July 24, 2024

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‘We get the weird things that happen,’ says environmental management director about new department – Grand Forks Herald

4 min read

GRAND FORKS – Lisa Botnen, the director of the city’s new environmental management department, says she looks forward to doing even more with the city’s environmental programs as she builds the new department.

In a nutshell, she said, the environmental management department aims to ensure environmental compliance and serves as a resource during emergency responses for hazardous material spills and clean up.

“It’s been said in the past, it’s like the rest of public works,” she said. “If you don’t know we’re there, it’s a good thing because everything’s going the way it’s supposed to.”

Botnen will step into her new position in July. The department,

while new, is more like a restructuring of many environmental permitting

and monitoring programs the city already does. The department combines environmental permitting, laboratory testing and mosquito control programs under one umbrella.

Before becoming the environmental management director, Botnen served as assistant water works director overseeing many environmental compliance programs as part of the water department. She’s worked for the city for around a decade and prior to that was at UND’s Energy and Environmental Research Center working on industrial waste management.

“When I was hired to be the environmental manager, I was not a young employee. I had other experiences and other background to bring to the table,” Botnen said. “I started helping with sanitation, and then I had some experience in hazardous materials so I started working more with the fire and police department on clean up.”

Botnen and her team deal with a whole variety of environmental issues that occur in Grand Forks.

“We get the weird things that happen,” Botnen said. “I had been here six months and there was a mercury spill outside a home a kid playing in it, and I got real familiar, real quick with public health and the fire department.”

Mercury is a toxic metal that’s a silver liquid at room temperature and can have harmful effects on the nervous system among other dangers. In 2015,

a spill occurred in the northside of Grand Forks that required the cleanup and testing

when a group of children found a container of mercury and played in it. The clean-up also required monitoring of the city’s landfill to prevent water system contamination.

For the Grand Forks City Council,

their biggest concern when creating the new department was what it meant for the mosquito control program.

The program will move out of Grand Forks Public Health into the new department. Even at the time of the original creation of the mosquito control program, it was debated whether it should be in GFPH or in the public works department.

“In advance of Mosquito Control Manager Todd Hanson’s retirement, we thought, ‘how are we going to structure this upon his retirement knowing that he’s been (heading the program) for more than two decades?’” Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said. “The other issue is that environmental management has become so broad and (spread out) throughout the various city departments with Lisa Botnen it just seemed like the time was right.”

Other environmental programs, like health inspections, are part of GFPH, but even now, the aspects of the environmental management department coming from the water department work closely with GFPH to ensure a healthy community.

“Clean drinking water is a public health issue, wastewater is a public health issue,” Botnen said. “There’s environmental health divisions within public health so it’s not that big of a stretch (for mosquito control to move into environmental management), it’s a well-oiled machine and they do a great job.”

Botnen said that the move also provides more opportunities for the program.

“I don’t want them to be an island and there are resources that public works can have available to them,” Botnen said. “But if there were a West Nile outbreak or something to that effect, we will utilize public health still and their expertise, their strategists, their communication just like we would if something happened at the wastewater treatment plant.”

In addition to mosquito control, the department

will also have to focus on new EPA rules

and new pollutants and chemicals like PFAs emerging in the area’s waterways.

“I’ve focused a lot on the emerging regulations for PFAs; I’ve had to delve into that quite a bit,” Botnen said. “I think those emerging regulatory issues will still inform sanitation and water works and that we need to be thinking long term in those planning pieces.”

Matthew Voigt

Voigt covers government in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.


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