After 15 years Butterfield retires from sanitary district
In O.R. “Oz” Butterfield’s final interview with the Sierra Sun as general manager of the Truckee Sanitary District, he says what he thinks and shoots from the hip – which isn’t much different from any other Butterfield encounter.
For nearly 15 years, Butterfield has been the general manager and chief engineer for TSD, the district charged with Truckee’s sewage collection and transport system. Now Butterfield is ready to retire.
“I’m getting too old,” said the 77-year-old Tahoe City resident of his reasons for retiring. “I’ve been gainfully employed every day for 60 years, so I thought I’d stay home with my wife.”
In all of his adult life Butterfield has worked for public entities, his latest job, and perhaps one of the most notable, has been with TSD. He brought the district up from a small, one-window office in downtown Truckee to today’s four-building facility on Joerger Drive.
On Thursday Butterfield attended his last board meeting as TSD’s chief. At the end of public session, board chairman Jerry Gilmore and Butterfield handed the district’s “master key” – a small plunger with two first place ribbons for an environmental award – to Tom Selfridge, the man who will replace Butterfield on March 1.
“We appreciate your leadership here,” Gilmore said to Butterfield. “We will be expecting big things from your replacement.”
Sips of treated sewage
Butterfield’s career in public works spans nearly six decades. His employment began in the Army Civil Engineer Corps, in which he oversaw domestic projects as a public works officer.
He also supervised projects overseas in places like Spain, Bermuda and Saigon, Vietnam, during the war.
The Butterfields decided to move to Tahoe while Oz was a commanding officer at a naval air station public works center in Pensacola, Fla.
“We got a copy of Ski Magazine and job listings,” Butterfield said. “So we all got around the table and said, ‘Why don’t we make a run for it?'”
In May 1972, he signed on as the general manager and chief engineer of the Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency. It was there that he oversaw the construction, maintenance and operation of a brand new $50 million wastewater treatment plant.
People came from all over the world to see the Truckee facility, and Butterfield was known for ending his tours of the plant by drinking reclaimed sewer water from a cooler.
He wanted to prove to his guests that the water was good enough for consumption.
“I used to take a sip of water in a 1,000 cc beaker,” Butterfield said. “We had 42 Japanese visitors come one time. I passed around the beaker, and they drank the whole thing. I never heard of anyone getting sick.”
He left work in North Tahoe for a couple years to work on some projects in Florida, manage the Mammoth and Squaw Valley county water districts, and then lead the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board out of South Lake Tahoe.
He joined TSD as general manager and chief engineer in April 1989. Now, when looking back on the last 15 years at TSD, Butterfield is not particularly boastful about the district’s progress.
“Well, we’ve grown larger, we have better facilities, and we have 36 people who are well-trained employees,” he said.
Not all of Butterfield’s years at TSD went smoothly. Among the district’s challenges was a tort claim filed by Sierra Meadows property owners after a state of emergency was declared in the subdivision’s sewer system. The suit alleged that TSD constructed the system “carelessly” and accused the district employees and Butterfield of harassment.
Although his retirement is fast approaching, Butterfield said he hasn’t made many plans for how he will spend his time.
“I don’t know, I’m just going to stay in the area,” he said, adding that he thinks he’ll get to play a bit more golf. He said he looks forward to spending more time with his son, who lives in Reno, and his daughter, who lives in Sierra City and works for the Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency, where Butterfield still sits on the board of directors.
March 1 will be the end of an era of hardy leadership for TSD, say the district’s employees and board members.
When asked how he would describe his style of leadership, Butterfield laughed.
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m forthright, and I say what I think,” he answered. “I’m positive about what the district does – that’s a nice way of putting it.”
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