Our Small Cities/Rural Communities Leader: Jerry Gibbs of Park City, Utah

Valerie Hoff
Marketing Manager
TLA Engineering & Planning, Inc.
Roseville, California
Member, APWA Small Cities/Rural Communities Forum

Park City Transit Center, built with FTA funding to meet Olympic and future demands (photo: Myles Rademan)

A glimpse at Park City
Long before Park City, Utah became a world-class resort city and venue for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, it was famous as the second largest silver mine strike in the U.S. Founded by prospectors in the late 1860s, Park City continued to mine silver until the early 1970s. All that remains is 1,200 miles of mining tunnels under the city. Today, Park City is a community with 8,000 permanent residents and 22,000 visitors on a busy day and now has two world-class resorts: Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort. A third world-class ski area, the Canyons Resort, is only three miles from their city limits. In 2002, Salt Lake City was the host of the winter Olympics and Park City became the Alpine Heart by hosting all of the skiing, snowboarding and sliding events with the exception of the downhill. Not often in one's public works career do you have a major milestone and a once-in-a-life time opportunity. Park City's Public Works Department was responsible for the logistics accommodating and transporting hundreds of thousands of visitors, guests and residents during the Olympic Games.

As the Director of Public Works, Jerry Gibbs, P.E., is busy managing multiple functions: transportation, fleet services, water, parking, streets, building maintenance, and park and golf maintenance. What all does that entail for this demanding position?

  • Transportation - responsible for the public transit and paratransit systems within the Park City area.

  • Fleet Services - maintains 282 pieces of equipment including snowplows, buses, pickups, passenger cars, parks and golf equipment.

  • Water Department - encompasses a twelve-square-mile service area and provides water, maintains the water system infrastructure and collects meter readings for water billing for Park City residents.

  • Parking Department - manages parking on Main Street, Swede Alley and the Old Town residential areas, including a 600-space parking garage.

  • Streets Department - maintains 60 miles of roadway within the city limits by providing asphalting services in the summer and snow removal services in the winter in addition to streetlight maintenance.

  • Building Maintenance - Twenty-three City buildings with a total of 195,000 square feet.

  • Park and Golf Maintenance - Two hundred eight acres of grass, including an 18-hole golf course, ten soccer and ball fields, and noxious weed control on 3,000 acres of open space.

Busload in/out during 2002 Winter Olympics at the Park City Transit Center (photo: Myles Rademan)

Challenges facing Park City and its Public Works Department
Park City has a mining legacy, which laces through its past, present, and future development. The colorful mining history has created challenges related to water quality and soils contamination. Mine tunnels have effectively dewatered much of the groundwater minimizing the ability to drill wells. Mine tunnel water contains varying levels of zinc, cadmium, arsenic, antimony and thallium. Utah is a water-right state, and Park City has rights only to a portion of the water they will need. In 1992, a culinary arsenic treatment plant was built to treat a portion of the mining tunnels and upgraded when Maximum Contaminate Levels (MCLs) were reduced to 10 parts per billion. Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) are being set on the receiving streams from the mine tunnels which may require treatment of the unused tunnel flows. Within five years, water will need to be imported from 14 miles away to meet future demands. The Public Works Department is working in tandem with other utilities in the area, along with federal and state agencies, to develop the solutions to meet the needs of the growing population.

Another concern for Park City is the rising cost for housing. Public Works employees are driving as much as 45 miles daily to come to work. The challenge is to maintain a healthy work environment with incentives for training, education, longevity, housing, transportation and a reasonable wage. The competition is fierce for employees between local business, the resorts and other governmental entities. Jerry and many of his fellow workers choose to live in the Park City area as a lifestyle choice.

Involvement in SC/RC
Jerry joined APWA in the mid-70s to take advantage of the opportunities to network regionally and attend the annual Congress and Exposition. Shortly after joining he realized how his community would benefit from this national organization. Park City is considered a small city, despite its world-class reputation as a ski destination. Jerry and his department face many of the same challenges of small cities and rural communities of limited staff and resources, while also tackling the issues of growing urban areas. Those various issues range from sustainable and quality water, storm runoff, wastewater, solid waste removal and disposal, infrastructure sustainability, the impacts of Homeland Security and limited revenue.

Recently Jerry became the Chair of the SC/RC. He attributes his drive to be involved "...because I believe if you want something to change, you need to become involved and take part in the change."

The Chair's goals for SC/RC
In addition to managing a successful public works department, staff and budget, Jerry is modeling how a committee chair drives a committee to focus on its goals. These goals include:

  • To facilitate training/education activities and dialogue that provides opportunities to share solutions to the public works challenges of small cities and rural communities

  • Represent, within APWA, the public works issues affecting small cities and rural communities

  • Promote the use of existing applicable training and education opportunities and facilitate innovative delivery of these opportunities to all public works employees

  • Provide a framework for small city and rural community public works agencies to access information to fill their training and education needs

  • Represent to local, state and federal leadership the public works issues affecting small cities and rural communities

Jerry W. Gibbs, P.E., Park City Public Works Director (photo: Myles Rademan)

Closing comments
Jerry began his career in public works in 1975 in Nevada, Missouri. He quickly learned the value of APWA through his involvement in this organization. He continued to find the association and community within APWA stimulating when he moved to Park City in 1983 to become the Park City Public Works Director. "There's never a dull moment," says Jerry, whose professional life is exemplified by his willingness to step up and accept a wide variety of leadership roles. Park City and APWA are fortunate to have professionals like Jerry Gibbs, who are willing to share their talent, experience and gumption in order to make a difference in their communities.

Jerry Gibbs, P.E., can be reached at (435) 615-5310 or jerry@parkcity.org; Valerie Hoff can be reached at (916) 786-0685 or vhoff@tlowell.com.


Park City, Utah, Fun Facts & Figures:

City: 12 square miles

Service Elevation: 2,500 feet difference, deepest mine shaft at 2,600'

Streets: 110 lane miles

Parks and Golf Course: 110 acres, one 18-hole course

Public Building: 195,000 square feet

Transit: 1.8 million passengers/year

Water: 100 miles of water mains, 36 pressure zones, 18 water reservoirs holding 13.6 million gallons

Employees: 135 full-time and seasonal