Selbyville Wastewater Treatment Facility Manager Jim Burk is familiar with an old cliché. “I’m always the bridesmaid and never the bride,” he said.
In 1998 and 2002, officials nominated Burk for Delaware wastewater operator of the year. But both times, the committee, comprising members from five organizations, presented the award to someone other than him.
But that changed recently. At a Monday council meeting, Selbyville Town Manager Gary Taylor announced that officials from Delaware Technical and Community College, with four other organizations, will present Burk with the 2005 Environmental Lifetime Achievement award for his work in wastewater treatment. They will award Burk the honor in the ninth annual ceremony, at the college on May 4.
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Burk said. “I had no idea Gary wrote a very nice letter, which I was thrilled to get.”
In a ceremony each year, Del Tech, along with the four other organizations, honors one wastewater facility operator, one water facility operator and as many lifetime achievement award winners as are qualified.
“The lifetime achievement award is given to individuals who have contributed sustained lifetime achievement in protecting the environment,” said Jerry Williams, department chairman of the environmental training center at Del Tech.
The award is co-sponsored by Del Tech and Delaware Rural Water Association, the Office of Drinking Water, the Division of Water Resources and the Wastewater Operating Association’s Eastern Shore chapter.
Taylor nominated Burk for the award in a letter sent to college officials on Feb. 1.
“The guy has been an outstanding employee,” Taylor said. “I thought he deserved recognition. He runs an extremely efficient plant,” Taylor added. “Sometimes we don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”
Burk has been running the Selbyville facility since its opening in 1989 but has been in the business since 1970, when he was just a “young pup” in his native state of Pennsylvania.
After taking classes to learn more about the trade, Burk started working for the Radnor Haverford Marple Joint Sewer Authority in Havertown, Pa., where he stayed for almost a decade.
After leaving that authority, he was hired by officials at the Upper Moreland Hatdoro Joint Sewer Authority in Willow Grove, Pa. In Willow Grove, Burk learned most of the management skills that he still applies in Selbyville.
In his seven years in Willow Grove, Burk served as the wastewater manager, the department manager and the general manager of the sewage-processing facility.
He left that authority in the late 1980’s, however, to run the new facility in Selbyville. And right from the start, Burk got his fair share of work. In August of 1989, after its opening that March, sewage water flooded the facility, reaching up to thigh-deep in the office.
In the 17 years since, though, the plant has run smoothly under Burk. Although he has never won an individual award — until now — the plant won an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Award of Excellence for Operations and Maintenance at a wastewater facility. The EPA presented that award to Burk at an April 24, 1998, ceremony. The plaque hangs in the office next to the two nominee’s plaques, certificates of recognition from Delaware legislators in the office of the facility, and empty space for one more award.
“It’s been an enjoyable transition,” Burk said of moving to Delaware. “(The town officials are) very nice people to deal with and very supportive.”
Although he will be awarded recognition for a lifetime of achievement on May 4, Burk said that he doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon.
“I’m looking to start a new lifetime now,” he said.