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September 25, 2014

Survey: Herrera Environmental Consultants

Specialty: Water, restoration, sustainable development

Management: Michael Spillane, president; Carol Slaughterbeck, vice president of operations; Theresa Wood, vice president of finance


2014 revenue: $14.8 million

Projected 2015 revenue: $16 million

Projects: Low-impact development training, Port Angeles Landfill stabilization and closure

Photo courtesy of Herrera Environmental Consultants [enlarge]
Herrera Environmental Consultants offers training in low-impact development.

Herrera Environmental Consultants’ roots go back to the Cuban Revolution. When Fidel Castro took power, the company’s founder Carlos Herrera, fled with his family to the U.S.

Herrera Environmental Consultants was born out of a contract with the Seattle Water Department, and the company spent the 1980s and 1990s focused on stormwater impacts to ecosystems, water quality treatment design, recycling and waste separation, and restoration projects.

Herrera specializes in sustainable development, water and restoration projects and finding solutions to resource problems facing companies and governments. The DJC sat down with the staff of Herrera to learn more about the company.

Q: How is technology changing what you do?

Jason King and Jennifer Schmidt: In addition to giving us tools to perform complex analyses for projects, technology provides new ways for us to engage communities and share information.

As part of our recent work on the Ballard District Open Space Plan, we equipped volunteers from nonprofit Groundswell NW with a simple web-based GIS smartphone app to map potential opportunities for open space acquisition and enhancement in their neighborhood. Users could carry their phone, and using the GPS, input data and take photos — all of which was compiled in a centralized database so that sites were visible to all volunteers in real-time as they were added.

The collection of sites formed the basis of the plan, and also provoked dialogue about what the nature of open space is, as well as how to accommodate rapid growth and demographic changes.

These tools facilitate better stakeholder engagement and a more successful planning process.

Q: Which of your services are most in demand?

Melissa Buttin and Carol Slaughterbeck: We have very high demand for our low-impact development design and policy services and have recently added several designers in Seattle and Portland to meet the demand. We are leading a statewide LID training program to prepare designers and developers for the new LID permit requirements that are about to take effect.

Demand is also strong for our stormwater planning and treatment design services, stream and river restoration and floodplain management services, solid-waste planning and engineering, abandoned mine site services, and our natural resource and permitting services.

Q: Are clients more committed to sustainability than in the past?

Buttin and Phil Coughlan: Yes, both in terms of having to demonstrate our own sustainability as a company, and in our ability to deliver services that support and drive sustainable projects. For example, we are working with a team to permit, construct and operate the first offshore wind energy project off the West Coast. We’re also working on a proposal where a quarter of the total score is based on Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability.

Q: How can businesses and municipalities adjust to diminishing resources?

Slaughterbeck and Chris Webb: “Thinking outside the box” is a tired phrase, but businesses and municipalities really do need to rethink how nearly every type of infrastructure is funded, designed, operated and maintained.

We can’t meet the challenges of decreased tax revenue, increasing population, climate change and increased pressure on natural resources with the thinking and methods that worked well in the past.

For example, stormwater flow control in urban areas is typically provided in single-purpose vaults. These tanks fill up and drain down controlled by a simple orifice. If these vaults were able to be operated in a dynamic way they could more efficiently manage stormwater by changing their operation seasonally. Seasonal operation can repurpose these vaults to store water for re-use in the summer when not needed to control large storm events.

These are the types of innovations needed for our communities to be more resilient and adaptable.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for your industry?

Slaughterbeck: The biggest challenges I see for the industry are: 1. Dealing with increasing public pressure for accountability and efficiency while the problems we must solve increase in complexity and; 2. The number of “10,000-hour” experts retiring in the next 10 years.

I hope that we can meet these challenges through new ways of integrated team thinking and collaboration, honest communication with the public about risks and tradeoffs, and finding ways to engage all generations in the workforce.

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