Just Add Water: Mielke Tapped to Help Manage St. Lawrence Seaway

Where there is water, there is life, but more than likely, there is also conflict. Sometimes, Bill Mielke will be tapped to help resolve those conflicts. As President and CEO of Waukesha, Wisconsin-based Ruekert/Mielke, Mielke and his firm became known for creatively resolving lawsuits and turf wars that inevitably arise between communities providing basic services such as water and sewer.

Those innovative solutions led to appointments to state and regional commissions and task forces such as the Great Lakes Water Commission. He helped write the law for Wisconsin to join the Great Lakes Compact.

Most recently, he has been nominated by the president to serve on the advisory board of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC).

The SLSDC is a wholly owned governmental corporation created in 1954, to construct, operate and maintain the St. Lawrence Seaway between the Port of Montreal and Lake Erie, within the territorial limits of the United States. Its mission is to serve the U.S. intermodal and international transportation system by improving the operation and maintenance of a safe, reliable, efficient, and environmentally responsible deep-draft waterway, in cooperation with its Canadian counterpart. It also encourages the development of trade through the Great Lakes Seaway System, which contributes to the comprehensive economic and environmental development of the entire Great Lakes region.

The issues and challenges are complex. To ensure ships do not hit the bottom of a port, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers annually dredges more than a million metric tons of silt and sand each year.

But changing weather patterns and more frequent heavy rains could mean more silt gets carried into ports, making dredging more complex and frequent. Warmer weather, less ice formation and increased evaporation could mean lower lake levels.

In addition, there are some who would like the system of locks improved to allow larger ships into the Great Lakes, improving competition with ports on the east coast. There also are environmental concerns with regard to invasive species entering the lakes and rules and regulations that must be set to protect the waters.

“It has to do with understanding the big picture issue when you have to deal with what infrastructure is needed,” Mielke says. “There are a lot of political concerns with the system. The corporation also works with Canada which operates a lot of locks. There are 14 locks on the seaway itself. The board works with the Canadians in setting the rules and regulations that go along with regulating the seaway. “

Mielke’s firm represents up to 60 communities throughout Wisconsin by providing a broad base of engineering services. That combined with his very active role in improving the quality and effectiveness of his profession would seem to make him a natural for the board.

After working with professional associations such as the Wisconsin Consulting Engineers Council and the Waukesha Society of Professional Engineers, he served on boards on the national level rising through the ranks to become chairman of the Joint Committee on Federal Procurement of Architect and Engineering Services.

A large committee with representatives of various organizations such as land surveyors, consulting engineers and architects, it met with the federal government to talk about how it procured architectural and engineering services.

“Our group met with all the major federal agencies that utilize engineers and architects such as DOT, NAFAC, the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department” Mielke says. “I testified in front of congress regarding legislation for procurement of engineers and architects. I helped found a system for the State of Wisconsin. It’s called QBS or qualification based selection, where you hire engineers based on their competence and qualification rather than the price.”

The system founded by Mielke and colleagues for Wisconsin became the model for the nation. Mielke then helped found a national grant program to teach communities and school boards the value of engineering services so that they could ask intelligent questions get the most competent people for their projects rather than simply taking the lowest bidder.

“I am extremely honored to be nominated to this advisory role for the St. Lawrence Seaway, Mielke says. “It’s and opportunity to have a large impact on our country’s future economic viability,” Mielke said.


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