2018-01-11 / Front Page

‘Awesome responsibility’

Biddeford Public Works director retires from duty after nearly four decades
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


In a rare if not unprecedented occurrence, a group of former top Biddeford figures spend a night celebrating together at the WonderBar after Guy Casavant's "roasting." Here they listen to former mayor Jim Grattelo, far right speak. From left is Paul Therrien, former mayor Joanne Twomey, Mike Dion, Janice Casavant and former mayor Donna Dion. (Garrick Hoffman photo) In a rare if not unprecedented occurrence, a group of former top Biddeford figures spend a night celebrating together at the WonderBar after Guy Casavant's "roasting." Here they listen to former mayor Jim Grattelo, far right speak. From left is Paul Therrien, former mayor Joanne Twomey, Mike Dion, Janice Casavant and former mayor Donna Dion. (Garrick Hoffman photo) BIDDEFORD – Public Works Director Guy Casavant retired from city employment after 37 years working in Biddeford and 24 years in his current role.

A surprise celebration was held in council chambers Tuesday, Jan. 2 for Casavant. Several former city officials, including former mayors Bonnie Belanger, James Gratello, Donna Dion and Joanne Twomey, attended the event. Casavant has worked under every city manager in Biddeford, starting with Bruce Benway in 1993, whom Casavant said he personally became very close with.

“It was very heartwarming to see some of those people show up on my behalf,” Casavant said.


Earlier at city hall, Guy Casavant, was given a package of Biddeford trash bags by Rep. Marty Grohman (D-Biddeford), who offered the gift to Casavant and said the ceremony was designed to be "a bit of a roast" for Casavant, where former Biddeford mayors and others could expound on Casavant's career and character. "Thirty nine years is an amazing run in any position," Grohman said. "Everything he has done for the city has been unbelievable. He's super dedicated beyond any measure." Earlier at city hall, Guy Casavant, was given a package of Biddeford trash bags by Rep. Marty Grohman (D-Biddeford), who offered the gift to Casavant and said the ceremony was designed to be "a bit of a roast" for Casavant, where former Biddeford mayors and others could expound on Casavant's career and character. "Thirty nine years is an amazing run in any position," Grohman said. "Everything he has done for the city has been unbelievable. He's super dedicated beyond any measure." Casavant started working for the city as an engineer before moving to wastewater treatment and ultimately public works. He said one of is proudest accomplishments while working for the city was regaining control of the wastewater system from private ownership. The system was privatized in 1991, Casavant said, and had been fined by both the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency. The city began the process of acquiring infrastructure and treatment plants in 1996 and finished in 2009.

“We had really come up against a wall where significant improvements had to be made to the facility and significant changes made to operations to get in compliance,” Casavant said. “It certainly generated savings, at a bare minimum of $250,000 per year for sewer uses of this city and more importantly it improved operations.”

Another accomplishment he is most proud of is the curbside recycling program, which was implemented July 2013.

“The big benefit there was making it a lot easier for our residents to recycle,” he said. “More importantly, the new program reduced the amount of trash we send by about half. We had been getting rid of about 8,000 tons of trash per year and that dropped down to around 4,000 tons of trash per year.”


Far left, Paul Therrien, former chairman of the solid waste commission and who served under Guy Casavant, gives an enthuiastic thumbs-up as he begins the ceremony for Casavant's retirement with a speech. Therrien lauded the many accomplishments of Casavant, including his management of various programs - such as the large-item pick up program - and elimination of city expenses. Left, former mayor Donna Dion engages in animated conversation at The WonderBar, during a celebration following Casavant’s recognition at city hall. Far left, Paul Therrien, former chairman of the solid waste commission and who served under Guy Casavant, gives an enthuiastic thumbs-up as he begins the ceremony for Casavant's retirement with a speech. Therrien lauded the many accomplishments of Casavant, including his management of various programs - such as the large-item pick up program - and elimination of city expenses. Left, former mayor Donna Dion engages in animated conversation at The WonderBar, during a celebration following Casavant’s recognition at city hall. Casavant said he’ll miss fellow municipal employees, particularly those in the public works department.

“Most of the folks here, not all, are people I hired,” he said. “So it was amazing when they gave me a going away thing here a couple of weeks back, seeing all of the faces of people that ultimately I hired here. There weren’t many in the room here before me. So what I am going to miss the most is my second family.”


Left, Four former Biddeford mayors and current Mayor Alan Casavant showed up in a surprise appearance to support Guy Casavant's retirement. Here they pose together in the council chambers of Biddeford City Hall. From left, Donna Dion, Bonnie Pothier, Alan Casavant, Guy Casavant, Jim Grattelo and Joanne Twomey. The only mayor Casavant served under who could not be present for the event was Gen. Wallace Nutting. (Garrick Hoffman photos) Left, Four former Biddeford mayors and current Mayor Alan Casavant showed up in a surprise appearance to support Guy Casavant's retirement. Here they pose together in the council chambers of Biddeford City Hall. From left, Donna Dion, Bonnie Pothier, Alan Casavant, Guy Casavant, Jim Grattelo and Joanne Twomey. The only mayor Casavant served under who could not be present for the event was Gen. Wallace Nutting. (Garrick Hoffman photos) Casavant said he took running the public works department seriously because of its impact on the city and will be relieved to have that pressure finally gone.

“I won’t miss having the very overwhelming responsibility of taking care of everybody in the city,” he said. “The way I’ve tended to say it over the years is, if you’re in Biddeford and you walk, drive a car, play sports, go swimming, go to the bathroom, enjoy the outdoors or generate trash, it involves us. Unlike many cities, this public works department takes care of all those things – vehicle maintenance, street maintenance and solid waste. Most public works don’t have cemetery responsibilities and we also operate all of the wastewater facilities. We have it ready not just for our public but the public that comes through town every day. It is a very awesome and overwhelming responsibility that weighs heavy on one’s shoulders. I took it to heart. Although I enjoyed it, I loved doing it, boy does it feel good not to have that responsibility anymore and be able to enjoy life.”


Guy Casavant stands at the podium in Biddeford City Hall council chambers after a reception honoring his 37-year career with public works department, most of it as director. "Guy Casavant, in and of himself, didn't do nothin'," Casavant said near the end of the reception. "It was his team with him. That's what makes it work. It's as simple as that." (Garrick Hoffman photo) Guy Casavant stands at the podium in Biddeford City Hall council chambers after a reception honoring his 37-year career with public works department, most of it as director. "Guy Casavant, in and of himself, didn't do nothin'," Casavant said near the end of the reception. "It was his team with him. That's what makes it work. It's as simple as that." (Garrick Hoffman photo) Casavant said that while he fostered close personal relationships with several mayors, such as Robert Farley and Dion, there was not one administration that stood out in his mind as the best to work under. Alan Casavant, the current mayor, is Guy Casavant’s cousin.

“A lot of people think we’re brothers, we’re not,” Guy Casavant said. “My father and Alan’s father were brothers. I certainly did not react or treat him any differently than I did with previous mayors I worked with through my various roles here.”

One of the greatest challenges he faced was contract negotiations with public works employees. Labor contracts for the department are unionized and employees have a collective bargaining agreement with the city every three years.

“Some of the most stressful times were trying to keep the workforce working and giving their efforts while negotiations were going on,” he said. “I reminded them if they didn’t do their jobs well like they always did, it’s not city council in city hall that would pay the price, it was their wives, mothers, fathers or children out there driving the roads. Mainly in winter I’m talking. I always asked them to keep that in the front of their minds during those times. Always keep the people of the community at your forefront. I think that message got across to them.

“I respected them and they respected me. You have to give respect to get respect. I have the highest respect for the people that work for this city.”

Of the most recent snow storms that swept through Maine, Casavant said he was glad to have the day off. “I was able to sit at home and just worry about my place and not have that awesome responsibility on my shoulders of taking care of everybody else,” he said. “Most people don’t really realize how much and what affect public works has on them in their community. It always amazes me.”

Among many things, Casavant plans to return to his land surveying business in his retirement, which he has occasionally done throughout his tenure working for the city.

“I want to thank the community for accepting me and working with me over all these years,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure and I’m sure that this place will go on and provide as good service if not better than when I was in charge.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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