Six months after firing Steve Branz as Public Works Director for unspecified reasons, members of the Woodland City Council unanimously approved the hiring of La Center City Engineer Bart Stepp as his successor at their last session Feb. 21.
“I’m very excited about it,” said Stepp. “It’s a new set of challenges from what we were dealing with in La Center, but keeps me and my family in the area.”
A engineering graduate from the University of Portland, Stepp joined the City of La Center in 2008 and immediately began making a positive impact on both its infrastructure and its budget as their manager of capital projects.
“Last year, we were needing to upgrade our wastewater system and Bart’s knowledge about how to make the system as efficient as possible, as well as his relationships with his clients, helped save us nearly $2 million,” said La Center Mayor Jim Irish. “It’s not the only time he’s been able to do that for us either.”
Looking at what he’ll be addressing in Woodland, Stepp says one of his main concerns is the City’s road network.
“I think we need to get better at maintaining the roads. In the past, the City hasn’t been able to because of budgetary issues,” said Stepp. “The money is there, but it all depends on how it’s put to the best use.”
Another issue regards potential changes to the I-5 junction at Lewis River Road and adding an overpass to Scott Avenue.
“Right now, there’s two signals at the Lewis River intersection which are causing much of the congestion. We’re looking at possible solutions and one idea involves moving one of those signals east to alleviate the problem,” Stepp said.
Scott Avenue, meanwhile, is a potential thoroughfare that hasn’t been recognized yet, with the west and east sides separated by I-5, with Pacific and Atlantic Avenues providing the main arteries to the downtown area running parallel to the highway.
Stepp also hopes to change the nature of how the Public Works Department interacts with the City and the contractors it will be doing business with.
“I’d like to see us change to in-house reviews of all proposals brought in,” Stepp said. “Currently, the City brings in outside consultants to do the reviews, which can be costly and time consuming. Doing it ourselves would help improve communications between the City and the people we do business with, as well as just a way to get more information to the people who need it.”
Stepp was among four finalists interviewed for the position, and council member Al Swindell served on the interview committee. Swindell said he was impressed with Stepp’s credentials and what he will bring to the position.
“I think we’re making an excellent choice in hiring Mr. Stepp,” Swindell said Tuesday night. “Based on what he’s done for our neighbors in La Center, I’m sure he’ll bring the same approach to Woodland.”
Mayor Irish is happy to see Stepp move up to an important position, even if it’s not in his City.
“He has a great personality which allows him to work with people, rather than give the impression he’s working over them,” Irish said. “I’m sad to lose him, but I’m glad Woodland hired him so he can be close by.”
Stepp officially starts as Public Works Director on Monday, March 5.