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September 29, 2016
Specialty: Environmental remediation investigation and design, stormwater, permitting
Management: Ryan Bixby, president and CEO; John Funderburk and Chris Carter, principal scientists; Terry Montoya and Charles E. Robinson, principal engineers
2015 revenues: $12.8 million
Projected 2016 revenues: $13.5 million
Projects: Integrated remediation system at Viktoria Apartments in Seattle; electrical resistance heating treatment system to remove solvents from the subsurface of a site in Seattle
Chris Carter, an executive vice president with SoundEarth Strategies, answered questions from the DJC about the industry and his firm.
Q: What is the biggest environmental issue in real estate?
A: It is enrollment in regulatory oversight programs and technical response from Ecology. Many cleanups are managed through the Washington Department of Ecology. Most cities and counties don’t have the technical resources to review environmental conditions of properties in their jurisdictions and default to Ecology for regulatory oversight. This leaves Ecology responsible for a majority of enforcement and guidance.
Factor in additional pressure on the Northwest Region of Ecology because of heavy demand from development in the greater Seattle area, and limited resources due to a budget tied to revenue generated from oil and gas taxes, and the result is a substantial bottleneck for site closure.
It can take over a year to obtain a site closure opinion through Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. This can have major implications for property owners and developers trying to obtain financing.
Q: What are the biggest trends and issues in your industry locally?
A: The focus of regulatory agencies on pollutant source control is intensifying, particularly for stormwater. Several large cleanups are planned or underway in areas like the Lower Duwamish Waterway, and with lots of time, energy and money being poured into cleanup, upland pollutant source controls are being emphasized.
The challenge is identifying pollutant sources that can be managed effectively. Ecology manages pollutant point sources on industrial facilities through a general permit, but this only addresses a small fraction of the overall contributions. Roads, residential and commercial properties, and non-permitted industrial facilities, all contribute pollutants via stormwater to waters of the state.
Q: How can cities become more sustainable?
A: As the population grows, more pressure is put on the aging infrastructure of our cities, and demands for limited resources like clean water and energy increase. Waste controls and reducing resource demands are critical to a sustainable future. Through improvements in building design and product technologies, integration of sustainable building practices into building codes, and education, the net impacts from our everyday needs can be greatly reduced.
Q: Which sectors of your company are performing particularly well?
A: Stormwater and development construction. Stormwater has a lot of regulatory drivers, including public awareness, fisheries and the presence of sensitive receiving water bodies like the Puget Sound. These drive industry demands for compliance management and support.
The demand for construction support is obvious, given the changing landscape of our cities. Many of the sites being redeveloped are located in former industrial zones or include historical uses like gas stations and dry cleaners. It is common to encounter environmental conditions on these properties that require research, investigation and management.
Q: What’s the next frontier for sustainability?
A: Innovative design will aid in the development of products that are more resilient, have a longer life, and use raw materials from other recycled waste products. Many pollutants we end up managing on regulated facilities come from common building materials like galvanized metals and from consumable parts like vehicle tires and brake pads. The uses of these products are ubiquitous and alternatives are limited.
Recognition of the impacts of these products, education, and consumer-driven demand will help us more effectively contain potential pollutants and minimize contributions to our waste streams.