AFSME Local 602 - MSU Moorhead

Keeping Vital Infrastructure Working

Robin Davis: “Like everyone else, we’re short-staffed and wear a lot of hats.”

When Robin Davis picks up the phone, she’s never sure what to expect. There’s usually a homeowner on the other end, and there’s an issue. It could be a flooded street or basement. A water main break. A gas leak. A frozen catch basin.

Davis, of Local 66 in Duluth, works at Comfort Systems -- the utilities operations division of Public Works. But she really is more like an emergency room triage nurse. When she answers that call, she’s got to figure out what the problem is. Then she’s got to dispatch crews to fix it. And she’s got to do it in a hurry.

“They’re frustrated,” she says of callers. “They’ve got sewage backing up in their basement, or their garage is flooded, or their sidewalk has 4 inches of ice.”

Davis deals primarily with the city’s sanitary and storm sewer systems. There’s no shortage of work. Duluth still has miles of old clay pipe and laterals that snap, get overrun by tree roots and otherwise invite trouble.

When the phone isn’t ringing, Davis schedules appointments and inspections, staffs community outreach meetings, and maintains the database that tracks every inch of sewer line. She also keeps up the reports and other paperwork required for the city’s inflow and infiltration program. I&I, as it’s called, is a decade-long initiative to inspect, catalog and improve the sewer lines in every building in the city.

The project is no academic exercise. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency both are pushing Duluth to cut overflow and sewage contamination in its storm sewer system. Those problems erode water quality and threaten public health, Davis says.

They affect drinking water, local streams, Lake Superior and water recreation.

Davis also tracks the hours of construction apprentices in Public Works, and helps oversee Duluth’s clerical apprenticeship program, making sure every city department assigns new hires properly. “Like everyone else, we’re short-staffed and wear a lot of hats,” she says matter-of-factly

Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the March/April 2009 issue of Council 5’s Stepping Up.

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