St. Helens public works director has plenty on his plate
Since settling into his position as St. Helens public works director last November, Mouhamad Zaher has had little time to put his feet up on his desk and relax.
That's because a public works director is tasked with multiple responsibilities, including infrastructure, maintenance and city operations.
"The public works department is the largest department in the city, with probably the biggest budget," Zaher said, noting public works handles drinking water, sewer lines, streets and sidewalks. "We're particularly responsible for the city infrastructure."
Zaher's department works in cooperation with other departments, such as planning and administration.
Zaher is facing a full plate of responsibilities throughout the summer of 2021 and beyond.
"We have a multitude of major projects going on simultaneously that will have a big impact city wide and community wide for generations to come," Zaher said. "We started in January of this year with a full list of great projects that I'm involved in personally and that I'm super excited about."
The ambitious Riverwalk stands out as a major project, which is currently in its design phase.
In addition to the design phase of the Riverwalk project, Zaher points out progress being made with setting up new playground equipment at McCormick Park.
"This (playground equipment) is a great project that we will be very proud of once it gets completed," Zaher said. "It's slated to be completed the end of June at the latest, it could be earlier.
"This will be the biggest playground equipment project the city of St. Helens has seen. It will be wonderful for our youth and our families."
Another project is the First Street/Strand Street road and utility extension project, which, Zaher said "is one of the most important public infrastructure projects in the city history."
"The project, along with the St. Helens Riverwalk project, will be instrumental in providing development opportunities for the riverfront redevelopment project," he said, noting the First Street/Strand Street project is in the design phase as well.
Zaher said the road and utility extension will open opportunities for economic development in the city, as well as opening opportunities for development of the waterfront area — formerly the Boise Cascade Co. veneer plant site — that the city government purchased in 2015.
Other projects include upgrading the SCADA system for water filtration.
"This is a major investment into technology for our continuous ability to provide the best clean water for our citizens," Zaher said.
SCADA is the software technology behind the water filtration system that helps monitor for clean water.
Taking a look at these projects, Zaher is pleased that citizens get involved.
"We obviously care very much about our citizens and their inputs," he said. "We conduct a lot of public hearings. We continuously seek the input. We work very closely with our citizens."
Asked if the controversy surrounding City Councilor Stephen Topaz has affected work in the public works department, Zaher would not comment other than to say, "Personally, I never had any issues."
An independent investigation into Topaz concluded that Topaz disparaged city employees, including those in public works. The City Council censured Topaz in the aftermath of the investigation.
Zaher exudes confidence about the future of St. Helens.
"The future couldn't be any brighter," Zaher said. "It's an amazing time for the city. There are so many great projects that really will transform the city of St. Helens to be a very welcoming, inclusive and vibrant city given these projects that we are working on."
Zaher continued, "Most important, we have a wonderful leadership team, starting from the mayor, the City Council and city administration under the leadership of our city administrator, John Walsh."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.