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Inspired by childhood aspirations, Jim Brozena hopes to beautify community in his new county role

Jim Brozena, the director of flood protection in Luzerne County, stands in front of one of the newly constructed portals on North River Street that will allow residents to access the Susquehanna River and a brand new fishing pier and amphitheater. Brozena said he always knew he wanted to be an engineer and involved himself in projects like the $30 million riverfront restoration project he’s currently overseeing.

Don Carey/times leader staff photo

Jim Brozena, the director of flood protection in Luzerne County, stands in front of the Luzerne County Courthouse on a recent sunny afternoon. Brozena has been a county employee for 30 years, many of which he spent as the county engineer, before accepting his current post.

Don Carey/the times leader

When he was growing up, Jim Brozena often heard people say there was nothing to do in the area.

Now the 52-year-old Brozena – the first ever executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority – says there will be even less validity to the complaint next spring once work on the $30 million riverfront park project is complete.

That’s because residents and visitors will have access to the grandeur of the Susquehanna River and ample spots to enjoy the area’s beauty.

“People can’t believe what a small community we are to undertake such a big project,” said Brozena, who oversees the project, as well as county flood protection efforts and mitigation efforts with other communities.

But besides being the man behind a project that’s expected to boost the quality of life in the county in which he grew up, he’s not one to make himself noticed.

“I’m a person who likes to fly under the radar,” said Brozena, who had formerly been the county engineer before accepting his new post.

Brozena says he enjoys the simple things in life, such as dining out with friends at different eateries. After sampling numerous pizza restaurants in the Wyoming Valley, he calls himself a “pizza connoisseur.” He also spends time improving the exterior of his Victorian-style West Pittston home.

But to relax, Brozena said, he heads to the Fox Hill Country Club where he tries to golf at least twice a week (he calls himself a “single digit handicapper”) and he travels. “My wife and I, since it’s just the two of us, have the ability to pick up and go,” he explained, such as this past summer when he and Jackie (whom he also calls his biggest supporter) spent time out West at Yellowstone National Park where they biked and hiked.

His adult life, in a way, mirrors his childhood.

A Larksville native, he grew up on Nesbitt Street, a son of the late Joseph and Mary Brozena. His mother cooked at Konefal’s Restaurant in Edwardsville while Brozena’s father worked for the federal government as a service officer.

“I was a typical kid and played some sports, but instead of playing, I was usually taking the pictures,” Brozena joked, noting his childhood love for photography.

And he always knew what he wanted to do with his life: become an engineer and deal with construction management.

“If you get to play in the dirt as a kid, why can’t you do it as an adult?,” he asked. “I grew up playing in the dirt with construction toys, so I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to be an engineer.”

After graduating from Penn State’s main campus in State College in 1978, he went out into the workforce where he worked as a contractor for American Asphalt in the Back Mountain.“I worked from sun up to sun down,” he explained.

After a year, he signed on with Luzerne County, working in the engineering department with his mentors, who included John Churnetski, the county’s engineer at the time and a founder of the Quad III Group in Wilkes-Barre, and Jack Schmitt, the architect who oversaw all of the county’s projects in the 1970s and ’80s.One of the first things he did, he explained, was attend a meeting on the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Project. He didn’t realize he’d continue to be involved in such efforts throughout the next 30 years.

“I thought I’d be here for a year and then bounce on to something else,” said Brozena on a recent afternoon in the county’s courthouse, which he said is one of his favorite buildings and an anchor for the success of the riverfront project.

“There are three grand public works projects,” he explained, referring to the construction of the courthouse and the Market Street Bridge, and now the riverfront project, which will connect both structures.

“This is a community on the cusp of a real explosion,” he said.

Once the project is complete, the riverfront from the Luzerne County Courthouse to the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts on River Street, will feature walkways, a 750-person amphitheater, a garden on the courthouse lawn, two 60-foot wide portals allowing access to the river and a fishing pier.

“My vision of this is that there will always be something going on there and it’ll be different every night,” Brozena said.

But he’s quick to note he’s not entirely responsible for the beautification efforts.

“It’s not my project. A whole bunch of other people have had ideas,” Brozena said, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, county officials and Luzerne County residents.

“I was out in the community an awful lot, so I got a lot of my ideas and things just from talking to different service groups,” he said.

And there’s one thing he’s looking for next spring once the work is completed: the response.

“I just want to see the reaction of the community when it’s done.”

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