercised our best judgment and creativity.

I have been personally involved with the program from the beginning. In addition, a number of our professional staff have had major responsibilities. For several years, one of our senior people was physically located at the project headquarters. Another person who originally worked for our firm is now the public affairs director for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge was balancing CH2M Hill's corporate interests with those of its client and with all of the other stakeholders. Because CH2M Hill had primary responsibility for implementing the WPAP, it often served as a lightening rod for disputes which developed between the many stakeholders.

To complicate matters, most of these were aired publicly. All Commission and most committee meetings were covered by the news media and, of course, anyone who had a complaint could readily call a news conference or issue a release. In addition to its involvement in the WPAP, CH2M Hill has its Great Lakes Regional Office, with 250 employees, headquartered in Milwaukee. That office has its own mission, which is completely separate from the WPAP. CH2M Hill at all times needed to preserve its client relationship, but at the same time protect its own reputation. Accomplishing this called for patience, diplomacy and judgment. It also required an understanding of the role and needs of the news media in a state with strict enforcement of open meetings and open records laws.

As the project nears completion, we all are achieving a greater level of comfort. Certainly the emergencies, the media crises and the day-to-day tensions have subsided. By most standards, stakeholder relations have been well maintained.

Perhaps the best measure of stakeholder relations is the WPAP‘s record on schedule and budget. It is scheduled for completion in 1996, as planned at the beginning, and only about 5 percent over the budget projected back in 1983. As many a project manager knows, intervention by stakeholders with whom relations had soured can throw the best schedule and budget far off the marks. The Milwaukee WPAP has avoided that hazard.

The GMC'S approval gave meaningful credibility for the first time to the project and its design.

The second major controversy was one in which the PMO had to remain neutral. It concerned financing the capital costs of the program. MMSD needed an overall plan which maximized outside funding; that objective was achieved quite well. In addition, it needed a fair method for allocating the local share among the twenty-seven participating communities.

Most of the suburbs involved want capital costs to be paid through user charges based on volume entering the system from each of the suburbs. The city of Milwaukee and other suburbs contend that capital costs should be paid through property taxes, and only the cost of operating the system be paid through” user charges. The ad valorem group included the “wet” industries of the area—brewery, manufacturers, university, hospitals, etc. The media like to refer to the squabble as “The Great Sewer Wars. ”The ad valorem faction calls itself JOBS, for Joint Organization for Better Sewers, and the user charge group calls itself FLOW for Fair Liquidation Of Wastes. The issue has been in and out of various courts. The state legislature became involved. It was sent to the state's utility regulators, the Public Service Commission, which ruled the opposite of the most recent Circuit Court ruling. The dispute which began in 1977 continues today.

While the PMO has not been directly involved in the issue, it serves as the source of factual information for both sides, as well as the courts, the legislature and the PSC, a huge task in itself.

In another phase of the project, the capacities of the District's two wastewater treatment plants are being significantly expanded so they can treat greater flows and avoid spilling untreated sewage into Lake Michigan. These expansions will accommodate expected growth in the metropolitan area well into the next century.

To make better use of solid wastes, or sludge, generated by expanded treatment plant capacity, an underground pipeline was constructed between the two plants to permit the exchange of the sludge needed to optimize production of fertilizers—Milorganite at the Jones Island plant and Agri-Life at the South Shore plant.

Following the decision to build a new Milorganite plant and after the investment of millions of dollars in its construction, a major crisis developed which seriously threatened the project and, indeed, the viability of the Milorganite program. Initiated by an article in USA Today, it was claimed that three former San Francisco 49er football players might have contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig's Disease”) from playing together for a season on a field where Milorganite may have been a part of the turf maintenance program. Time magazine and other national and regional media picked up the story and suddenly the entire Milorganite program was endangered.

Not only was an enormous investment in the Milorganite facility at risk, but the Sewerage District faced the long-term possibility of having to use far less cost-effective alternatives for the disposal of its sludge.


A view down one of the Milwaukee Project deep sewerage storage and conveyance tunnels.

Our public relations counsel, Bar-kin Paulsen Meissner & Kimball, was engaged by our client, MMSD, to deal with the problem; they teamed up with the District's medical consultant, Dr. Henry Goldberg, to develop a response. A group of the country's leading medical authorities was asked to study the data and offer their opinion. Among them were Dr. Leonard T. Kurland, a noted epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Alfred Rimm, Chief of Biostatistics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. All discounted the possibility of any linkage between Milorganite and ALS. EPA also publicly attested to the product's safety.

Communications were sent to all Milorganite dealers and major customers. News releases were sent to the nation's media and editorial support was enlisted. These and many other efforts were made to reassure the public and Milorganite users that the product was safe. In a relatively short time, the crisis was defused and Milorganite survived.

Managing relations with its many stakeholders is a continuing effort. Some stakeholders are constant regulatory agencies, the owner and the Corps of Engineers. Some stakeholders are transitory: for example, underground contractors trying to change the deep tunnel; the news media, whose curiosity and interest in the project ebbs and flows over the course of the project; and the various units of government, which align themselves into factions on the issues that crop up.

Following is a thumbnail description of some of the tactics employed to gain and maintain the cooperation of various stakeholders in the project

  1. One of the most important actions was mentioned above: to obtain the endorsement of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, a non-governmental body of community leaders representing business, government, labor and the non-profit sector. The GMC enjoys great local respect and credibility. Its adoption of the WPAP as a project necessary for Milwaukee's continued economic health went a long way toward blunting the effects of special interests intent on redirecting the project their way or scuttling it altogether.
  2. CH2M Hill's relationships with its original consortium firms have been important in keeping the project moving and on budget. One of the keys to harmony with those firms is standing behind them. After all, these firms are significant stakeholders by virtue of being the original consortium members on a project of this size. Furthermore, several were local old-line Milwaukee firms with significant standing in the corporate communitv. Over the program, there has been periodic pressure to bring in other subcontracting firms on a project of this size, and although this occurred, CH2M Hill worked hard to maintain the status of its original team member firms.


    Charles V. “Tom” Gibbs Senior Vice President, CH2M Hill

    As important as stakeholder relations are in a major public works project, the successful completion of that project also demands leadership by a strong, sponsoring governmental body.


    Charles V. Gibbs, better known as “Tom,” is a senior vice president and northwest district manager of CH2M Yin. From 1967 to 1974, Tom was the Executive director of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle. In 1974 he left public service to become the director of business development for CH2M Hill.

    Tom received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in civil engineering from the University of Washington.

    Tom has received numerous awards for his public service and commitment to a clean environment, He was honored aS one of the American Public Works Association's “Top Ten Public Works Men-of-the-year” in 1971. He has received commendation from the President of the United States for exceptional service in the environmental protection effort. The Washington Society of Professional Engineers selected him “Engineer of the Year” in 1973.

    Tom has been a member of a number of boards including the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and was chairman of the Seattle-King County Economic Development Council for 1987.

    The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission provided that vision and leadership for the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program, beginning well before an overhaul of the area's sewerage system was mandated by legislation and judicial decisions.

    Without waiting for appeals in federal court on a lawsuit filed against Milwaukee by the states of Illinois and Michigan, the Commission began planning the massive cleanup. The commissioners recognized that metropolitan Milwaukee's system did not comply with the water quality objectives of Congress. Major renovations were inevitable. And they saw that the longer the solution was delayed, the more it would cost.

    As the appeal process in the Illinois-Michigan lawsuit ground on, the commissioners were drawing up parallel plans for revamping the system. One plan provided for a cleanup that would meet or exceed EPA water quality standards, assuming the courts ruled in Milwaukee's favor. The other outlined a cleanup that would meet the even stricter standards being pursued in the lawsuit.

    The commissioners took an active role in the debate over the deep tunnel solution versus separation of storm and sanitary sewers. The latter had the strong and vocal support of local excavators and pavers. In the end, the commissioners resisted that pressure and made the very difficult public policy decision that the deep tunnel was the better alternative.

    Leading the community toward its environmental responsibilities and choosing the more effective and efficient, but much less popular, way of meeting those responsibilities, called for a great deal of statesmanship and courage from the commissioners. They were, in the early years of the WPAP, citizens who served on the Sewerage Commission in addition to their fulltime jobs. They put in long hours in what was supposed to be a part-time assignment, and with very little compensation. It was largely a thankless job, because their decisions on collecting and treating the area's sewage and storm water inevitably cost homeowners and businesses money.

    As the first program director of the Program Management Office in Milwaukee (1977-1981) and principal in charge for CH2M Hill until 1990, I observed closeup the hard work and dedication of the commissioners as they strove to get the program under way. I am grateful for the support they gave the PMO and for their efforts in establishing and smoothing relationships between the staff of the PMO and the various stakeholders. On a personal note, I am also grateful for the way they welcomed me and others brought in from around the country for the project team. They went far out of their way to help make us quickly a part of the community.

    It is difficult to imagine how a major project, such as this, can be finished on time and on budget—even finished at all—without men and women of vision and courage in governmental leadership roles. I am sure that anyone in the project management profession will agree.

  3. Relationship with funding agencies are similarly important In the WPAP'S case, that meant the Environmental Protection Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and their oversight arm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All construction contract change orders had to be viewed by the Corps for grant-funding eligibility. There is an immense amount of paperwork involved in justifying these changes to the Corps, but it was essential to provide this material comprehensively and to assist the Corps in obtaining all the information it needed for project oversight. The payoff from this important stakeholder was the issuance of periodic audit reports supportive of the management of the project by MMSD and the PMO.
  4. Another key stakeholder group is the operating staff of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. It was important to reassure those people that their jobs and futures, if affected by the building of updated facilities, would be handled with careful long-range planning and sensitivity. Also, it was extremely important to include the operating staff in construction activities affecting their work, so that everyday operations of the sewerage system would not be unnecessarily impeded.
  5. As noted above, explaining to various special interests the reasons for our recommendation of deep tunnels required a great deal of time and patience. Political intervention to solve an issue like this often outweighed any technical explanation of the reason for the recommendation.
  6. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District serves the city of Milwaukee and all or parts of some twenty-seven suburbs. Each of those governmental bodies watches over the parochial interests of its citizens, and those interests are not always the same throughout the District. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission represents the city and suburbs, and the Commission is the interface with local governments.

    The City of Milwaukee celebrated the Milwaukee River at the June 1,1990 event … RiverSplash! Fireworks were sponsored by CH2M Hill.

    Intergovernmental differences required a good deal of time and effort on the part of the Program Management Office documenting and explaining the wide range of issues and technical matters in connection with the project. Our legal and public relations counsel helped significantly in representing and guiding us in our relationships with local governments.

    There is a continuing need for public relations activity to keep the public apprised of progress and explain the very complex engineering matters that involve public policy.

  7. Our firm recognized early in the program that we had become a true member of the Milwaukee community; Milwaukee had become one of our major “homes” and had made it possible for us to work on one of the largest and most professionally rewarding projects in the world. We wanted to say thank you in an appropriate way.

    With the help of Barkin Paulsen Meissner & Kimball we found a project which we felt could benefit the community for many years to come. The project would also showcase the aesthetic results of the WPAP. We offered to contribute the original engineering plans for the development of a mile-long Riverwalk along both banks of the Milwaukee River. The river runs directly through the city's downtown and empties into its major harbor.

    Since the early 1900s, them had been many studies of the river that proposed various ways to focus attention on the river, but all had been discarded for one reason or another—primarily because the proposals were too large and too costly

    Our plan offered a practical plan which called for a walk constructed in segments over a period of years, as funding and commercial use became feasible. The city agreed to some partial funding and several major, private-party owners promised to participate. The mayor and community leadership endorsed our plan.

    Today the Riverwalk is a reality. It is increasingly the focus of downtown events and activities. As the waters of the Milwaukee River become cleaner, the river and its banks will become a major attraction for the citizens of Milwaukee and visitors alike.


There are five key factors that we consider responsible for the success of the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program. They are:

  • Use of a single management firm operating under a Program Management concept

  • Establishment of a program work scope at the end of the project planning stage (1980) that was not permitted to be easily changed

  • Application of up-front schedule discipline for completion of design on all construction bid packages on time

  • A project management organization that was properly structured for each phase of the project and staffed with people and specialty consulting firms with proper experience, combined with great teamwork

  • Recognition of the stakeholders and their interests in the project, and having the proper expertise available to deal with those issues

The day when engineering firms could simply go about their business, ignoring the attitudes of the local populace concerning their projects, are long gone. Any project, large or small, impacts on many people in many ways. Citizens are no longer reluctant to voice their concerns, because they know they can now influence the way those projects are carried out—and even stop them altogether.

Project management today demands that we pay attention to all who have a stake in our projects. The issues are often complex. Understanding those issues and resolving them, so as to keep the projects on course, calls for special skills and experience not usually found in engineering firms.

Our experience with the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program has convinced us that public relations and law firms which understand the social and political com-plexities-as well as the engineering basics of a project—are essential members of our team. The costs of ignoring any stakeholders are too high.


Henry F. Padgham has thirty-one years experience in the field of management of large public works design and construction projects. A vice president of CH2M Hill, he is currently the project director for a major freeway widening project in Oakland, CA. He was the program director of the $2.2 billion Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program for eight years.

For the years 1989 and 1990, Mr. Padgham was national president and chairman of the board of the Project Management Institute, Also a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and National Society of Professional Engineers, he holds B.S. degrees from the University of California and Oregon State University. Honors and awards include: Tau Beta Pi, Engineering Honorary Fraternity; Phi Kappa Phi, National Scholastic Honorary Fraternity; Fellow, Project Management Institute; 1987 Distinguished Service Award, Wisconsin Section, ASCE.

He is the author of several papers and publications related to the field of large public works project management and organization.




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