City sewer plant operator honored

Source: Rutland Herald

When Robert Protivansky got a call back for a job interview at Rutland’s wastewater plant, he said his first thought was “What the heck is a wastewater plant?”

He figured it out, rising through the ranks of the Department of Public Works to become the chief plant operator and wastewater division manager. Last week, he accepted an award as the New England Water Environment Association’s operator of the year for Vermont. It was an award Protivansky said he initially shied away from.

“The work here really isn’t about one person,” he said. “It takes everyone to make it work. I decided hopefully it would reflect well on everybody, on DPW as a whole. ... People who do unspeakable jobs and heroic things and at times nobody knows they are doing it.

James Rotondo, the city’s Public Works Commissioner, said it’s an honor Protivansky deserves.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have so many talented and devoted people employed by the public works department,” Rotondo said. “Bob Protivansky is one of those exceptional individuals that does a tremendous job every day.”

Rotondo said Rutland’s wastewater treatment facility is the largest in the state, handling 22.5 million gallons a day fed there from seven pump stations around the city. Protivansky said daily tasks include electrical work, carpentry, plumbing, moving and treating sludge and laboratory analysis of the sewage in and the water going out.

“When nobody knows we exist, that means we’re doing well,” Protivansky said. “Sometimes I wish I could strap a GoPro to my head and let everybody see what we do.”

Rotondo said Protivansky led two particular initiatives that made him stand out. One was extensive work with Efficiency Vermont, which Rotondo estimated has saved the city $1 million in energy costs during Protivansky’s tenure.

“Most of it was replacing equipment that was past its useful life anyway,” Protivansky said. “It’s become a passion of mine after getting into it. We try to use that to advise other divisions, even at home. It’s all the same concept no matter what building you work in.”

Rotondo also credited Protivansky with reviving a regional system of sewer plant operators providing mutual aid to each other.

“It was for personnel, equipment, generators,” Protivansky said. “That was in place after Irene. It worked well enough and there was a guy running it. Then he retired, and it died out.”

“The city of Rutland is fortunate to have a person of Bob’s character and abilities in such an important position,” Rotondo said. “A lot of people in this profession are the unsung heroes. People don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. ... As long as they have running water and their sewer works and they have power, they don’t realize all the people that are necessary to make that happen every day.”

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