Roads, levees, flood fighting.
All that is still new to Teton County Director of Public Works Heather Overholser, who stepped into her role mid-April. But when it comes to county policies, procedures and project management, she has 10 years under her belt.
“Now it’s just a matter of applying that to new content, new topics,” Overholser said. “I’m still involved with managing projects, communicating with the public, trying to envision what is best for our community.
“And making those recommendations to our commission and working with a team here.”
After moving to Jackson in 1995, Overholser worked for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance before taking over as director of Jackson Community Recycling in 2003. In 2009, Teton County established the Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling division, and Overholser was appointed its superintendent. She led the division for about a decade.
Some of her proudest accomplishments include the approval of the Road to Zero Waste plan, which lays out a path to diverting 60% of waste from the landfill by 2030; working with partners to initiate the Grand Teton National Park food composting collection pilot program, which is in its third and final year; and planning and actualizing an ambitious Horsethief Canyon overhaul.
When it was discovered that the Horsethief landfill was contaminating groundwater, the division set out to build a new scale house, trash-transfer station and food composting facility and excavate the old landfill, close it and cap it. The project is set to finish this summer.
“The whole process was so amazing for me — to learn all the different aspects that go into coordinating such a large capital undertaking,” she said. “Everything from the planning and acquiring funds, to the public outreach, to the actual construction project management.
“I learned something new every day,” she said. “That was able to transition me right into where I am today.”
The conclusion of the landfill project also seemed like serendipitous timing for Overholser to move up in the ranks at Public Works.
“I love learning new things and being exposed to new ideas, new projects, new ways of doing things,” she said.
Although the previous director of public works, Sean O’Malley, doubled as county engineer, Overholser isn’t formally trained as an engineer. Former engineering manager Amy Ramage will serve in that capacity.
Overholser’s new role isn’t without challenges. With waste and recycling, she said, there’s general consensus that the right direction is to reduce waste. With other engineering projects there’s not always agreement on, for example, whether to build a road or a pathway or where it should go.
But she’s excited by the challenge presented by controversial projects like the Tribal Trail Connector and fine-tuning the county’s public engagement processes.
“I know we’re never going to please everyone, but we can always listen to everyone,” she said, “and I want to. I want to hear what people are thinking, what’s concerning them, what they’re excited about, what ideas they have.”
The list of projects for Overholser and her department to tackle is long: paving Spring Gulch Road, pathways on Highways 22 and 89, Tribal Trail, the 390/22 intersection and bridge, updating the valley’s transportation plan and working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the levees.
She also will hand over a sizable list to her successor, Brenda Ashworth, who started June 3. Projects include expanding the recycling center and launching a food compost program.
Ashworth, a geologist with years of experience working in the environmental sector, said she’s been involved in everything from oil and gas cleanups to soil, groundwater and air quality, preparing her to lead the division.
“I’m very excited about the road to zero waste goals and objectives Teton County has,” she said.
She also has ideas for new initiatives for the county to investigate, such as the Hefty EnergyBag program which allows recycling of lower-value plastics that currently are not accepted.