What can I say, but wow, what a year. I feel like I really neglected by blog, but if I wasn’t working on three to five Phase I ESAs a week for months on end (rough count was 60) with a sprinkling of Phase IIs and corrective action plans, updating my blog was an after thought. I picked up one major and several one time new clients this year. I also doubled the amount of work for an occasional client. I haven’t figured out my taxes yet, but I don’t want to see what I’m going to owe. After all, I just finished paying 2010 taxes last week. On another good note, no credit card debt going into 2012. Challenges for2011 included my weekly trips to the gym being disproportionate to the number of site assessments and finding cheap air fare with less than a week notice (11 flight segments this year). Challenges for 2012: keep current clients happy and find more clients. Also, try not to forget to blog. Look for some new and exciting things this year.
On another note, I was appointed by my County Commissioner to the Board of Keep Cobb Beautiful (part of Keep America Beautiful.
This past week I was retained by a new client to review and comment on Phase I ESA reports prepared for a multi-million dollar, five-property portfolio. The properties are heavy equipment repair and sales facilities and the assessments were prepared by an out of state consulting company. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to name names. but I can say the consultant was from Texas and as detailed as the reports were written, they almost cost my client his funding. My goal as a consultant is to protect the prospective purchaser, use good judgment, and have a high level of integrity. It is one thing to identify on or off-site sources that have a potential to adversely effect the property, but it is something completely different to call everything a Recognized Environmental Condition (REC). My concern is that there are many companies out there that will call everything a REC as a means to get follow on work and let the client be damned. Major flaws that I recognized while reading these reports stemmed from lack of experience of the EP conducting the site visits, lack of understanding of local/State UST regulations, and not asking the right questions during an interview or not even conducting the interview. Examples of what I’m referring to follows:
- A down gradient UST facility removed USTs following GA EPD UST Closure Guidelines which requires only soil collected from beneath the UST to be vertically delineated for a clean closure (or a groundwater sample if encountered). The site received a NFA; however, the former USTs were still called a REC because groundwater wasn’t analyzed upgradient (between the tank pit and the property.
- A portion of one of the sites was identified as a historical gas station (1960-1970s); didn’t have a record of UST removal. The EP failed to interview the occupants about the tanks; otherwise, they would have found out there was a 30 year employee who remembered them being removing by a State contractor during the early 1980′s, without incident (no release) and yet, the former USTs were referred to as an REC needing GPR/EM Survey and soil/groundwater analysis.
- Keeping in mind that these properties are repair facilities for heavy equipment and not “NASA Clean Rooms”, it is expected to find/observe areas where small quantities of hydraulic oil or lubricating grease has stained soil or concrete. These areas where the leaks occurred were called RECs requiring extensive soil and groundwater characterization. Ironically, neither hydraulic oil or grease is considered a regulated substance. More notable, was the absence of discolored soil or a sheen on puddles in the area from the recent afternoon rains.
This consultant’s report apparently follow the ASTM format, but never provided an analysis or brief discussion about the sites identified in the database report (I call it risking away). The report format was very redundant, presenting the same information at least five times; even the Executive Summary and Conclusions needed a summary because they too long.
After my review and comments, all became right in the world. My new client was happy he was able to get his funding, and I have a National Client now.
Have you ever gone to the wrong site to do an assessment or investigation and not realize it until after you have submited your report? Well, I had this happen a couple of times already. One was an Phase I ESA that was 5 hours away when the client gave me the wrong address. My most recent faux pax was last week when I had a client call me to conduct a rush asbestos survey for tenant space in an aging shopping center. I was given the address and the square-footage of the vacant suites, but not corresponding address or a site plan highlighting my target. So, using my powers of deduction, I assumed (something you’re not supposed to do) that the cluster suites was where I would conduct my assessment. I had assumed wrong. In spite of my effort to exceed my clients expectations by completing the request within a couple of days, and report with results within 24 hours, it kind of falls short of impressive. I offered to re do the survey and eat the additional sampling costs. My only saving grace, was my client acknowledged providing incomplete information and then later found out that an asbestos report for that space had been done last year. More importantly, several asbestos surveys had been conducted at various tenant spaces with negative results. The up side to this is, I won”t have to go back and do the asbestos survey again, and I am still getting paid.
I would like to share a somewhat success story or, at least one in the making. I am currently involved with a shopping center that was developed from an assemblage of properties that once included two gas stations. It was later discovered that that these gas stations combined, had released thousands of gallons of gasoline during their operational history and, subsequently, created a large phase separated plume; basically, a large area of gasoline floating on the water-table beneath the shopping center property. By the time I became involved, the property owners had gone through three consultants and spent millions dollars in remediation costs over a ten year period.
Briefly, Consultant 1 recommended pump and treat whereby recovery wells were installed, large volumes of water pumped, and treated on site before discharging to the sanitary sewer. This was later deemed ineffective by the State, fines incurred for improper discharge, and another consultant was hired. Consultant 2 came up with this elaborate pump and treat system, enhanced by vapor extraction, using horizontal wells: a series of horizontal wells were installed below the plume (25 feet deep) along the main axis (400 feet long) to dewater the aquifer; another series of wells were installed above the water table to extract the vapors; and then everything was directed to on onsite compound (oil water separator to air stripper to charcoal cells, and finishing with a thermal oxidizer). However, after 3 pump replacements and a broken compressor, the system was shut down after 3 years. Consultant 3 opted to use mobile, multi-phased extraction (MME) treatment method (aka, enhanced fluid-vapor recovery or EFR). After eight of these 8-hour treatments over a two year period, and removing 10-15 gallons of gasoline per event, this method also proved ineffective, I was brought on board. My collaborative solution was not to aggressively attack the problem, but to let gravity do its job. What the previous consultants failed to recognize was that the formation materials consists of fine grained silts, clay and sand sized weathered bedrock. The storage capacity of the formation may be high, but its ability to transmit water is very low; therefore, attempts to pull large volumes of water along with the gasoline, is not going to be effective. Instead, we I opted was to use product-only recovery pumps. These pumps are fitted with a hydrophobic membrane that only lets the gasoline into the pump (ie, keeps water out) and eliminates any costs associated with onsite treatment. The pumps are also, pneumatic (hooked up to an air compressor) that only run when they are full (saves energy and wear-and-tear); the pumps initially ran once a week for 3 hours and, after five weeks, we collected 65 gallons of gas. I think the easiest solution is the most cost effective and productive in this case.
In a previous blog, I posted the headaches associated with getting my professional registration in Florida AFTER, I was already registered in Georgia, and how I thought that the whole process was ridiculous since all of the requirements were the same in both states. Both states accept and use a National Association of State Board Of Geologists; a recognized and approved exam with all of the requirements necessary to be eligible to take that exam. Now I am looking at getting registered in South Carolina. I found an old friend on facebook that is a commercial real estate agent and she says she could set me up with some work. Great! So, how hard should it be to get registered as a Professional Geologist in SC? They say, they will grant a license based on reciprocity…sweet, but it only really applies to accepting your exam scores. How nice is it of SC to not make an already Licensed Geologist, with experience and who passed both parts of the NASBOG, to not to have to sit through a two -part, (4-hours each) exam again? But that is as far as it goes. Apparently, I will still have to fill out redundant paper work detailing the last 19 years of work since graduation, provide original college transcripts and, get employment verification from non-existent companies (all which were already required to take the exam in the first place). I particularly like the requirement for personal references and proof of US citizenship. All this aggravation on top of me paying $250. There seriously needs to be one exam (which there is) and a simple application to each State in the immediate surroundings with a small fee. I will let you know how long this fiasco takes.
Still thinking of my next blog topic. Suggestions are appreciated.
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and I am sure there are a few more out there, but how does social networking help your business? First of all I am a big fan of online social networking and am active on a few of them On line networking certainly beats the alternative to making cold calls and not reaching your intended target or setting up appointments that no one keeps. I also believe that each network has its own niche and there should be minimal overlap: LinkedIn is good for professional connections; facebook, for family and reconnecting with long lost friends, and twitter, for news and special interest. I no longer use Myspace.
Linkedin happens to be a great tool for connecting and staying in touch with clients and colleagues; people with whom I already have established relationships, and then a few that I would like to further develop. I look at LinkedIn as a form of soft-marketing. My current and potential clients get reminder emails that I am here whenever I update my profile status or add another blog entry. As of this writing, I have 125 connections; mostly, in real estate or environmental areas. My question to those people with 500+ connections, is do you know all these people or expect to do work with them? or is it following the MLM mantra, “you have to shuck a lot of oysters to find a peral”? Because, in spite of the ability to connect “virtually” with thousands of people on line, real face time is still going to be what gets you in the door. Social networks, if used as intended, can be similar to internet dating, you can meet someone on line (ie, a potential client) behind a huge comfort zone, get to know a little bit about them, share information, and then meet for coffee. There are local network groups that have combined the virtual with real-time meetings. I belong to a couple of those.
Twitter is a new one for me and has become extreamly popular and is also referred to as microblogging in real time. I am still trying to learn the full functionality for tweeting, but I could see the potential that it is going to be more than just letting your followers know what you had for lunch or relaying (retweeting) what one of your other followers posted. Most of my followings are science and local food related, mixed with a few other interests. My followers are just a mixed bag of people looking for connections. At this point I am following 116 people/groups and have about 85 people following me. I tend to be picky on who I follow since there is still a lot of uncertainty of whether you are following a real person or a “bot”. Sometime it appears that ego drives this network where he who has the most followeres wins. I will eventually be tweeting company news and project status updates. If you want to follow me, twitter.com/geologist62.
Although Facebook has risen to the rank of No. 1 online social network, I still think it is more for friends and family, and as such, I try to keep all work related connections off that site. I would not want one of my clients to know that I spend time on that site and not working on their report.
As a Geologist in the environmental arena, obtaining your professional registration (or PG) is probably one of the most critical steps needed to advancing your career. Aside from the validation ‘that you can do what you say you can do’, regulatory agencies require a professional designation to conduct groundwater assessments. Professional registration in most States is achieved through education (4 yr degree), experience (5-yrs post graduation) and passing a two-part exam administered by the National Association of State Boards of Geology (NASBOG). The exam requirements are supposedly accepted by all of the participating States via a cooperative agreement. It is this “supposed cooperative agreement” that leads me to writing this Blog.
In 1991, I graduated from an accredited university with a BS degree in Geology, and within a year, took the first part of the NASBOG exam. OK, I had to take it three times before passing. Six years and three companies later, I took the second part of the NASBOG and passed. These exams are brutal and involve the submission of a lot of paperwork before you are even eligible to take them. So, I passed and had essentially become a Professional Geologist in the State of Georgia. I practiced my profession with various companies until five years ago when I started my own business. With that being said, you would THINK that if you have a Professional Registration in one State (ie, Georgia), and you want to register in another State (let’s say Florida), it would just be minor formality along with sending a check? WRONG! Apparently, even though you jumped though the numerous hoops, met academic and employment requirements, you still have to fill out and submit gobs of redundant paperwork, original transcripts, and employment verification. Wait a minute? The exam and all of its requirements in the State where you already have a PG are the same as in the State you are trying to get registered. Most States offer reciprocity; especially, if the entire process is “apples to apples”, but apparently not this one. What is laughable, is that my first five years of Geology experience was split between two companies that are no longer in business, and the “new Board” was requiring me to submit employment verification. I called my local Board of Geology, and they were more than happy to dig up my original application and employment verification forms to submit to them on my behalf. It gets even more laughable as I began to see the inefficiency of the Government workers who process these applications with a checklist, because one Board obviously felt I met the requirements to be a PG (9 years now) while the other responded with comments about not using the correct Employment Verification Form and that they were rejecting my verification all together; apparently, my previous managers did not included their professional designations as part of their signature. Keep in mind that I have no idea how to contact former mangers of defunct companies, let alone who could verify I worked someplace 15 years ago. Numerous letters expressing the insanity and a threat to pull my registration fee, lead to the eventuality of a letter informing me that I should travel to this State with a four-day notice to attend the Board Meeting; in case I need to provide additional information. I did NOT travel 8 hrs to sit in a Board Room for a 10 minute decision. I did not re submit forms. I was hoping that common sense of real Geologists would prevail, and I was right. Yesterday, after a grueling 9 moths of emails, letters, phone calls, and rantings, I received my Professional Registration in State of Florida.
I won the battle, but was it worth it? When I started this process, my wife was promoted in her company and we were faced with a relocation. I was going to have to set up shop in another State and essentially start my busines over. Fortunately, the relocation has since been scrubbed. I still feel vindicated and I guess I can start marketing for some Florida business now.
During these times of economic uncertainty, consultants have to go above and beyond what is normally accepted to keep clients happy and therefore, retained. I have two examples of recently inherited projects that I that I would like to share. Both projects came to me as a direct result of poor consultant-client communication and a consultant’s lack of vision or seeing “big picture”.
Property 1is a Shopping Center that has had a groundwater issue for over nine years as the result of an on-site dry cleaner. For the past nine years, the previous consultants were content to simply suggest continued monitoring even though Georgia Rules regarding groundwater were becoming more stringent. The consultant also was historically submitting their reports late and overall, poorly written. As the new consultant I already knew I would write and communicate better. However, I was faced with two possibilities: 1) continue to recommend a semi annual sampling program that would give me a substantial income twice a year, but would do nothing to clean up the site or, (2) start proposing remedial alternatives that would would get me a one time income, but get the site removed from the State’s Hazardous site program. I proposed the later and because I looked out for my client’s best interest was awarded a second property.
Property 2 is a shopping center that has had a groundwater issue relating to gas stations being located on the property before it was redeveloped into a shopping center. Previous consultant spent well over $100 thousand dollars building an elaborate remediation system. After year one, a higher intensity blower was needed; after year two, a thermal oxidation unit was added; after year three, the system was shut down. Year four and year five, numerous mobile multiphase extraction events (MME) were conducted with more proposed. Funny thing is THERE IS STILL 0.5 Feet of gasoline floating on the water table. Spending clients money with little to no effect is NOT good business sense for a consultant. I am currently working on several proven clean up alternatives for this site and will update you guys as to the success.
Until next time, stay warm.
November saw a turn around in the Environmental area. I had few more environmental due diligence projects on commercial re sale properties. This may be an indicator that at least the resale market is starting to pick up. Also, I picked up a new Client this month, a shopping center property management company. This shopping center has been having groundwater issues for the past nine years and is listed on the States Hazardous Site Index – a dry cleaner operated at that center for 10 years and accidentally released dry cleaning chemicals to the soil and groundwater. My company is now responsible for monitoring the conditions, and I have proposed a method to clean up the site and to have it removed from the State’s list of hazardous sites. Because of what I had done so far, I was awarded another shopping center to clean up. I will keep you posted with that.
December has been an interesting month for me and my company. As many companies, including environmental consultancies, stumbled and failed during 2008, I saw a glimmer of hope of things starting to turn around. During this month, I had a repeat client whom I haven’t done any work for in a couple of years, has involved me with a large-scale redevelopment project. My continued networking with other small consultant firms appears to have paid off as well. Although there seems to have been a decline in the environmental due diligence on commercial resale, I am expecting the pendulum to swing the other way. I know that there are still people out there with money that want to invest while the prices and interest rates are low, and I want some of it.
Being that this is my first blog I am still wondering just how much information you will want to sate that hunger for knowledge? So, I will keep this short.