For Steve Michelson, President of AWR Environmental, a leading west coast-based environmental and geotechnical services firm, and valued Land Science® client, overseeing a multitude of diverse responsibilities is a welcome aspect of his role, and is just one reason he enjoys his work. He begins, “We are a small boutique firm, and everyone wears a number of hats – except obviously, the principal roles. As both President and Principal, I’m responsible for the care of all our clients, and ensure we provide top-shelf technical solutions that are responsive to our client’s needs and constraints. In addition to directing the company, I strive to promote a corporate culture that emphasizes communication and creativity.” One element of the culture and work environment Michelson has fostered includes the encouragement of staff to respectfully challenge each other when reviewing nearly all written reports before submitting to the client- including his own. He continues, “The objective is to identify both supported and unsupported assumptions, with the goal of identifying our strengths and weaknesses in the analysis and technical solutions and strategies to resolve our clients’ challenges.”
Michelson founded AWR in 1997, after finding a way to combine his interest in the earth sciences and engineering with the emerging need to address the environmental contamination. He shares, “Initially, I had designs on becoming a petroleum exploration geologist and travelling the globe. However, when I graduated it was during one of the cyclical downturns in the petroleum industry, and luckily the early days of the environmental consulting marketplace. So now I still get to work for petroleum companies, but in a different capacity- solving their contamination problems.”
To prepare for a career that addressed his interest in both geology and the environment, he in essence created his own double major, earning BS degrees in Geology and Civil Engineering from Lehigh University. “I was actually the first to receive both degrees from Lehigh University. Upon beginning my studies, I found that civil engineering seemed too assured in having all the answers, and geology left way too many questions – so I ended up pursuing both. I eventually negotiated with several professors and department heads to develop what became a combined degree program upon my graduation. This academic background of geology and engineering has provided me with a good foundation for cleaning up the environment.” To remain current on new and emerging remediation technologies, and improvements to the implementation and operations of existing technologies, he is active in attending industry-related conferences and webinars. He adds, “Especially those oriented to leveraging the biological resources to degrade or fix the contaminant. I’m also diligent about staying current on trends in environmental science, especially improvements to site characterization and monitoring.” He feels his efforts, and those of his staff, will lead to additional growth, as AWR expands into the developer marketplace, where he feels clients will truly appreciate his firm’s responsiveness and the constructive relationships they have developed with regulators. He adds, “We are currently expanding into a market that provides services for dredging and beneficial reuse of dredged sediments in the San Francisco Bay and Delta, and also expanding into the cannabis marketplace.”
In working with Land Science, Michelson appreciates the company’s expertise and high service standards, and points to a recent project where significant vapor mitigation was required. He continues, “Land Science was extremely helpful to us in the design and implementation of mitigation measures at an 11-acre redevelopment in central Hayward, CA, where we’ve designed and constructed about 4 acres of vapor mitigation consisting of Nitra-Seal® and sub-slab ventilation and depressurization, coupled with 2,100 ft of soil vapor extraction.” In terms of specific product usage, in addition to Nitra-Seal®, TerraVent®, ORC®, and RegenOx® have been used. “All have proven very useful to mitigating risks and remediating contamination.” When not working out of the AWR Bay Area office, Michelson can be found enjoying the great outdoors- rock climbing. He also enjoys weightlifting, reading, gardening, and participating in martial arts.
When asked about the most demanding aspect of his work, Michelson says balancing the workload in the pipeline while avoiding overstaffing can be a challenge. He shares, “I’m rather dedicated to keeping staff engaged. Most staff have been with the company for over a decade and we all understand that one person’s success leads to success for everyone, and vice versa -all pulling in the same direction is critically important.” As one who has been working in the environmental field for over two decades, Michelson has had time to reflect on the past, with an eye toward the future of an ever-evolving industry. He continues, “For the future, the pendulum in California has clearly swung towards leaving more contaminants in the ground and mitigating the risks, rather than pursuing more thorough cleanup. While this may be a cost-effective approach for our clients, it is likely to pose challenges in the future when properties with residual contamination become available for sale and the pendulum swings back to seeking more cleanup. Some of our clients are sensitive to looking down the road and spending a bit more now to maximize future property values, while others less so.” And how would he encourage others to join in his field of study? He concludes, “ I would suggest those interested in helping to mitigate our environmental challenges obtain a technical yet multidisciplinary education that promotes an appreciation of complexities and the unknown, that fosters development of conceptual models to explain what can’t be seen, that acknowledges the vulnerabilities posed by unverified or unrecognized assumptions, that encourages respectful and professional discussion especially during disagreement, that teaches listening and speaking and writing skills as fundamental elements of communication, that emphasizes comprehension of the why as the basis for the how, and that rewards creativity.”
Land Science is proud to have Steve Michelson, President and Principal of AWR Environmental, as a valued client and partner in environmental remediation, and appreciates his wealth of experience and leadership in providing successful remediation and mitigation outcomes for Land Science and its clients.
When Travis Coburn, Senior Engineer for Ninyo & Moore, set his sights on a career in environmental remediation, the diverse range of responsibilities he would assume became a pleasant surprise. He begins, “As an environmental engineer, my emphasis has been on environmental compliance, but it allows me to enjoy a variety of different aspects within my field. These include contaminated site investigation, remedial system design and installation, treatment system startup, and operation and maintenance.” In addition to these specific responsibilities at Ninyo & Moore, a leading geotechnical and environmental sciences consulting firm and valued Land Science® client, he works on a variety of projects as well. He continues, “I am involved in a wide range of complex and interesting projects that include school, railroad, air and sea ports, military, oil and gas, brownfields, construction, and waste disposal sites. In addition to providing technical consulting services, I manage contracts and projects, and mentor our younger staff.” Coburn joined Ninyo & Moore seven and a half years ago as a Project Manager/Engineer, and was quickly promoted to Senior Project Manager/Engineer, before being named to his current position. Prior to Ninyo & Moore, he served as a Senior Staff Engineer and as a Senior Environmental Engineer at other civil and environmental engineering firms. To prepare for a career in environmental sciences he earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Coburn’s interest in environmental remediation began during his freshman year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I always wanted to do something that would help ‘clean’ the planet,” he says, “and I felt my strengths in math and science, along with my urge to solve problems and puzzles, would be well-suited for a career as an environmental engineer.” His interest in remediation was piqued early on in his career while working on a challenging project, which served to provide both inspiration and confirmation he had chosen the right career path. He continues, “Early in my career I was involved in a site assessment and remediation project in a small town heavily impacted by 100 years of industrial rail operations. It was the first project where I saw first-hand how devastating groundwater contamination can be to a community and ecosystem. It definitely inspired me to be part of the solution and help provide a solution to ensure residents felt safe.” When asked what he enjoys most about his job, he quickly points to the diverse nature of his work. “I really enjoy the variety of projects and challenges they present. I’ve also enjoyed the travel and places some of my projects have taken me, including Montana, Washington, Hawaii, and the Marshall Islands.”
When it comes to working with Land Science, Coburn appreciates their quick response and knowledge base. He shares, “The people I’ve interacted with at Land Science have always been friendly and responsive. I’ve reached out to Land Science on several soil gas intrusion mitigation designs I’ve prepared and they’ve always helped me identify the right product for the job, which oftentimes leads to large cost-savings for construction.” With regard to specific Land Science products, Nitra-Seal® is used frequently, due to its effectiveness and versatility. He continues, “Land Science’s spray-applied barriers have a lot of advantages- especially in parts of California, where we often have sites that have the potential for methane, petroleum, and VOC intrusion. It’s great to have a barrier that is both effective and resistant to them all.” The success using products such as Nitra-Seal complements the future goals of Ninyo & Moore. “Our team has a wide range of talents and services, so we want to maximize our offerings and services to our existing clients, and develop new client relationships.” To stay abreast of current industry trends and evolving technology, Coburn regularly attends industry related webinars and presentations, as his schedule allows, which unfortunately isn’t as many as he would like. “REGENESIS and Land Science offer several of these throughout the year, which have proven to be very informative and helpful.”
Living in Orange County, CA with his wife and daughter, (and a new son on the way), Coburn enjoys several hobbies and activities in his spare time, such as camping, running, cooking, and playing the guitar. He shares, “I love camping in Big Sur, which usually includes stopping by some Paso Robles wineries along the way. I grew up camping in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada range can get pretty crowded, so I prefer backpacking when up there. I’ve run a few marathons, and the Big Sur race is my favorite. For the guitar, I enjoy playing the blues, especially Lightnin’ Hopkins, 90’s alternative, and the occasional Led Zeppelin tune. I was in a punk band in my early teen years but after a two-decade hiatus, I had the urge to pick up the guitar again just for fun.” He also finds time to perform volunteer work for Habit for Humanity and the Natural Resources Defense Council. When asked what he sees the future holds for environmental remediation, he feels the industry will continue to emphasize understanding the extent of emerging contaminants, such as PFAS. He adds, “We want to continue helping our clients navigate how to best respond to evolving regulations. I also expect to see an increase in Brownfields redevelopment to meet population growth and the demands of our challenging California housing market.” Asked how he’s seen the industry change, Coburn feels regulations have become a key factor. “When I started, I saw a lot of resistance to environmental regulations, but now many of our clients want to work with regulators to ensure they are doing everything they can to address and mitigate environmental concerns.” And how would he encourage others to join his field of study? He concludes, “I’ve talked to quite a few students considering this field and I always tell them it’s a rewarding career that offers you whatever career path you’re looking for. Plus, you won’t always be stuck behind a desk!”
Land Science is proud to have Travis Coburn, Senior Engineer for Ninyo & Moore, as a valued client and partner in environmental remediation, and appreciates his wealth of experience and leadership in providing successful remediation and mitigation outcomes for Land Science and its clients.
Learn the following in this free webinar:
- When traditional vapor intrusion investigations can not solve more complex or unusual vapor intrusion problems
- Various tools, sampling methods, and field equipment that can help solve these challenges
- A look at several projects that required Total Vapor Solutions to think outside the box
- Advanced vapor mitigation barrier technologies from Land Science
Land Science is pleased to present a webinar with vapor intrusion expert, Jim Fineis P.G., President and Owner of Total Vapor Solutions. During this webinar presentation, Mr. Fineis will discuss tools and tricks to solve non-traditional vapor intrusion issues. He will be joined by Aimee Plowman, Southeast District Manager for Land Science, who will discuss advanced vapor mitigation barrier technologies from Land Science.
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