Thursday August 30, 2018
For 34 years, Dennis Lutz has been a highly respected public works director for the Town of Essex, a significant achievement that does not stand alone. Add to his decades of public service the notable title of State Brigadier General, as well as being awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit, and it is clear this South Burlington resident has led a life of commendable work and commitment.
Lutz was recently presented with the 2018 Outstanding Achievement in Public Works Award by the New England Chapter of the American Public Works Association (NEAPWA) recognizing his significant achievements and innovations. Examples of these accomplishments include Lutz doubling his department’s resources, developing the town’s first Comprehensive Road Management Plan, obtaining 100 percent grant funding for bridge replacement, and the completion of Essex’s portion of the Circumferential Highway.
“Dennis has devoted his entire professional career to the service of others through public works to improve the quality of life for all,” said NEAPWA Board Member Lisa Schaeffler. “He is a supreme civil engineer.”
Jim Fay is the general manager of the Champlain Water District, of which Lutz is an elected commissioner from South Burlington. He said he was impressed by Lutz from the beginning.
“I have known Dennis Lutz for nearly 40 years,” Fay said, “Dennis is one of the most talented and most practical engineers that I have had the pleasure to work with. One of the first projects that introduced me to Dennis was in the late 1970s, when he authored a 20-Year Master Plan for our water utility. His work was impeccable, and this master planning document was the ‘Bible’ for us as a relatively new water supplier serving an expanding Chittenden County service area.”
A registered professional engineer and lifetime member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Lutz is modest about his significant career achievements.
“I was very surprised when my employees put me in for the award, since they deserve the recognition as well. It takes a team of people working together to effect progress,” he said, adding, “It is a good feeling to know that your peers think highly of what you try to accomplish.”
Noting Lutz for his vision and ability to “always be one step ahead,” Evan Teich, unified manager of the Town of Essex and Village of Essex Junction, said, “Dennis is incredibly organized, understands the big picture, and how ‘things’ are interconnected. Also, he really cares about having positive outcomes.”
“Public works involves a lot of problem solving and making decisions, sometimes with little time or insufficient information,” says Lutz. “Our job is to maintain and improve the public infrastructure and do so in a way that protects the public health and safety. You use the tools you have developed over a long career - education, experience, judgement - and try to do what is best for the community. Not everyone gets the answer they are looking for, but everyone deserves an answer to their question.”
Such a comment is indicative of Lutz’s belief that communication and connection are invaluable tools in city and town government.
“It is important to let the community know what is going on and to get input on what they see as needs,” he said. “With so much social media, information available to the public often precedes facts and sometimes the information is incorrect. It is something government needs to keep working on. Trust takes a long time to establish, but it is one of the most important parts of the job.”
Schaeffler said Lutz’s strength is his commitment to public outreach and information.
“He is progressive on community outreach and insists that the Public Works Department has a table at every town meeting to talk with residents about what’s happening,” she said. “He understands the importance of educating and engaging the community and the significant role that public works professionals have in their town.”
Military Path to Vermont
Lutz took a circuitous route to the Green Mountain State. Born in St. Paul, Minn., his family moved to Meriden, Conn., when he was three years old. After earning both a bachelor and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., Lutz began his military career as an Engineer Company Commander in Vietnam.
“I came to Vermont in 1970 after completing five years of active duty and took a job with the state as one of the first engineers working on implementing Act 250,” he said. Highlighting Vermont’s growth, he added, “Three engineers then covered the new developments in the state, where now there are districts and probably 50 to 100 employees.”
Moving to Vermont did not end Lutz’s military pursuits by any means. An esteemed member of the Vermont National Guard through 2004, he ended his career as Brigadier General (VT) for the Adjutant General. With 37 years of service and assignments ranging from Battalion and Brigade command to management of both full and part-time Vermont Army National Guard personnel, Lutz has been awarded an Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Campaign Medals, and three Army Meritorious Service Medals. In addition, for professional excellence, he received the Silver Order of the de Fleury Medal by the Army Engineer Association. Most notable among Lutz’s commendations is the Legion of Merit award. Above a bronze star in ranking, it is a United States Armed Forces military award that is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
“More than the award itself, it was the recognition of a duty that I was committed to and that duty was recognized by those I served with and under,” Lutz said.
Much of Lutz’s military service with the National Guard ran concurrent to his public works career.
“I spent a lot of time doing future planning for the Guard, checking on unit training in the field, sometimes as far away as San Diego with engineers working on the border, to Washington D.C, to Valcartier, Quebec in the winter for mountain infantry training exercises,” he recalled. “However, the most memorable part was training and mentoring junior officers and preparing them for future deployments. I wanted to use my Vietnam experience to prepare them for what they would encounter when real bullets were flying, and you were absent from your family for a year.”
A Voice for Clean Water
A resident of South Burlington since 1978, Lutz was appointed to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission nine years ago. Although he notes terms are generally for six years, he is a two-term governor-appointed commissioner. According to Lutz, the commission, headquartered in Lowell, Mass., currently oversees 215 contracts through 131 organizations all aimed at improving water quality. Citing the wealth of information he is privy to and how it can be applied in Vermont, he said, “I try to provide the perspective from a small community, how we approach these issues and the impacts that new regulations can have on us.”
Lutz also helped to initiate a Regional Stormwater Education Program for Chittenden County. Known as RSEP, it was formed in 2003 to educate residents on ways to reduce stormwater pollution to local streams and Lake Champlain and is part of public education measures required by federal Environmental Protection Agency storm water system permits. Lutz was an original member of the South Burlington Stormwater Advisory Committee, which promotes RSEP citywide.
Tom DiPietro is the Deputy Director of the South Burlington Department of Public Works. He said RSEP, now operating as ‘Rethink Runoff’, was created so that municipalities in Chittenden County could work together to educate the public on stormwater best management practices.
“Rather than have nine municipalities provide nine slightly different messages on this topic, it was decided to that the public would be best served if we pooled our resources and worked together to provide this information,” he said. “Dennis Lutz was instrumental during the formative years of the RSEP program (circa 2003) and has been continually involved since that time.”
Pete LaFlamme is director of the watershed management division for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
“It has been my distinct privilege to work with Dennis Lutz for a number of years and across several different venues,” LaFlamme said. “In Vermont, he is an acknowledged leader on retrofit stormwater treatment system implementations and water quality restoration projects. At the statewide level, his thoughtful advice is highly valued and has helped to guide both the development and improvement of statewide rules and procedures.”
Fay concurred, saying, “His knowledge and hands-on experience in the overall public works, and civil engineering fields, is unsurpassed in the New England area.”
As Lutz continues his daily work in Essex, Teich remarked, “When he retires, he will be sorely missed.”
Surveying what can only be described as a distinguished professional and military career, Lutz shared the overarching philosophy that has guided his life.
“Look forward, not back,” he said. Enjoy life today and look to the challenges you will face tomorrow.” A sentiment apropos of a man whose life and work has impacted so many, he added, “You only get one shot at life, so make the most of it.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper