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Crooked River Wetlands Complex wins top award at national engineering Excellence event

PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF PRINEVILLE - Crook County Commissioner Brian Barney (left), City of Prineville Engineer Eric Klann (center) and City Manager Steve Forrester pose for a photo after winning the Grand Award.

The Crooked River Wetlands Complex has enjoyed a two-year run of awards since opening on Earth Day in 2017.

Last week, after winning several state and national accolades, the wetland won what is likely the final award for the City of Prineville — but it was easily the biggest.

The City and engineering firm Anderson Perry were honored with the prestigious Grand Award, one of only 16 given, by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) at the 52nd Engineering Excellence Awards competition on May 7 in Washington, D.C.

Grand Awards recognize engineering accomplishments from the U.S. and throughout the world that demonstrate exceptional innovation, complexity, achievement and value. This year's competition yielded 196 entries, and a panel of judges selected the nation's best projects to receive Grand Awards.

"It is an exceptional honor for the City's Crooked River Wetlands to be singled out as one of the top national engineering projects in the nation," said Prineville Mayor Steve Uffelman.

The award ceremony was a formal affair that many locals connected to the project were able to attend, thanks to the fortuitous of the event. Uffelman, City Manager Steve Forrester and City Engineer Eric Klann made the trip as did Crook County Commissioner Brian Barney and representatives from the Anderson Perry and the Prineville Facebook Data Center.

All of them were dressed in tuxedos or formal gowns.

"It's been years since I last put on a tuxedo," Klann remarked.

The wetland won a state ACEC award for Project of the Year in 2018, which Klann said automatically put it in the running for the Grand Award. However, it was far from a sure thing as the project was one on a list of 198 that was later whittled down to the top 16.

"I was very surprised that we were voted to receive that Grand Award," he admits. "We were going against a glass skyscraper in Singapore and projects like that. … There were some amazing bridges and amazing skyscrapers and all kinds of projects."

The origin of the wetland project can be traced back 14 years to 2005, when Prineville was tasked with upgrading its wastewater treatment facilities. Rather than build a $62 million mechanical plant that would consume a large amount of electricity and chemicals, city leaders opted for a more cost-effective and environmentally sensitive approach.

Completed in 2017, the City's Crooked River Wetlands project avoided significant rate increases for businesses and citizens with a natural wastewater treatment system that established a 120-acre wetlands complex along the Crooked River. While the complex incorporates effective wastewater treatment — expected to meet the city's needs through 2040, and beyond — it also serves as an interactive community asset with hiking trails, wildlife-watching and educational kiosks.

With miles of walking paths and hiking trails, educational resources for schoolchildren and miles of riparian improvements along the Crooked River, what could have been a standard public works project was instead designed to be a vital community asset. Approximately half of the $7.7 million project investment was sourced from grants and partner funding.

Last year, the Crooked River Wetlands project garnered national recognition — both from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency, which described it as "an outstanding contribution to environmental protection."

"We hope the work we are doing in Prineville will inspire other rural communities to take a meaningful, cost-effective approach to conservation and environmental stewardship," Klann said.

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