PLAINS TWP. — Former Luzerne County engineer Jim Brozena was honored Friday, receiving the 2018 Outstanding Community Partner Award from the Disaster Recovery Coalition of Luzerne County.
Brozena, who now serves as a consultant on flood protection matters, received the award at breakfast meeting at the Holiday Inn East Mountain. Charles Barber, president/CEO of the Luzerne Foundation, presented the honor. Michael Zimmerman, chief executive officer at Family Service Association of NEPA, serves as chairman of the coalition.
Barber praised Brozena for his work in getting the Wyoming Valley levee system raised, which proved to be invaluable when the Susquehanna River swelled to new heights in 2011.
“Jim was the architect of that project,” Barber said. “And he made sure that the system would also be aesthetically pleasing with the inclusion of the Millennium Circle and Northampton portals. Of course, one might ask why would you cut two gaping holes in a perfectly good levee, but Jim knew the project had to be more than a mound of dirt and stone.”
In accepting the award, Brozena was sure to credit all who volunteered and worked through many a night to assure the Wyoming Valley was protected. He said the levee-raising project took most of his career to plan, get approval and construct. The project was completed in 2009, Brozena said.
“And the last thing I wanted to do was to have it tested in 2011,” said Brozena. “But with the help of all the volunteers and some more help from above, it did its job.”
Brozena said flood events only last a few days, while recovery can last years. He said in 2011, some 1,500 properties were damaged. So far, 350 have been acquired through government programs.
“You really shouldn’t be honoring me today,” Brozena said. “You should honor all who volunteered to help in the recovery.”
Brozena said volunteers from all segments of the community came out to help in 2011 and people came from all across the country to lend a hand.
“These were the people who rolled up their sleeves and did the muck and gut work,” he noted.
Barber said during his remarks that the flood recovery was not just about rebuilding houses, but it was more about rebuilding lives. Brozena agreed wholeheartedly. He displayed a drawing he saw inside a flood-damaged home that changed his focus completely.
In the middle of the drawing was written: “There is no place like home.”
“It made me realize that we were not working with structures or houses,” he said. “We were working with homes and families.”
Lucy Morgan, Luzerne County Emergency Management director, stood to offer her thoughts on Brozena’s work.
“Jim, you are never retired,” she said. “You are always there for us and you have been invaluable.”
James Brewster, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Binghamton, NY, was the keynote speaker.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.