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Environment and Engineering

Environment and Engineering

Scaling Up

John Carpenter, left, and Neville Orsmond proudly display some of the commemorative 50th-anniversary rods being manufactured at Thomas & Thomas.

Five years ago, South African Neville Orsmond, an avid fly fisherman, purchased the Thomas & Thomas company and went about resuscitating perhaps the iconic brand within that industry, one that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. While putting the company on a solid foundation, he has also made it part of conservation efforts locally and globally that will help ensure this sport’s sustainability and preserve some of the most beautiful places in the world.

As the celebrated fly-rod brand Thomas & Thomas marks a milestone — a half-century of helping anglers land the big ones — there is much to celebrate.

Starting with the fact that the brand is still here to commemorate this occasion. That wasn’t a given when Neville Orsmond purchased the Greenfield-based company in late 2015, at a time when the brand wasn’t living up to its high standards for quality, sales were reflecting this reality, and the future was certainly in doubt.

But Orsmond, the South African and avid fly fisherman who visited the plant in the fall of 2015 and became inspired to purchase the company and mount a salvage operation, now has Thomas & Thomas hitting on all cylinders.

Indeed, the workforce has doubled since he took over, sales have increased by 40% on average since Orsmond bought the company, new equipment has been installed and more efficient processes put in place, and the brand fully lives up to the slogan has been attached to it for decades — “the rod you’ll eventually own.”

“We can’t make enough rods to sell — we’re struggling to keep up with demand,” said Orsmond, stating the problem — if it’s really a problem — in concise, impactful fashion, adding that the brand, which had suffered reputation-wise earlier in the decade, is back on its lofty perch looking down on the rest of the industry.

Which is why there is plenty to celebrate as the company marks 50 years since two brothers-in-law named Thomas — Dorsey and Maxwell — decided they could make a fly rod batter than anyone and went ahead and started making them.

Among the things being celebrated:

• The fact that the company still does almost everything by hand and has strongly resisted any and all thoughts of moving to something approaching mass production, despite those struggles to meet demand;

• The waiting times that this operating philosophy creates — maybe nine months for a coveted bamboo rod and four days to two weeks for a composite-material rod. Customers generally understand the wait and the reason for it, said John Carpenter, the company’s sales and marketing manager, adding that they appreciate their rod even more when it does arrive;

• The 50th-anniversary editions of both the company’s bamboo and composite rods, items that are in high demand for their quality, beauty, and what that number ‘50’ signifies — a half-century of excellence;

• The tours Carpenter gives to those who find their way to this decidedly rural location near the border with Bernardston and the T&T facility on Barton Road. Many do, said Carpenter, adding that, during the fall, the busiest time for such visits, he might average one a day and at least a few a week. They’re given to long-time customers, the curious, and even some celebrities who fall into both categories, such as Aaron Lewis, lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, and co-founder of Staind, who recently dropped by to pick up a new rod and take a look around;

• The ways in which the company is working to bring young people into the sport, something necessary to ensure its survival, said Orsmond, adding that the results of efforts that involve a number of organizations are quite encouraging, and he’s proud to note that Millennials, by and large, have embraced fly fishing, and for a number of reasons, as we’ll see;

• And also the ways the company is taking steps to help preserve the environment and improve conditions for fly-fishing enthusiasts, both locally and globally. Such efforts include ongoing work to secure more fish-friendly water release at the Fife Brook Dam on Deerfield River and support of initiatives undertaken by the Yellow Dog Community and Conservation Foundation (YDCCF), which has the stated mission to “protect, preserve, and enhance the places that matter to anglers.”

One of the commemorative rods being made to celebrate a half-century of excellence at Thomas & Thomas.

“For our industry and for our business, all fly fishermen are conservationists — otherwise, we wouldn’t be fly fishermen,” Osmond explained. “It’s our job to teach people, and it’s our job to make a difference at the end of the day.”

As noted at the top, there are plenty to things to celebrate as T&T turns 50. The stability and growth of the brand is a big part of it, but so are the company’s efforts to preserve and enhance fishing spots and spawn a passion for an activity that people can enjoy for a lifetime.

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest looks at how the T&T brand is not only enjoying a renaissance, but how the company is giving back — in all kinds of ways.

Cast of Characters

“It’s like the Porsche 911 … when it’s really good, you don’t change it.”

That’s how Orsmond chose to describe the Thomas & Thomas Paradigm series of rods, a name that has been in use at the company for decades now. Only there’s a new Paradigm series, one that has firmly captured the attention of the industry, having won ‘best new dry-fly rod’ honors for 2020 in Fly Fisherman magazine’s annual Gear Guide.

And it’s not the only product in the catalog to earn hardware recently. Indeed, T&T’s new Zone line of rods, a mid-priced model designed specifically to help introduce new people to the sport, garnered ‘best new rod series honors’ in the 2019 Gear Guide, as well as best-of-show honors for saltwater fly rods at the International Fly Tackle Dealers event in Orlando in 2018.

These honors speak to how the company has regained considerable ground since Orsmond started righting the ship in 2015, and also how it’s pushing ahead with new concepts and strategies to properly position itself for the next 50 years.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Orsmond, with a noticeable trace of understatement in his voice. “It’s been an amazing few years — we’ve been up every year almost 40%, and we’ve greatly increased our staff; we’re employing a lot more people. We have a ways to go, but we’re making steady progress.”

And that comment covers essentially every aspect of the company, from sales and marketing to workforce development and new-product development. And all of it was necessary to not only bring this brand back to where it was decades ago, but also secure a solid future.

More aggressive marketing has been one of the keys, said Carpenter, noting that such efforts were shoved to the back burner earlier in the decade as the company slashed the budget for such initiatives — and paid a price for it. Orsmond has significantly increased the marketing budget, giving the company a much greater presence.

“The company had really pulled back on marketing by the time Neville arrived, but he has greatly expanded the show schedule,” he explained, referring specifically to the Fly Fishing Show, a seven-event circuit in locales ranging from Marlboro, Mass. to Atlanta. The series starts up again on Jan. 3 in Denver, and wraps up at the Lancaster County Convention Center in Pennsylvania in early March.

“We don’t sell product at the shows, we do this to build the brand and help familiarize customers with the product,” he explained, adding that he’ll be getting on a plane to Denver just after the new year. “It gives them a chance to see, feel, touch, and cast.”

Beyond these shows, the company is investing in print advertising and social media — the latter being a concerted effort to capture and maintain the attention of younger generations, Carpenter went on, adding that such efforts are necessary because, while the T&T brand didn’t disappear from the landscape earlier in the decade, it did suffer from what amounted to lack of attention.

Finished rods on the shop floor at Thomas & Thomas. Company President Neville Orsmond says it is struggling to meet soaring demand.

Now refocused, the company has put together a strategic plan of sorts that calls for everything from continuing its long tradition of making its rods in this country and by hand — things few competitors can claim — to bringing more products to the market, such as clothing and accessories, with the Thomas & Thomas name on them, to training a new generation of employees.

“We’re not changing our ways to make more rods,” said Orsmond. “We took the hard way — we manufacture everything in the U.S., and to make everything here, by hand … I believe the consumer sees more value in our product.”

But finding and training new workers to make T&T’s famous rods — and the company has been hiring steadily since Orsmond arrived — has been a considerable challenge.

Indeed, while all manufacturers are struggling to find workers these days, this one has a deeper challenge because of the intricacy of the work and the passion needed to do it right day after day.

Passion can’t be taught, but it can be developed, said Orsmond, adding that many employees who have been with the company for two decades or more have played key roles in training the growing workforce.

“Between everyone here, we have more than 100 years of experience in how to make rods,” he said. “That makes it easier to bring in people and show them the right way to do things, the right way to make a rod that performs.

“Anyone who wants to come work here loves fly fishing and understands how it works,” he went on, hinting strongly at where the passion comes from. “When you’re standing in the river with a rod and you’re casting to a rising fish, your heart stops pumping, and it’s all excitement. And you look around, and you’re in a beautiful area. They get all that.”

It Comes Naturally

But to secure the next 50 years for this company, those at T&T know their work has go beyond marketing, new products, and training a workforce.

Indeed, the industry has to attract more people to the sport, said both Orsmond and Carpenter, and especially young people. And it also has to make sure this pastime is sustainable, a challenge that grows in size and scope as more land comes under development and climate change continues to alter the landscape.

“If there are no fish … there’s no fishing,” said Carpenter, summing things up succinctly, adding that this mindset explains the company’s efforts both globally and locally to protect the environment for the generations to come. “Anyone who becomes passionate about fly fishing almost automatically has an appreciation of the environment they’re doing it in — that’s part of the sport, really.”

As for the current generations, it wasn’t very long ago when people within the sport-fishing industry were worried about the future of the pastime and the business, said Carpenter, adding that, in recent years, such fears, while not entirely put to rest, have eased considerably.

And the reason is the manner in which Millennials have been drawn to the sport, he said, adding that they have played a big part in the 16% growth rate the industry has seen over the past few years.

“I think we’re seeing a resurgence in young people getting involved in fly fishing and being interested in the sport,” he told BusinessWest. “And part of the reason is the role that social media plays in enabling people to share their adventure. When people share their adventures online, it gets people excited; they see what someone is doing in India, Thailand, the Seychelles, South America, or the South Pacific — all the places people are going to fly fish.

“It’s part of a surge in adventure travel and sports like skiing and snowboarding, and the GoPro craze,” he went on. “That’s part of what’s driving the industry forward and getting young people involved, as opposed to the traditional view of two older men standing on a riverbank smoking cigars and waiting for the trout to rise.”

While working to attract more people into the sport, the company is also trying to engage them in efforts to respect the environment, protect it, and preserve it for future generations. And the two missions certainly go hand in hand, said Orsmond, adding that the company’s efforts are both local and global in scope.

Locally, on the Deerfield River, which runs for 76 miles through Southern Vermont and Western Mass., the company is actively engaged with Trout Unlimited and other groups and individuals to help create what Orsmond called a “healthier river.”

Elaborating, he said the releases of water at the Fife Brook Dam are creating an unhealthy situation for fish and other wildlife that results when there is too much or too little water in the river on a regular basis, meaning something that doesn’t happen naturally.

“There’s not enough water being released during some months to cover the whole bottom of the river,” he explained. “They’ll release a lot of water, and these fish, brown trout, will spawn. But when they drop the water level, these eggs will be uncovered, and those fish won’t make it.”

Working with the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and energy companies that own the dam and use it to generate hydro power, T&T, Trout Unlimited, and other parties are trying to get more water released, thus utilizing more of the riverbank.

“The whole aquatic ecosystem, the bugs and everything else, will be more abundant; there will be more food for the fish and, ultimately, a much healthier river,” he went on, adding that these efforts are a work in progress with no timeline on when or if steps might be taken.

“Our end goal isn’t to point fingers,” he said in conclusion. “Our end goal is to create better natural resources and preserve the environment.”

On a more global basis, the company is supporting efforts undertaken by the YDCCF to support the fishing industry and protect areas where people fish. Examples include work in the Bahamas to support the devasted fly-fishing industry on Abaco and Grand Bahama in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

Another example has been the company’s work to support YDCCF’s efforts in Belize to curb the use of gillnets, which are a suspected culprit in declining fish stocks there.

“Gillnets are horrible … a lot of species that are not even used for eating or selling are being killed,” Orsmond explained. “There are ways to eradicate gillnets and also help these fishermen to become fly-fishing guides rather than fish with gillnets.”

Ties That Bind

These are all examples of how Thomas & Thomas, as it continues to rebuild brand and grow sales, is working actively to preserve the environment and an industry that can’t be separated from it.

“We’re making fly rods, and we’re helping on conservation issues, both inside this country and around the world,” Orsmond said. “That should be the mindset of any responsible manufacturer, and it’s a very big part of who we are as a company and what we’ve stood for 50 years.”

And it’s one of the many things being celebrated as T&T marks this important milestone.”

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering

Taking the Industry Lead

As part of its commitment to environmental sustainability, Eversource Energy announced an industry-leading goal to be carbon-neutral by 2030. The energy company plans to achieve this aggressive goal through a series of targeted steps across its operations to reduce carbon emissions while also continuing to support regional economic growth and maintaining safe and reliable service for its approximately 4 million customers.

While the goal to be carbon-neutral is limited to the energy company’s own corporate emissions across all departments and operations, Eversource will continue to work with state leaders to reduce emissions from energy supply for customers in accordance with state and regional regulatory requirements. 

“As New England’s largest utility, we are proud to partner with our states and communities to achieve regional clean-energy and carbon-reduction goals,” said Eversource Chairman, President, and CEO Jim Judge. “Today, we are going one step further by setting a goal for our own operations to help demonstrate that carbon neutrality is achievable.”

With its goal set for 2030, Eversource would become the first investor-owned utility in the nation to be carbon-neutral. In order to achieve this, the energy company will take a series of targeted steps across corporate operations, gas distribution, and electric transmission and distribution. These include reducing energy use by improving the efficiency of its 69 facilities and reducing fleet emissions of its 5,200 vehicles, continuing to enhance the electric transmission and distribution system to reduce line losses, reducing sulfur hexafluoride (a potent greenhouse gas) in gas-insulated electric switchgear, and replacing remaining bare steel and cast-iron natural-gas distribution main lines to improve safety and help prevent methane leaks.

“The business community has an important role to play as we pursue clean-energy and carbon-reduction goals, as environmental sustainability and economic development go hand in hand,” said Dan Moon, president and executive director of the Environmental Business Council of New England. “As one of the nation’s leading energy companies, it’s encouraging that Eversource is proactively setting its own goals and demonstrating its commitment to a cleaner-energy future.”

Eversource has already significantly reduced its own carbon emissions through a series of steps, including the divestiture of all its remaining fossil-generation facilities in 2018. The company is also helping the region in achieving carbon-reduction targets that have been set by state and regional requirements with its clean-energy initiatives, such as the offshore wind partnership with Ørsted, award-winning energy-efficiency programs, solar development, innovative battery-storage projects, and electric-vehicle-charging infrastructure.

“We are excited to set an ambitious goal with our own corporate operations to lead by example,” Judge added. “Today’s news reinforces our position at the forefront of environmental sustainability and builds on our efforts to help our customers and communities reduce their carbon footprint.”

Environment and Engineering

Just Do Something

Monsoon Roastery owner Tim Monson

It’s no secret that the call to action to find more ways to go green is growing every day. With eco-friendly movements like plastic-bag bans and solar panels on the rise, it is easier than ever to find ways to help the environment — and it isn’t just individuals who are making this effort. Small businesses in Western Mass. are doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint — and also saving a little money in the process.

Try to think of a restaurant or business that produces only one 13-gallon trash bag at the end of each week.

Impossible? Not quite. For Tim Monson, owner of Monsoon Roastery in Springfield, this is a regular occurrence.

Admittedly, this is an impressive feat for a roastery that pumps out coffee on a daily basis. One of the first things he and wife, Andrea, started doing when they opened their roastery on Gasoline Alley in September 2018 was collecting coffee compost.

“It’s a great way to reduce waste, because all of a sudden you’re taking 50 or 60 pounds a week and removing that from the trash system and turning that into a renewable resource,” he said.

Food waste can be a difficult process to navigate, but Monson isn’t the only local business owner doing his best to reduce his carbon footprint through methods like composting.

“In this day and age, there’s just no reason not to be making that slight extra effort to do things the right way. It’s also smart from a business sense. You’re going to be a more profitable business if you have less waste. It might be slightly harder in some respects, but only from a logistical point of view.”

For Aimee Francaes, co-owner of Belly of the Beast in Northampton, just one five-gallon bag of trash is produced at the end of each night. With two composting bins in the back of the restaurant, this small business is producing astonishingly low amounts of food waste.

“We try to have as little waste as humanly possible,” she said, adding that part of the business model is not leaving much waste to dispose of in the first place. “Really, getting every little tiny bit we can out of the wonderful animals that come to our doors, and produce as well, that’s a big part of how we go about our business.”

In the U.S., it is estimated that between 30% and 40% of the food supply is wasted. According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in Massachusetts alone, food waste and other organic material made up about 25% of the total waste stream in 2016.

In addition to composting, Francaes and Monson use other methods to try to reduce this number. For example, Monson says each hot coffee cup sold is compostable. On the restaurant side, Francaes tries to cut down on the number of cups and side plates she serves customers at the restaurant and doesn’t sell bottles of water.

“In this day and age, there’s just no reason not to be making that slight extra effort to do things the right way,” she continued. “It’s also smart from a business sense. You’re going to be a more profitable business if you have less waste. It might be slightly harder in some respects, but only from a logistical point of view.”

Right up the street from Belly of the Beast, the owners and managers of Ode Boutique make decisions that are both business- and environment-smart every day, from where they get their clothes to how they sell them.

Aimee Francaes says her restaurant produces just one five-gallon bag of trash each night.

Manager Jenessa Cintron knows how difficult it is to be environmentally friendly in the retail industry. From the plastic packaging clothing comes in to the plastic hangers on which clothes are displayed, it’s not exactly easy to be green. But the boutique still finds ways to do everything it can to help the environment. This includes looking at the designers it buys from to determine what efforts they are making up the chain.

“It’s so important to so many of our designers and makers — that’s a plus,” she said. “Especially if they’re using natural fibers, biodegradable fabrics, that kind of thing.”

What these small businesses are selling may be different, but they say their desire to do anything they can to help the environment is one that should be adopted by many more companies.

Resourcefully Responsible

For Cintron, this means setting an example for her children (ages 13 and 4, with another on the way).

“I want to try to have the smallest carbon footprint possible, and I want to be an example for my kids,” she said. “Being an example for the community is important, too. I think it’s important as a business to set an example and use your platform in a positive way.”

Jenessa Cintron not only strives to promote sustainable practices, but also looks for that quality in the designers she buys from.

Alison Annes, stylist at Ode Boutique, emphasized the importance of encouraging customers and buyers to know who’s using recyclable materials and why it’s important.

“One of the biggest things is being conscious of it and shopping more and more of the ones that are, and maybe less often of the others until they change their platform on how they recycle their packaging,” she said.

Cintron echoed that packaging is a huge part of the problem, and something she wishes would change.

“A lot of our clothing comes in plastic packaging, and we can’t recycle it,” she said. “We try to recycle as much as we can, all of our boxes and paper and everything, and we encourage our customers to use our reusable bags.”

Monson said he has a similar problem with the plastic packaging coffee comes in, but has not yet found a way to make use of it.

However, Monson and his wife and friends did find a way to use several other materials to create the coffee shop’s decidedly quirky vibe.

“The retail area of our place is mostly made out of repurposed materials, from the barn doors that you walk through when you come in down to the paint on the walls and the floor,” he said. “Even our espresso bar is put together from a used door.”

The desire to be a business that produces as little waste as possible started in college, where Monson earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in green and sustainable business practices.

“Part of our mission from the get-go was, how can we do what normally happens in a business, but a little cleaner and a little better in all areas?” he said. “For us, reducing what we throw in landfills is a no-brainer.”

One Step at a Time

What might be a no-brainer for business owners like Monson, Francaes, and Cintron might not be quite so easy for others to grasp. Luckily, each offered suggestions as to how people can do their part to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Francaes says she used to offer a side dish with cole slaw with every meal, but noticed it ended up in the bus bin because some people didn’t want it. She didn’t want to waste the food or spend the time putting another dish through the washer, so she lowered the prices slightly and added the side dishes as an option on the menu.

“It’s looking at your habits and movements each day and seeing what you can do differently,” she said. “From a personal standpoint, I think it’s a lot about changing habits.”

A habit Cintron and other employees at Ode Boutique adopted is using stuffing from other products when packaging bags for customers instead of buying more paper.

“We also ask customers first if they want all the paper to go along with it,” she said.

Another simple thing to consider is using something old and turning it into something new. At Monsoon Roastery, the entire ceiling is made up of an old fence that was dumped on the property.

“Part of our mission from the get-go was, how can we do what normally happens in a business, but a little cleaner and a little better in all areas? For us, reducing what we throw in landfills is a no-brainer.”

“We broke down the fence, stripped it, stained it, and sealed it, then we covered the whole ceiling with it,” said Monson. “It’s awesome to take a look around you and say, ‘can we give something new life?’”

The overarching lesson emerging from each of these three business owners is that there really are no excuses when it comes to being environmentally friendly, and that, while waste challenges vary from company to company, everyone can find some room for improvement — and those small steps add up.

“There are always little things you can do,” Monson said. “I think, if more people would make a small effort, together it would go a long way. We can all do our part in our own ways. We can’t all do everything, but we can all do something.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering

Now the Real Work Begins

On Sept. 27 and 28, an estimated 3,500 volunteers gathered at more than 125 locations along the Connecticut River and tributary streams in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont for the Connecticut River Conservancy’s (CRC) 23rd annual Source to Sea Cleanup.

Volunteers with work gloves and trash bags got dirty — and some got wet — in their effort to remove nearly 50 tons of trash from in and along the rivers. This massive effort for cleaner rivers included over 50 groups from the Massachusetts region of the four-state Connecticut River basin. Groups included local river and conservation groups; elementary, high-school, and college students; Girl and Boy Scouts; and many employee volunteer groups from local businesses.

Notably, CRC worked with Northeast Paving and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department to remove 650 tires from a tire dump along the Deerfield River in Greenfield. The effort involved manually loading tires into machinery that hauled the tires from the ravine and trucking them to another location where they were hosed off by the Greenfield Fire Department and later removed for recycling by Bridgestone Tires4Ward.

Now, focus shifts to preventing trash in the first place.

“Source to Sea Cleanup volunteers’ hard work and dedication is inspiring and makes a real difference for our rivers,” says Andrew Fisk, CRC’s executive director. “But our work isn’t done until we put ourselves out of the river-cleanup business.”

While the two-day cleanup event is over for this year, CRC continues its work on trash pollution year-round. Via social media, CRC is especially challenging two companies — Dunkin’ Donuts and Cumberland Farms — whose trash is regularly found during the annual cleanup.

“We invite everyone to join us in telling them we expect better,” said Stacey Source to Sea Cleanup coordinator. “We want less single-use plastic and plastic foam, we want more reusable and compostable options, and we want items that are easier to recycle and keep out of landfills.

“We need our legislators, businesses, and manufacturers to see just how bad the problem is and hear from their constituents and customers that we aren’t going to put up with them ignoring this problem any longer,” she added. “We’ve been doing our part for 23 years by cleaning up our rivers. It’s time they finally do their part in helping solve our trash problem.”

Companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Cumberland Farms have a unique opportunity to make a huge difference for rivers by using more environmentally friendly options, Fisk noted.

“We all have a responsibility to solve this problem — individuals, manufacturers, businesses, and government,” he said. “After cleaning up over 1,100 tons of trash over the course of 23 years, it’s clear that repeated cleaning is not the solution to our trash problem. We need to redesign our economy so there isn’t waste in the first place. These ideas are going to take time, decades even. And we’ll keep at it as long as it takes. But our rivers need change now.”

Final trash-cleanup totals are still being tallied. Volunteers turned out from faith communities, watershed groups, schools, community and youth organizations, and at least 35 businesses and employee service groups.

In addition to the tons of small litter picked up this year by volunteers, CRC’s Source to Sea Cleanup also tackles large trash-dump sites and removes large debris from the rivers. For example, 54 tires were removed from the Connecticut River at the mouth of the Ashuelot River in New Hampshire, and large chunks of metal were pulled from the Ottauquechee River in Vermont.

Eversource, the lead Source to Sea Cleanup sponsor, had three employee cleanup groups — one each in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

“At Eversource, we’re committed to caring for the environment and take great care to promote conservation while carefully managing natural and cultural resources,” said Rod Powell, the company’s president of Corporate Citizenship.

Environment and Engineering Sections

Fueling Interest

Jim Cayon

Jim Cayon

Jim Cayon says he’s looking for an opportunity. A chance. A break. An open door.

He probably used all those words and phrases as he talked with BusinessWest about relatively new and occasionally misperceived products and his ongoing quest to prove that they work, can save users money and substantially reduce pollution. To do that, he needs an opportunity to demonstrate all his technology could do for them.

The company is called Environmental Engines, and it offers motor oils with a 30,000-mile lifespan, Cayon claims, as well as advanced protection technology (APT), a synthetic metal treatment that’s been proven to substantially decrease friction. The result is a reduction in damaging harmonics and wear on the engine as well as transmissions, which improves performance and fuel efficiency while significantly lowering carbon emissions.

It can do this, he said, for cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, boats, you name it.

Cayon, who handles the Northeast sales region for the Nevada-based company and was an exhibitor at last fall’s Western Mass. Business and Innovation Expo, told BusinessWest that he’s been approaching various businesses and municipalities to consider his oils and treatments as a solution in further reducing maintenance costs and emissions. (The lubricants alone reduce related expenses and dirty-oil waste by two-thirds or more, he claims).

And for the most part, he’s still looking for an entity to take that chance.

And he understands, generally, why that is.

Many businesses with fleets, not to mention and municipalities are loyal to the products they’re already using — and are contractually obligated in some cases — and these factors make it difficult to avail themselves of such opportunities, said Cayon, based in Easthampton.

“It’s human nature to resist change, yet on the other hand, there is some preconception about what the Environmental Engines products are or aren’t,” he explained.

“They’ve already made up their minds,” he went on, adding that the motor oil industry isn’t easy to break into because of brand loyalty and long-standing relationships. “In many cases, they think they know what is — they think it’s that thing they’ve heard or read about that doesn’t work — and so they don’t even want to consider trying it.”

Cayon doesn’t give up easily, and he’s working hard to make it as simple as possible for those he’s talking with to put the company’s products to work. And he brings with him what he considers some very compelling arguments, not just about the APT ceramic protection and motor oils, but also about how they would fit in nicely with many companies’ ongoing efforts — and missions — to become more ‘green’ and Earth-friendly, but also more bottom-line conscious.

At present, Cayon has been focusing much of his time and energy on getting the ear of area municipalities, many of which are actively engaged in efforts to become ‘green’ and energy efficient, and not just because it’s the right thing to do. There are frequently considerable cost benefits to doing so as well.

Cayon noted that the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has, among its many goals, a desire to reduce carbon emissions in this by 80% by 2050. And then he threw out another number that should get someone’s attention.

“If everyone in this half of the state were to use our on-time engine treatment, in terms of cars, light trucks, and motorcycles, we’re talking about the elimination of up to 1.5 billion pounds of regional vehicle emissions every year,” he told BusinessWest. “The impact is profound if I get to that level, but …”

He didn’t finish, but made it clear that he would like to start with at least one city, town, or large business fleet and expand from there.

He has extended invitations to every community in Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire counties, with Hampden and most of Worcester County to follow.

What he’s sending them is a fairly comprehensive explanation of how APT ceramic protection works, and how it could change the equation for the municipality in question.

Here is how it works. APT is a nanotechnology that permanently embeds into the metal parts within an engine to form what Cayon called a “microceramic seal” on all metal parts within an engine. Indeed, these treatments can be applied not only to engines and transmissions, but hydraulic systems, fuel pumps and injectors, drive trains, air conditioning systems, power steering systems, and more.

Elaborating, Cayon said APT molecules are able to penetrate sludge and residual buildup on surfaces without the use of solvents. It forms a ceramic shield that protects the engine from heat, allowing for exceptionally high temperatures without any damage and metal wear. Once bonded, the surface is smooth with fewer pores for particulates to latch onto, said Cayon, therefore repelling potential carbon buildup back into the lubricant stream, where it is cleaned by vehicles’ inline or bypass filtration system.

“The two major benefits are emissions reduction and better engine responsiveness — which is going to be correlated somewhat with fuel efficiency,” he explained. “And the responsiveness factor is important; if you have vehicles you’re relying on like ambulances, fire trucks and police cruisers, for example … those are vehicles that need to be performing at a very high level.”

That’s the message Cayon is trying to convey to potential clients of all kinds in both the private and public sectors. There are many challenges to getting that message across, but he’s going to keep trying, because if they do listen, they will likely be compelled to respond to what they hear.

Like he said, he’s looking for a chance, an opportunity to become the solution for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint as well as motor oil costs. But the real opportunity could come to those who open their doors to it.

 

Environment and Engineering Sections

Making Waves

Stanley Kowalski III, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of FloDesign Sonics.

Stanley Kowalski III, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of FloDesign Sonics.

The “filterless filter company,” as FloDesign Sonics dubs itself, was launched in 2010 in an effort to separate contaminants — particularly anthrax — from the water supply.

There’s nothing trivial about that goal, but the company’s co-founder and CEO, Stanley Kowalski III, and his team have only been thinking bigger ever since.

“We don’t like mediocre challenges; we take on pretty big issues, and we back it with the best thought leaders in this space,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve targeted some of the biggest things mankind could be working on, and it gets people motivated on a different level. You don’t have to yell at people … they’re independently driven because every day, they’re working on something exceptionally meaningful. It’s a mission-based company — and we always like to focus the mission on something that’s pretty grand.”

These days, that ‘something grand’ is cell and gene therapy, an existing technology with promise for batting cancer and other diseases, but which is prohibitively expensive — much too costly, in fact, to be available to the masses.

Kowalski believes FloDesign Sonics’ patented, signature process — which captures, separates, and concentrates particles in fluids through the use of acoustic waves — could eventually bring those costs down. And the 32 people working at the company’s Wilbraham headquarters — geneticists, bioengineers, and biochemists among them — are motivated to make that a reality.

“We’re the ‘filterless filter company,’ but we’re also doing cell handling, so just calling it a filter company doesn’t give it credit,” he said. “Right now we’re in the life-sciences industry, where handling of cells is the next frontier of medicine — personalized medicine, cell and gene therapy, where you use your body’s cells to fight things like cancer, grow organs, or restore organs that are damaged.”

We’re living, he continued, in a time of renaissance in medicine, when scientists are learning how to harness the body’s ability to regenerate and repair itself and fight diseases in new ways.

“And there’s nothing more important, I think, that mankind could be working on right now than this,” he went on. “I tell my staff, if Edison or Tesla were alive today, I’m convinced this is what they’d be working on. I really believe that.”

Going with the Flow

To understand what FloDesign Sonics — an offshoot of FloDesign Inc., which was founded in 1990 and has since spawned several spinoff companies — has accomplished, it’s helpful to go back to 2010, when engineer Bart Lipkens received a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to figure out how to rid reservoirs of anthrax, which was, at that time, a major concern in Washington.

During a process of trial and error, Lipkens’ team at the newly established FloDesign Sonics — including Kowalski, Louis Masi, and Walter Presz — discovered that acoustics could play a vital role in detection.

Kowalski has often explained it by picturing sound waves as an invisible force field that can be used to manipulate and hold things in space. In a chamber filled with fluid, if a consistent flow of sound waves is generated through it, then living cells or debris are introduced into the wave, they will be held there by the invisible force field, and the cells will be gently pushed together and form clumps. When they get big enough, they either fall out of the solution due to gravity or rise to the top due to buoyancy — hence, the ‘filterless filter’ description.

One early assignment came from the National Science Foundation, which issued a challenge — and a series of grant phases — in 2012 to find a way to separate oil and gas contaminants from water. The key, Kowalski told BusinessWest, was to create a process that cost less than the value of the oil being extracted from the water — and let capitalism take over. In 2016, representatives from the company participated in the White House Water Summit to discuss its considerable progress.

The grant, Lipkens said at the event, “resulted in a technology that provides a green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly oil-water separation system for the oil and gas industry.”

Later in 2012, FloDesign Sonics tested a prototype for a life-sciences application that involves harvesting and filtering cells derived from the ovaries of Chinese hamsters that are used to make injectable monoclonal antibody drugs, which are being used to fight cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses. A grant from the National Institute for Health followed in 2014, along with a challenge to devise a better way of filtering blood during bypass surgery.

From left, some the FloDesign Sonics leadership team: Walter Presz, co-founder and senior fellow of fluid dynamics; Richard Grant, chief product officer; and Stanley Kowalski III, co-founder, chairman, and CEO.

From left, some the FloDesign Sonics leadership team: Walter Presz, co-founder and senior fellow of fluid dynamics; Richard Grant, chief product officer; and Stanley Kowalski III, co-founder, chairman, and CEO.

Creating a way to bring cell and gene therapy essentially to the hospital bedside — not unlike dialysis — is an altogether different challenge, however, a holy grail of sorts in the oncology world.

“With all the tools available today, we really need a paradigm shift,” Kowalski said. “Manipulating cells and bringing either a particle or a virus or a genetic payload to these cells is what cell and gene therapy is all about — holding them, washing them, cleaning them, sorting them, separating them, finding that needle in a haystack of cells in your body that have the propensity to repair, restore, rebuild, and make you who you are all over again. That’s what our quest is.

“There’s so much can be done, and it really does rival the Henry Ford challenge, because right now, cell and gene therapy is only available for the few, and it’s exceptionally expensive — off-the-charts expensive, maybe $500,000 per patient, on the low end.”

With more than 250 patents filed in the past decade and more than 50 granted, FloDesign Sonics continues to take steps toward using acoustic filtering to bring down the cost of activating cells and “turning them into the warriors they can be to go compete against cancers,” as Kowalski put it.

Meanwhile, FloDesign Sonics is looking to transform the biopharmaceutical process as well. Many of today’s pharmaceuticals are produced by culturing cells that produce therapeutic proteins or monoclonal antibodies. After the proteins or antibodies are produced, it’s necessary to gently remove the cultured cells as part of the purification process. Current technology requires the use of either a filter, which must be flushed or replaced, or a centrifuge, which requires careful cleaning between each use.

The FloDesign solution permits both cell clarification and perfusion without the need for consumable filters or complex centrifuges. This technology was exclusively licensed to Pall Life Sciences for commercialization and launched in 2016.

Drowning in Opportunity

While medical applications for acoustic filtering may be making the most waves (pun intended) at the moment, they’re far from the only ones.

“One of our board members likes to call it ‘drowning in opportunity’ because every time you turn around, there’s someone else to draw you in,” Kowalski said. “There are industrial applications, food and beverage applications, water purification. People need clean water; it’s still considered one of the major hurdles of mankind.”

Still, he added, “we are maintaining focus around cell and gene therapy until we get these drug costs down.”

That focus on solutions has driven FloDesign since 1990, when Presz created the company while he was an Engineering professor at Western New England College so he could give his students an opportunity to put theory into practice.

FloDesign Sonics is just one of several spinoff companies that have come out of that original entity. Others include FloDesign Wind Turbine, which was founded in 2008, and FloDesign Water Turbine, which was established in 2009. The common thread is that all have something to do with fluid dynamics and acoustic solutions.

Since its founding in 2010, FloDesign has raised $44 million in venture capital and grants from bodies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Its board includes a number of significant lights in the life-sciences world, including Jim Waters and Doug Berthiaume, the founder and former CEO, respectively, of Milford-based Waters Corp., which Berthiaume grew to $2.2 billion in revenue before retiring in November.

They’re drawn, Kowalski said, by the idea that the acoustic-filtering technology pioneered by FloDesign Sonics can change people’s lives. “We believe that, and it’s already happening,” he added.

“Every time there’s a hurdle that mankind hits, we always find a way around it, and we solve problems. We’re very good at that,” he went on. “I think we’re right at that threshold where we’ve had enough of cancer. It’s time to figure this thing out. And the engine behind this is acoustics.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections

Turning the Page

Bruce Coombs’ office is filled with conversation pieces from the past.

Bruce Coombs’ office is filled with conversation pieces from the past.

The word ‘ephemeral’ means lasting for a short time, which is odd, considering one definition of ‘ephemera’ — and how long some of it has been kicking around.

“Ephemera is old paper — it could be postcards, newspapers, old magazines, sheet music, World War I and World War II posters, movie posters, Civil War correspondence, trading cards,” said Bruce Coombs, owner of both Heritage Surveys and Heritage Books.

The Southampton-based surveying firm, which has been working with developers, architects, and engineers, has been around since 1977 — so it’s anything but ephemeral — while the book business, spawned from a need by Coombs to house his massive collection of used books and memorabilia, is a more recent entity.

“Most of the people who work in this business do it part time,” he said of the bookstore, which has both a physical location, a stone’s throw north on Route 10 at the former Southampton Library, and a robust online presence at heritagebks.com. “I’ve gotten to the age where I’m buying less and selling more.”

Coombs didn’t start his career in either land surveying or old books. He enrolled in the forestry program at Paul Smith’s College in New York, but went to work for the U.S. Postal Service in Long Island shortly after.

Occasionally, he’d visit his sister in the Pioneer Valley, and he liked the area, so eventually he procured a transfer to the Amherst Post Office and enrolled at UMass. Soon after, in the early 1970s, he started working at Huntley Associates, a Northampton-based surveying company. After advancing in that firm and managing one of its offices, he decided to open his own company, and Heritage was born in 1976.

He worked out of a small office on Route 10 in Southampton until 1985, when he outgrew the space and purchased a 13-acre property about a mile south on College Highway. The idea was to grow slowly and steadily, and to focus on surveying rather than engineering. By doing so, he continued, he found that other engineering firms were willing to hire Heritage to conduct surveying for their projects.

“There are engineering firms we’ve worked with for many years; we’ve worked with some engineers for as much as 30 years,” he said. “A lot of engineering firms don’t have a survey contingent, and they like the work we do, so they’re ongoing clients; there are several in Western Mass., and Eastern and Central Mass. as well.”

While he intended to concentrate on surveying rather than engineering, he went on, “in order to do surveying successfully, to be the best at it, you need to do some engineering, and you need to be knowledgable about a lot of other professions, including the legal profession, planning and zoning, and landscape architecture.”

The firm’s growing reputation won jobs at Westover Air Reserve Base, Westfield-Barnes Municipal Airport, Baystate Medical Center’s Hospital of the Future expansion, the Basketball Hall of Fame, and work for the Springfield Redevelopment Authority at myriad sites.

Coombs has been in the business long enough to see surveyors transition from steel tape to electronic total stations, which allow the operator to control the instrument from a distance via remote control, to GPS units that connect to satellites — progress that has reduced crews on a project from three or four to one or two.

Booking Jobs

At the same time, Coombs was collecting old books — lots of them, to the point where he opened a shop, Heritage Books, in the same building that houses Heritage Surveys.

Actually, he collects both books and ephemera — again, a catch-all term for all sorts of printed, often collectible materials. Eventually, his collection and bookstore were outgrowing their space.

The answer to this problem came in the form of the former Southampton Library, which was built in 1904. When the property went up for sale, he put in a bid, purchased the building, and gradually began moving most of the books to the new site. At the same time, he undertook a major renovation and expansion of the Heritage Surveys property.

Today, Coombs’ office is still strewn with shelves and drawers filled with books, ephemera, and other items, including his own great-grandfather’s handwritten Civil War record, as well as numerous plaques, busts, and other images of Presidents Lincoln and Washington, who were, he likes to point out, both surveyors.

“I like things that are nostalgic, graphical, colorful,” he said, holding up, as one example, well-preserved sheet music (“New York and Coney Island Cycle March Two-step,” by E.T. Paull) adorned with colorful illustrations of the historic fairgrounds in the 1890s.

Perhaps the most striking collectible sits on a table in the library: a large ferris wheel — with a working motor and lights — made in the 1930s from about 200,000 medical applicator sticks; he discovered the damaged relic, and some accompanying model circus wagons, and had them all restored for display in the bookstore.

This emphasis on the past is accessible in a thoroughly modern way, a website that links to several e-commerce outlets for Coombs’ collection, including eBay, Biblio, Alibris, and Amazon. Some 30,000 books and other items are searchable online. For the rest, buyers have to visit the old library.

That they can find so much online, though, is a major change in the way used-book dealers operate, connecting hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. and overseas, he noted. “Sales of books and ephemera have gone over to the Internet, and it certainly has changed things.”

Coombs is making some changes as well, mainly to downsize his collection. For 18 years, he’d maintained a 520-square-foot storage unit in the Eastworks basement up the road in Easthampton, with shelves reaching eight feet tall, loaded with books. The rental probably cost him close to $40,000 over that time, yet the materials in it weren’t nearly that valuable, so he eventually moved everything out.

“We took 350 boxes to the Salvation Army in Westfield, and kept some things and blended them into our collection,” he said, noting that he still has plenty of overflow inventory in a six-car garage, but may gradually empty that as well.

“People ask when I’ll retire,” he said with a laugh, “but when you run two businesses — the survey business and a book business — it’s difficult to retire.”

Thus, the next chapter in an intriguing dual career begins.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections

Keeping Current

A paddlers group celebrates today’s Connecticut River.

A paddlers group celebrates today’s Connecticut River.
Photo by Craig Norton Photography

When the Connecticut River Watershed Council was formed in 1952, its leaders brought attention to the river’s obvious problems, most notably the raw sewage floating in it. Sixty-five years later, the organization, which recently rebranded as the Connecticut River Conservancy, has assembled a long record of not only cleanup, but dam removals and other efforts to protect wildlife, advocacy for environmental issues at the state and national levels, and public engagement that has connected thousands of volunteers with efforts to create a healthier watershed. And they’re only getting started.

In 1959, seven years after helping to found the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Dr. Joseph Davidson embarked on a week-long source-to-sea trip — from the river’s source, Fourth Connecticut Lake in New Hampshire, near the Quebec border, to Long Island Sound — to highlight the problem of river pollution.

Dr. Joseph Davidson brought attention to the Connecticut River filth levels in 1959.

Dr. Joseph Davidson brought attention to the Connecticut River filth levels in 1959.

During its first decade, in fact, the CRWC spent much of its energy raising public consciousness about what was then described as “America’s best-landscaped sewer.”

Much has changed since then, both along the river itself and in the CRWC, which rebranded in April as the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC). To celebrate those changes, the organization’s director, Andrew Fisk, is repeating Davidson’s 400-mile trek with what he’s calling the Jump In Journey, this time focusing on the many ways people enjoy the river, rather than reasons to actively avoid it.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success in 65 years, and we want to celebrate that, but also highlight the work that still needs to be done,” he told BusinessWest two days before beginning the trip, which began at the river’s source on July 16 and will end at the sound in Connecticut on July 30. “We’ll be traveling by many different modes to celebrate the ways people love the river.”

Fisk and a few traveling companions will navigate the river via canoes, kayaks, motorboats, dragon boats, sculls, handmade boats, swimming, scuba diving, even waterskiing, taking part in community events along the way. In addition, he’s organizing ‘splash mobs’ at various locations to draw in locals.

Andrew Fisk

Andrew Fisk with water samples from various spots along the Connecticut River watershed being tested in CRC’s lab.

The fact that Fisk can do all this without wading through raw sewage, as Davidson did, is reason for celebration, but the board of the CRC considers this rebranding year just the beginning, with plenty of work ahead.

“We’re the second-oldest watershed organization in the country — not environmental organization, but watershed organization,” Fisk explained. “We were started in 1952 by a group of local citizens, business leaders, and elected officials who thought they might be able to address quality of life and quality of the environment on a regional scale, by doing it from a watershed perspective. That was unique at the time.”

Those early years were largely informational, he explained, with members compiling reports, figuring out what they knew about the watershed — which covers 11,000 square miles in four states — and determining what issues they should be working on.

In the 1960s, the group became more active in specific projects, such as advocating for the creation of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, spearheading land-conservation efforts, and developing strategies for oil-spill control and cleanup at a time when barges moved huge amounts of crude up and down the river.

When Fisk arrived in 2011, the board had just completed a strategic plan for the coming years, which boiled down to growing into its mission and “doing good work well,” a concept he would come back to more than once during his talk with BusinessWest.

With the rebranding, Fisk said, the Greenfield-based CRC is putting a new face on the organization, one aimed at growing its work further and bringing more partners into the fold.

“That goes back to how this organization works,” he said. “It means collaborating and supporting other organizations and bringing a variety of people to the table to deal with these issues. We knew in 1952 we couldn’t do it all. We worked to create local watershed organizations, and today we do work with many smaller organizations and also collaborate with regional and national groups.”

All of that is aimed at turning the Connecticut River into a waterway that’s protective of wildlife, welcoming to migratory fish, and safe for swimmers and boaters. Davidson’s journey, after all, was just the beginning.

Rising Tide

With 10 full-time employees, and revenues that have grown from $480,000 in 2011, when Fisk arrived, to $1.8 million this year, the CRC has grown in myriad ways. “We have very generous supporters and believers in their river,” he said. “That’s the realization of the board’s aim to grow the organization and do more work and do it well. We’re definitely succeeding.”

It does so though three basic missions: Advocacy, public engagement, and restoration.

A deadbeat dam in Groton, Vt.

A deadbeat dam in Groton, Vt. is removed, one of dozens of similar projects the CRC has tackled to make the waterway more welcoming to wildlife.

“We’re an advocacy organization, so we argue for ambitious water-quality standards,” he told BusinessWest. “We certainly have high expectations for our rivers and streams, and that’s why we work hard to get public investment in things like sewer and water systems. We advocate for strong regulations because it’s important to recognize the rivers as a public trust.”

Fisk then explained what public stewardship of the river means to him.

The law says you, as a member of the public, can set the standards. Sixty-five years ago, we had recreational goals, but now, we’ve set the goals much higher. We’ve succeeded, and we know that when you have cleaner, healthier, and more abundant natural resources, your economy flourishes, and quality of life flourishes. We want to see both economic and ecological abundance, and we do that through advocacy.”

“The law says you, as a member of the public, can set the standards. Sixty-five years ago, we had recreational goals, but now, we’ve set the goals much higher. We’ve succeeded, and we know that when you have cleaner, healthier, and more abundant natural resources, your economy flourishes, and quality of life flourishes. We want to see both economic and ecological abundance, and we do that through advocacy.”

The second arm, engaging the public, involves giving people opportunities to collect information that can be used to improve the health of rivers and streams.

“We measure water quality for bacteria, provide people with opportunities to restore freshwater mussels, which do a tremendous amount of work in filtration, and help people remove invasive aquatic plants, the kind of plants that choke waterways and affect the ecosystem and recreation,” he explained. “We have 900 people on the e-mail list, and they’re people who want to do something.”

The “Is It Clean?” initiative, for example, solicits local groups, municipalities, schools, and individuals to monitor for bacteria and post information on a collaborative, interactive website that gives a color-coded bacteria reading for 150 different spots along the river, May through October. They can either test the water themselves or send it to the CRC’s in-house lab.

“You then make your own decision. We don’t tell people to stay out of the water,” he said. “Instead, we’re saying, ‘here’s the information; you take your own risk.’”

These public-engagement efforts, he said, can fill in the gaps where government agencies can’t reach, and also helps cultivate a more sophisticated public that understands environmental issues at the scientific level, are willing to engage in discourse on the issues, and are less likely to be swayed by pseudoscience and climate-change denial.

The CRC’s third point of focus, restoration, requires the most resources in terms of both money and time. One of the goals is to make the river a welcoming place for fish swimming up from the ocean to spawn and multiply. Many of the habitats they might use, however, have been blocked by dams and other barriers.

“The river doesn’t smell anymore — it’s not raw sewage — but what’s missing? There should be millions and millions of migratory fish moving up and down the river, but there aren’t,” Fisk said, due partly to defunct dams and improperly designed culverts. “These are impediments to migratory fish. So we do dam removals, upgrade culverts, repair riverbanks, and plant trees and native vegetation to rebuild the riverbanks.”

The dams are often abandoned mill dams, ranging from four to 20 feet tall. Municipalities are typically grateful for the CRC’s work, as dam-removal projects often lie dormant because there’s no budget for them. “We bid these projects out to excavators and contractors, and we do the final tree planting and restoration work. Basically, we offer turnkey services for these projects.”

These projects reconnect habitats and make communities and individual landowners more adaptable to a changed climate, Fisk said, as well as bringing beneficial flood impacts. “It’s not going to stop flooding, but it will reduce the damage from flooding and make property owners more resilient.”

Just Keep Swimming

The CRC’s next highly visible project will be its annual Source to Sea Cleanup — slated for Sept. 22-23 — which is a comprehensive trash cleanup of the Connecticut River system along the four-state watershed, including rivers and streams, shorelines, parks, boat launches, and trails.

Each fall, volunteer group leaders coordinate local cleanup sites where thousands of participants of all ages and abilities spend a few hours picking up trash. The CRC uses trash data collected during the cleanup to support legislation and other efforts to keep trash out of the environment. That might mean expanding bottle bills to put a deposit on more plastic bottles, making curbside recycling easier and more accessible, and requiring tire manufacturers to run free tire-disposal programs to discourage illegal tire dumping.

The Connecticut River Conservancy

The Connecticut River Conservancy, formerly the Connecticut River Watershed Council, has been based in Greenfield since its inception 65 years ago.

“We also do work to install and increase recreational infrastructure — opportunities for people to get to and enjoy the river in different ways, and help us build business opportunities through recreation,” Fisk said, efforts that include advocating for the completion of the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail, a network of campsites and access points to help lovers of the outdoors navigate the entire length of the river.

Meanwhile, the CRC continues to pursue affiliations with smaller watershed associations, providing the administrative and educational services that will allow affiliates to focus more on programming.

In short, the Connecticut River Conservancy isn’t slowing down. And with climate change presenting what Fisk calls “the most important issue that’s in front of us,” those efforts are more than justified.

“I think there’s a widespread understanding of climate change. People are invested in knowing what it means for them, what they can do, and, in this current political climate, what the initiatives coming out of Washington, D.C. might mean.”

It really boils down, he continued, to that idea of a public trust, of responsibility to each other.

“Living in a watershed means something you do at your home is going to have consequences for people downstream. A farmer in Vermont has an obligation to Long Island Sound. I think people understand that.”

If they don’t, Fisk hopes his current two-week journey — one far cleaner and more pleasant than the one Dr. Joseph Davidson took — will remind them.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections

Raising Their Sites

The U.S. Envirommental Protection Agency (EPA) recently awarded 14 communities in Massachusetts — most of them in Western Mass. — grants totaling $4.92 million for brownfield site revitalization and technical assistance. These communities are among 172 across the country to receive EPA brownfields funding.

Nationwide, a total of $56.8 million has been awarded by EPA to fund selected recipients for brownfield site assessment and cleanup as initial steps toward redeveloping vacant and unused properties, transforming them to productive reuse that will benefit communities and local economies.

EPA’s brownfields grants and assistance to Massachusetts this year are among other significant annual investments by EPA to help New England communities address brownfield properties. The awards in Massachusetts (to be distributed community-wide, except where noted) include:

• Belchertown Economic Development Industrial Corp. ($400,000 for cleanup at the former Belchertown State School site);

• Berkshire Regional Planning Commission ($300,000 for site assessment);

• Chicopee ($600,000 for cleanup of the former Uniroyal complex);

• Framingham ($300,000 for site assessment);

• Great Barrington ($300,000 for site assessment);

• Lawrence ($350,000 for site assessment, $200,000 for cleanup, and $200,000 for job training);

• Ludlow Mills ($120,000 for technical assistance);

• Lynn Economic Development Industrial Corp. ($300,000 for site assessment and $200,000 for cleanup);

• Merrimack Valley Planning Commission ($300,000 for site assessment);

• New Bedford ($200,000 for cleanup of the former Polyply facility);

• North Adams ($300,000 for site assessment);

• Seekonk ($350,000 for assessment of the former Attleboro Dye Works site);

• Williamstown ($200,000 for cleanup of the former Photech Imaging Systems site); and

• Worcester ($300,000 for site assessment).

Across the six New England states this year, EPA is awarding a total of $10.4 million for 32 communities to assess or clean brownfields, as well as $750,000 for technical assistance to six communities. A brownfield is a property for which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

There are estimated to be more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off undeveloped land, and both improves and protects the environment.

“EPA is committed to working with communities to redevelop brownfields sites which have plagued their neighborhoods. EPA’s assessment and cleanup grants target communities that are economically disadvantaged and include places where environmental cleanup and new jobs are most needed,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These grants leverage considerable infrastructure and other investments, improving local economies and creating an environment where jobs can grow. I am very pleased the president’s budget recognizes the importance of these grants by providing continued funding for this important program.”

Continued Attention

In New England, since the beginning of the brownfields program, EPA has awarded 382 assessment grants totaling $103.9 million, 73 revolving-loan-fund grants and supplemental funding totaling $90 million, and 290 cleanup grants totaling $69.9 million. These grant funds have paved the way for more than $2.4 billion in public and private cleanup and redevelopment investment and for nearly 15,499 jobs in assessment, cleanup, construction, and redevelopment. These investments and jobs target local, underserved, and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods — places where environmental cleanups and new jobs are most needed.

Nationwide, about $17.5 million of the latest round of assessment and cleanup funding will benefit small and rural communities with populations of less than 10,000. Approximately $25 million will go to communities receiving assessment and cleanup funding for the first time. Selected recipients will each receive between $200,000 and $600,000 in funding to work on individual sites or several sites within the community. These funds will provide communities with necessary resources to determine the extent of site contamination, remove environmental uncertainties, and clean up contaminated properties where needed. Brownfields assessment and cleanup activities represent a stride toward realizing a site’s full potential, while protecting public health and the environment.

Chelsea site during and after cleanup and redevelopment at the former Lawrence Metals Site

For example, the site where a former industrial and textile manufacturing company operated in Chelsea is in the center of the city, where more than 45,000 people live within a one-mile radius. Hundreds of Chelsea High School students walk by the property every day. After all the manufacturing operations, the site was contaminated with PCBs and other contaminants. An EPA team involving multiple EPA cleanup programs, including brownfields investment, worked closely with the city and state to create a multi-party-funded cleanup and redevelopment opportunity. The development expanded the presence of lodging services in the Chelsea downtown with the building of the Homewood Suites Boston Logan Airport Chelsea Hotel.

Addressing and cleaning up sites, like those in the Chelsea neighborhood, across the nation will ultimately boost local economies and leverage redevelopment jobs while protecting public health and the environment, the EPA notes. Brownfield sites are community assets because of their locations and associated infrastructure advantages. Studies have shown that residential property values near brownfields sites that are cleaned up increase between 5% and 15%.

The study also determined that brownfield cleanup can increase overall property values within a one-mile radius. A study analyzing data near 48 brownfield sites shows that an estimated $29 million to $97 million in additional tax revenue was generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup. This is two to seven times more than the $12.4 million the EPA contributed to the cleanup of those brownfields.

There are an estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites in America. As of May 2017, more than 124,759 jobs and $24 billion of public and private funding has been leveraged as a result of assessment grants and other EPA brownfields grants. On average, $16.11 was leveraged for each EPA brownfields dollar, and 8.5 jobs leveraged per $100,000 of EPA brownfields funds expended on assessment, cleanup, and revolving-loan-fund cooperative agreements.

Environment and Engineering Sections

Beneath the Surface

The ground beneath the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant

The ground beneath the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant is cleaned up by OTO so Chinese rail car maker CRRC MA USA can build a factory there.

The firm known colloquially as OTO has been involved in most of the major building projects that have taken place across the region in the past few decades — everything from the major addition at Baystate Medical Center to construction of a subway-car manufacturing plant in Springfield’s east end. But much of the company’s work goes unnoticed, because it takes place before the heavy machinery arrives. To say their work is important, though, would be to only, well, scratch the surface.

Jim Okun and his partners often joke that no one ever sees their best work.

Indeed, it generally takes place where almost no one goes; although O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates (OTO) has been involved in almost every major building project in Western Mass. for the last 20 years, the bulk of work that the specialty geo-environmental engineering consulting firm does is literally beneath the ground.

“Our work often takes place before the heavy equipment shows up,” Okun said about the Springfield firm. “We deal with the environmental safety of soil and water as well as the engineering properties of soil in or around a new development.”

In other words, they determine not only whether the ground is contaminated by pollutants, but also address whether it can and will remain stable beneath the weight of a new structure.

From left, Jim Okun, Mike Talbot, Kevin O’Reilly and Bob Kirchherr

From left, Jim Okun, Mike Talbot, Kevin O’Reilly and Bob Kirchherr specialize in different areas, which gives their firm the ability to handle complex environmental and engineering problems.

Founding Partner Mike Talbot used the Leaning Tower of Pisa as a prime example of what can go wrong without a preliminary assessment.
“The tower is a classic case of building on bad soil,” he said, explaining that it was erected on a former river estuary and sank into the ground due to the soft, sand-like texture of the dirt under the south side of the monument.

Today, thanks to geo-engineering research and best practices, things like this can be prevented, but it takes expertise combined with creative thinking to solve problems in a way that saves time and money, qualities that are generally unexpected since issues are fairly common.

For example, OTO was recently called to assess a building site in Holyoke, and although the surface appeared clean, research showed it had been home to a former mill, and hazardous materials were found in the old cellar hole area.

Although some companies would have removed all of the contaminated soil and taken it to a landfill, OTO found a way to improve and compact the dirt so it didn’t present any safety risk to humans and could withstand the weight of a new building, steps that ultimately saved the developers a substantial amount of money.


List of Engineering Firms in the Region


The firm also addresses issues that come to the surface when contaminants are found in buildings set to be demolished, or environmental issues are uncovered when a business or school starts to make improvements to, or put an addition on, an existing structure.

“We’re not really consultants, we’re problem solvers,” said Partner Bob Kirchherr. “We stay current with changing regulations and by combining our skills and using scientific techniques we are able to find cost-effective solutions that allow new structures to be built.”

OTO’s work involves an equal mix of projects for commercial, institutional, and government clients across New England and includes asbestos consulting, environmental assessments, geotechnical engineering, human health risk assessment, and related practices. They also work with homeowners on issues such as cleanup after an oil tank has leaked.

About 70% of its jobs are in Massachusetts, but over the past few years its reputation has led to work in other states, and the firm has projects underway in Connecticut; it just started two in New Orleans, and is about to begin one in Dallas.

“Clients like our approach to solving problems,” O’Reilly said, noting that the company uses scientific methods and regulatory knowledge to resolve challenging situations in a way that is practical, pragmatic and cost-effective.

For this edition and its focus on Environment & Engneering, BusinessWest looks at some of the “invisible” problems that O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates has uncovered and what they have done to solve them.

Diverse Talents

The company was founded in 1994 by Kevin O’Reilly, Mike Talbot, and Jim Okun who had worked together at another environmental consulting/engineering firm and wanted to go off on their own.

They set up shop in East Longmeadow, but two years later merged with Enviro Comp in Springfield and moved the business to Springfield.

Kirchherr joined the trio as their fourth partner at the time of the merger.

“It was a good fit because there was a lot of synergy. We had worked on projects together,” O’Reilly said, noting that the merger allowed them to expand the services they offered because Enviro Comp specialized in asbestos remediation, industrial monitoring, and compliance with regulations.

Today the firm has 30 employees, and each partner has a specialty that complements the others and allows the firm to deal with complex projects from start to finish.

O’Reilly focuses on environmental consulting and compliance in Massachusetts, and investigates and plans for the cleanup of waste disposal sites, including brownfields.

Cleaning the soil after an oil leak at a home

Cleaning the soil after an oil leak at a home is one of the most stressful jobs the firm encounters due to the anxiety it causes homeowners.

Talbot concentrates on geotechnical engineering and Massachusetts Contingency Plan compliance; Okun also focuses on MCP compliance; but his expertise includes PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) assessment and management; risk assessment and brownfields development.

Kirchherr specializes in asbestos management; indoor air quality and industrial hygiene; safety and environmental compliance; and lead inspection and management.

“Most companies don’t have the skills needed to deal with environmental, soil, and building issues so people come to us because we do it all,” Okun said.

Talbot noted that people often drive by sites and wonder why they have remained vacant, but in those instances there is usually a problem because banks require an environmental site assessment before investing in a project because they want to understand the risks and costs associated with building.

The principals at OTO say there are few sites today without problems, because almost every desirable business location has had at least one building on it and when they are demolished, it’s uncommon to find clean soil beneath.

“Today every site has challenges and every project requires all of our skills,” Talbot told Business West.

For example, a few weeks ago a seemingly straightforward job suddenly turned complex. The firm had been hired to investigate the foundation of an existing building that a client wanted to repurpose, but it discovered that it had once served as a gas station and had to be torn down.

Problems also arise due to chemicals called PCBs that were used in building materials in the U.S. between 1950 and 1979.

Kirchherr says the caulk around windows in schools often contains PCB’s, so when a city or town decides to replace single panes with energy efficient glass, the putty has to be tested and toxic ingredients in the caulk can complicate the project.

Unearthing Solutions

Projects the firm has undertaken range from work at individual homes and in large buildings and developments, and include the new addition to Baystate Medical Center and the recently built Roger Putnam Vocational Technical High School. OTO also recently completed work for Chinese rail car maker CRRC MA USA which is building a factory in Springfield on the site of the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant. It was a brownfields site, and OTO assisted the former owner with cleanup, including asbestos removal in the old building, but then had to make sure the soil met standards that would allow CRRC to build there.

Talbot said the land contained a lot of loose soil and the firm designed a solution to compact it using a special technique that will allow it to support the weight of the rail cars manufactured inside the building. It then provided engineering services to design a new foundation.

The revitalization of Ludlow Mills was another project that required considerable environmental remediation, and the firm worked closely with Kenneth Delude, recently retired president of WestMass Area Development Corp. on that project; and also helped get Lee Premium Outlets off the ground, assistance needed because a portion of the land near the entrance was once home to a mill that dated back to the Civil War.

Clients include the Diocese of Springfield; Smith College; Amherst College; Springfield College; American International College; and private schools such as Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, and projects include work at Six Flags New England that was necessary before rides such as the Superman Coaster could be built.

And in some instances, the firm has been at a site almost immediately after a problem is discovered. For example, 15 minutes after the 2011 tornado finished wreaking havoc throughout Western Mass, Kirchherr walked down to a family member’s home across the street from the former Cathedral High School and helped efforts to stabilize the building with the Diocese of Springfield’s emergency response team.

“We identified long-term safety related issues with regards to a potential renovation because it was not known at the time if the building would be reused,” Kirchherr said, explaining that their work included litigation with the insurance company because the initial settlement offer was inadequate.

“It was a very complex project that required a lot of interaction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but we provided services throughout the process,” he continued, adding that he serves on the Diocese of Springfield Building Commission and is a member of the board of trustees for St. Michael’s Academy.

O’Reilly Talbot & Okun has also undertaken a lot of preconstruction work for the City of Springfield. A site assessment before the Basketball of Fame was built turned out to be another involved project, because 19 buildings had to be demolished to make room for the new museum.

“We also provided litigation and oversight assistance when the former Union Station in Springfield was taken by eminent domain,” Kirchherr said, adding they worked on that project from start to finish.

The firm’s residential jobs often involve leaking oil tanks, which is difficult work.

“You can only dig so far under a house without undermining the foundation, and you have to meet stringent soil and groundwater standards. Vapors can rise from the ground, get into the house and cause risk to occupants, and the oil can also impact a person’s neighbors as it can migrate into groundwater,” O’Reilly said, explaining that in some cases a ventilation system must be installed to pipe air from below the floor of a home into the atmosphere for years after the leak.

“These are the most stressful projects we do because they affect people personally,” he said.

Changing Landscape

Ensuring that soil is clean and the ground is stable for new projects, along with assessing old buildings for environmental hazards before they are reused or torn down are services that fall under the umbrella of O’Reilly Talbot & Okun Associates.

“It’s a very dynamic field so we keep on top of all of the regulatory issues,” Talbot said. “New solutions to old problems come up all the time, and we offer the latest and best practices available.”

So even though the work they do is something most people never see or even think about, it has been critical to economic growth in Western Mass. and always begins far below the ground.

Environment and Engineering Sections

Sustaining Success

CET

From its inception in 1976, the Center for EcoTechnology has always responded to the needs of businesses when it comes to being more energy-efficient and reducing waste. But in many ways, the nonprofit has also been an innovator, introducing green-business concepts years before they would be considered mainstream. At a time when energy supply and climate change remain serious concerns, CET’s leaders believe the pace of change in this field will be even more intense over the next 40 years — and they’re helping to raise the next generation to meet those challenges.

In many ways, the 1970s was the birth of the modern environmental movement. The decade saw the first Earth Day, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and legislation in the form of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Energy Act.

And, of course, it was the decade when Americans wondered when they would run out of gas.

“We were a reaction to the oil crisis of the ’70s,” said John Majercak, president of the Center for Ecotechnology (CET), the Northampton-based nonprofit celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. “Everyone was worried about energy security.”

Instead of just fretting over this new normal, CET’s founders had an idea: to examine technologies and practices that could improve energy efficiency for businesses and reduce their environmental impact, all while increasing profits and raising quality of life.

John Majercak

John Majercak

“We started in the time of the oil embargo, and dependence on foreign oil was a major concern,” said Associate Director Nancy Nylen, who has been with CET since 1982. “There were environmental concerns as well, but this was before the conversation about climate change. Yet, the solutions were very similar. From the start, we were finding an intersection between what’s helpful for the environment and what’s practical and affordable so it can be adopted.”

At first, CET focused on energy conservation, in particular partnering with utility companies on the relatively new concept of ‘energy audits,’ whereby a consultant visits a home or business to talk about ways in which their building or operation could be revamped to save on energy costs.

“We were right on the cusp of that happening across the country,” Nylen said. “In Massachusetts, CET was really the one that got that started, the concept of going through a building and assessing opportunities for reducing energy and identifying waste. That was a new concept, and it was educational for the people; they really appreciated it. I run into people who remember us coming into their building 30 years ago.”

Other early initiatives included the development of a passive solar greenhouse at Berkshire Botanical Garden and Project SUEDE, a program that taught solar energy, energy-conservation theory, and carpentry to unemployed people, who then installed 31 solar space-heating systems in low-income households.

“We were looking to help people and businesses reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and right from the start we were providing this information in a technical-assistance role and through one-on-one workshops and information sessions,” Nylen told BusinessWest. “We were much smaller then — four people, just a tiny organization working on a couple of programs.”


Go HERE for a chart of Environmental Services in the region


CET still conducts energy audits, helping homeowners and businesses understand the value of sustainable systems and educating them on the incentives available to make changes. But the organization, which now employs some 75 people, has become much more, expanding its mission into a host of new opportunities, from composting and food-waste reduction to recycling building materials through its EcoBuilding Bargains store in Springfield, just to name a few.

“If you look at what’s happened over the past 40 years, the pace of change has really accelerated; the whole environmental space has blown up,” Majercak said. “It’s really exciting and creates a ton of opportunities. It also means we have to keep on our toes to make sure we’re working in areas of the most need. Looking at the next 40 years, the pace of change will be even faster.”

For this issue’s focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest visits with the leaders of a nonprofit that has been a leader, innovator, and model for the growing green-business industry, and how they expect their work to continue to evolve.

CET’s fellowship program,

From left, Claire Cuozzo, Brittney Topel, Kelsey Colpitts, Coryanne Mansell, and Diana Vazquez, the 2015-16 cohort of CET’s fellowship program, spent 10 months gaining experience to help them prepare for a career in the environmental field.

Dollars and Sense

CET has long used the slogan “we make green make sense,” stressing the intersections between environmental awareness, good business sense, and positive community impact. That goal has always been shaped in part by events outside the Commonwealth.

Take the ‘garbage barge’ of 1987, the vessel that carried 3,168 tons of New York trash — originally headed for a methane-production project in North Carolina but then rejected by that state’s officials — along the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico, with no place to land.

“With the garbage barge, waste management and recycling became a huge issue,” Majercak said. “It galvanized the media and policy makers and organizations like CET, who started saying, ‘let’s do something about it.’ We worked to get the first recycling bylaws in the city of Springfield, and we helped towns and residents set up their first recycling programs. We also started working with businesses around recycling.”

Those efforts have grown significantly over the years, including a program — funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection — called RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts, through which CET offers technical advice and assistance to companies regarding recycling and composting waste.

“We’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of businesses across Massachusetts,” he said. “We help them set up or improve their recycling or composting programs.”

That work is more important after the state passed a law in 2014 limiting the amount of food waste businesses may dispose of. “We’ve done some award-winning work in Massachusetts in places like Big Y, Whole Foods, and Stop & Shop, as well as lots and lots of restaurants and food manufacturers,” Majercak said. “We’re now doing similar work in Connecticut and looking to take it across New England.”

Nylen referred to such efforts as “innovating and mainstreaming,” the effort to identify the next big need or trend in green business and help popularize it. For Lorenzo Macaluso, it’s more about showing companies how such practices benefit them and their customers.

“For businesses, we’re really adept at understanding their needs and adapting opportunities for them, and then being a neutral solutions finder for them, whether we’re talking about recycling, composting, or energy-efficiency work,” said Macaluso, CET’s director of Green Business Services. “We’re not there to sell them on a product — we’re not going to install a specific type of boiler; we’re not going to compost the food waste ourselves. What we will do is say, ‘here are your options, here are the business implications, the costs, and the incentives.’”

In doing so, CET has worked with companies ranging from small shops to large entities like Big Y and Titeflex.

Nancy Nylen

Nancy Nylen says CET was born from a desire to help people reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, and that goal is still a driving force today.

“We’ve been working with Big Y for over 20 years, way before it was cool,” Macaluso said. “They’re now recycling and composting at all their stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and when you factor in the avoided costs of trash disposal and a little bit of revenue from the materials they’re recycling, it’s like a $3 million annual boost to the bottom line. For them, that’s a big deal. They’re also able to take that information about their savings — how they’re not throwing things into the trash, how much greenhouse gas they’re saving  — and share it with their customers.”

That public-information aspect is important for many CET clients, who recognize the popularity of green practices in what has long been a very progressive region. “They want to share the good work of what they’re doing. They can use that to market themselves, or just market internally, sharing the information with their employees.”

The bottom line benefits in other ways as well, Macaluso added. Insulation upgrades, air-quality improvements, and other efforts can also improve employee comfort, which in turn helps with productivity.

“Green business is now half of what we do. There’s so much potential in the commercial space,” Majercak said. “It’s a benefit to their business, and something their customers and shareholders expect. This whole world of greening your business has become pretty much mainstream. Not every business is going green, but the idea that it should happen is pretty well accepted.”

Second Life

Another success story at CET has been EcoBuilding Bargains, which began life as the ReStore in 2001 before undergoing a move and rebranding five years ago.

In its first incarnation on Albany Street in Springfield, the ReStore dealt in recycled building materials, aiming to save builders and do-it-yourselfers money while reducing the burden on landfills. A move to Warwick Street in 2011 involved a $900,000 energy retrofit on the existing building on that site — an example of CET practicing what it preached.

Those improvements began on the exterior of the building, including a white roof to deflect heat, and insulated panels lining the building that interlock in a way that seals out all air leakage. EcoBuilding Bargains also ‘superinsulated’ its roof, using insulation donated from MassMutual when that company installed a solar array on its roof.

In addition, the 3 million-BTU, oil-fired boiler in the basement was replaced with a 500,000-BTU gas unit, while infrared tube heaters located throughout the structure heat building occupants but not the air. The efficiency extends to lighting as well; much of the store features sensor-controlled lights that maintain a low level when no one is around them, but become brighter when someone walks in.

CET4RestoreMost importantly, though, EcoBuilding Bargains has met an ambitious goal set when it moved, doubling the amount of materials it recycles (and keeps out of landfills). Over the next couple of years, it will seek to increase that figure by another 50%.

“There’s a lot of opportunity — lots of stuff being thrown away, a lot of people on a budget who want to fix their homes affordably,” Majercak said. “What’s different now is that reuse is becoming trendy. This new generation of homeowners in their 20s and 30s really like this style of ‘upcycling’ and believe in the mission of upcycling. So we’re getting the bargain-hunting, weekend-warrior type of shopper, but also the mission-style shopper, too.”

CET has also found success in its Go Green Campaign, a three-year effort (2014-16) to help 80,000 people take green actions, reduce energy usage equivalent to taking 40,000 homes off the grid, lowering carbon emissions equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road, and creating $100 million in lifetime energy and waste savings for residents and business owners.

“A number of years ago, we decided to focus on measurable impact, to see if we’re doing a good job or not, and also to get people excited about working with us,” Majercak told BusinessWest. “We’ll meet or exceed all these goals by the end of the year. People say, ‘does it really make a difference if I start up a recycling program or change the lights in my house?’ Yes, it adds up over time; it makes a huge difference. And we’ll have new goals at the end of the year.”

These numbers are important because demonstrating impact is the most effective way to build public support for CET’s work, he went on. “They want to know we’re making good investments, and this is one way we can make the case to the community that supports us.”

The center is also making an effort to raise up the next generation of green innovators, through a fellowship program it launched five years ago. Five fellows per year — recent college graduates from across the U.S. — are chosen to work with CET for one year and receive training in environmental science, energy efficiency, waste reduction, and other aspects of green business. They’ve gone on to work at similarly minded nonprofits, and also corporations looking to go green.

“We see it as a way to develop tomorrow’s leaders. This generation is actually going to be responsible for how we deal with climate change,” Majercak said. “They’re super-bright, super-motivated, and when you interact with them, it gives you hope for the future. It’s a very exciting program.”

Nylen agreed. “We started with them doing primarily education and outreach. But it became clear they were really interested in different aspects of what we were doing at CET, helping with green businesses, helping with EcoBuildingBargains,” she said. “We saw it as a way to bring a new set of eyes to our work and be a training ground for new leaders. It’s been quite rewarding.”

Greener Landscape

Majercak is gratified when he surveys the business landscape in Massachusetts and recognizes how ingrained environmental concerns and energy efficiency have become in the Bay State, in industries ranging from architecture and construction to healthcare and food service.

“We love working here. We’re very fortunate to be where we are, with the amount of community support we get and the participation in the things we offer,” he said. “It’s a really phenomenal business community here in the Valley and Western Mass., and Massachusetts and New England in general — very forward-thinking and supportive of our work and very actively engaged, and that’s important because organizations like us need to show it’s possible so our work can be replicated elsewhere. And that’s certainly happening; people call from all over the country.”

Nylen agreed. “We’ve been in an environment in Massachusetts where policy has been beneficial to promoting energy efficiency, and we help bring that to different target audiences, whether homeowners or businesses.”

Majercak knows there’s plenty left to do. For one thing, the next 20 to 30 years will likely see more building retrofitting than new construction. Then there’s the looming threat of climate change, which, if the direst models come to pass, will force everyone to move more quickly toward more sustainable practices.

“If we want to be in a place where we have a low-carbon or no-carbon economy, that’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of innovation,” he said. “It’s going to take not just technology or policy, but getting it to work in the marketplace, getting people to actually practice the behavior, get businesses to make the change.

“It doesn’t matter whether you believe in climate change, or care,” he added. “Everyone knows that wasting energy is not a good thing. Businesses care about the bottom line. Homeowners don’t want to spend too much money. We do a lot of work educating the public on what the benefits are.”

The changing needs of businesses when it comes to green practices lends Nylen’s work a certain freshness, even after 34 years with CET.

“I feel fortunate to do this work as my profession, and to work on each of our new initiatives as they come along. That’s kept me really interested,” she said.

“I’ve always felt we were relevant, but it seems the work we do now is more urgent than ever before,” she added. “Whether we’re reducing costs, reducing waste, or reducing impact on the environment, we can usually find something that addresses what people are interested in. We meet people where they are.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections

Generation Next

President David Pinsky

President David Pinsky says Tighe & Bond projects run the gamut from wastewater-facility design to coastal engineering; from alternative-energy initiatives to the Westfield River levee trail.

In its first 90-plus years, Tighe & Bond had emerged as a Western Mass. leader in civil engineering, carving out a strong reputation and myriad civil-engineering projects around the region. But over the past decade, the company has embarked on an impressive growth trajectory, adding offices, expanding its services, and adding 100 employees. The current vision, President David Pinsky says, involves staying independent, nimble, sensitive to industry trends, and increasingly driven by a burgeoning youth movement.

With 105 years in business and a workforce of 270, Tighe & Bond boasts numerous employees whose experience stretches back four and five decades. But many more are just beginning their career journey.

It’s a healthy mix, David Pinsky says.

“For the first time, Millennials are the largest generation at Tighe & Bond,” the firm’s president noted. “I think it’s exciting — four generations working together. We’ve got young professionals working with seasoned people, and they’re all learning from each other. We have some wonderful young talent; I’m so excited.”

At the same time, many of the company’s long-time clients are experiencing the same shift, as Baby Boomers begin to retire and Millennials climb the leadership ladder. It’s just one more reminder that nothing stays the same in the world of civil engineering, which is why Tighe & Bond has maintained an ambitious schedule of growth and expansion over the past decade.

“It starts with a vision for the company,” Pinsky said, holding a copy of a strategic plan, titled “Vision 2020,” the latest iteration of an exercise the company conducts every few years. “We sit down and talk and develop a strategic plan, and that starts with a vision of where we want to go. The real challenge is executing that plan.”

The most basic goal, he told BusinessWest, is to remain a privately owned, independent company at a time of great consolidation in the industry, with larger firms constantly acquiring smaller ones.

“We like exactly where we are; it provides some unique opportunities. We’re a regional, northeast firm — no longer just a Western Mass. firm, but not a national firm. We know our place, and it’s a sweet spot for us. We continue to grow, but not for growth’s sake. We want to grow profitably and be better able to serve our clients.”

That growth has been significant in nature; Tighe & Bond saw its workforce increase from 170 to just over 200 from 2006 to 2011, and the past five years have seen an even more dramatic surge, to a current roster of 270 — what Pinsky calls moderate and steady, but not “crazy,” growth, of between 5% and 10% per year. “That’s comfortable for us, and not overwhelming for employees.”

Growth has come in two ways, he added: Geographic expansion and adding new services. For the former, over the past five years, the company has opened up new offices in Portsmouth, N.H. — allowing it to reach customers in that state as well as Northeastern Mass. and Southern Maine, Pinsky said — as well as new branches in Westwood, serving Eastern Mass., and Red Hook, N.Y.


Go HERE for a PDF chart of the region’s engineering firms


The company had already tackled projects in these areas, Pinsky noted, and expanding its footprint simply enabled it to better serve those clients, as well as shift some employees who live in those areas and had been commuting long distances. In the case of Portsmouth, Tighe & Bond acquired an existing firm, doubled its office size, and retained many of its employees and leadership.

Chief Additions

Partly in response to that growth, Tighe & Bond has added two new leadership positions over the past two years, hiring Bill Hardy as chief operating officer and Bob Belitz as chief financial officer. “It’s been great having their experience and work ethic on the team, helping us as we continue to grow,” Pinsky said.

For more than a century, the company lacked those specific roles. Founded in 1911 to consult on broad-based civil-engineering projects, Tighe & Bond eventually came to specialize in environmental engineering, focusing on water, wastewater, solid-waste, and hazardous-waste issues, and now boasts eight offices in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York.

Holyoke’s new treatment facility

Tighe & Bond designed Holyoke’s new treatment facility that disinfects drinking water using ultraviolet light.

The firm’s diversity of expertise, said Pinsky, has been a buffer against economic downturns in any one area. Currently, about 60% of its projects are public contracts with municipalities and state government agencies throughout New England and New York, and 40% is private work for a diverse group of industries, from healthcare to education to utilities.

Meanwhile, Tighe & Bond has significantly ramped up its expertise and focus on MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) services, Pinsky said, as well as increasing its presence in the realm of coastal engineering.

“That’s a really important service, recognizing that rising tides, storm events, and the effects of climate change can wreak havoc with infrastructure along the coastline, as well as inland near waterways,” he noted, explaining that the company has the expertise to plan and design facilities that are more resilient to events, like Superstorm Sandy in 2012, that threaten public and private infrastructure near coastlines. “It dovetails well with the services we already provide.”

The firm has also expanded its presence in renewable-energy projects over the past decade, Pinsky noted, adding that municipalities and developers in the Northeast are increasingly valuing alternative energy sources, and Tighe & Bond has established itself as an expert in the field, working on numerous photovoltaic, wind, and hydro power projects.

As an example, he said the firm has undertaken a number of solar projects where photovoltaic solar has been placed on capped landfills.

“Since we had expertise on the landfill side and expertise on the solar side, there’s a great synergy there,” he noted. “A lot of those projects are happening here.”

While seeing growth in all its markets, however, Tighe & Bond, like all such firms, has faced an increasingly complex regulatory and permitting landscape, one where environmental concerns once considered minor are now paramount.

“The permitting hurdles for most projects are very significant,” Pinsky said. “But we have experts on staff who are very skilled at navigating their way through the process; that’s absolutely something we bring to our clients. Permits can affect schedule, cost, and project viability to a significant extent, so having that expertise is very helpful.”

One advantage of being such a large, regional company is that employees are often called upon to work with other offices, whether by commuting or videoconferencing, if they bring a specific skill set to a challenging job, he went on. “We’re a very collaborative firm, so projects are done across offices all the time. We don’t consider a project to be a Westfield project or a Portsmouth project; it’s a Tighe & Bond project. We bring in the best talent we have to suit the needs of the client.”

Priming the Pump

Because that talent is critical to a project’s success, Pinsky said, it’s vital that Tighe & Bond retain its key staffers while continually bringing in new blood.

“It’s absolutely a big challenge,” he told BusinessWest. “We talk about the war for talent, and we’re certainly in the middle of that. People have so many opportunities coming out of school, a lot of choices. A lot of companies are looking for people who want to make a difference in engineering and the environment, and we do as well.”

Tighe & Bond now employs more Millennials

Tighe & Bond now employs more Millennials than any other generation, which bodes well for its future.

While engineering programs at colleges and universities are generally drawing attention, competition can be fierce for graduates, he went on, and firms especially value those who have worked in the field between three and 10 years, as they have some experience but also plenty of potential to grow.

“There’s a shortage of them. We certainly do a good job growing them internally, always thinking that a person we’re hiring today, in three years, will be one of those people. We make a lot of training programs, both internal and external, available to employees, and we certainly immerse them in a lot of project work by surrounding them with experienced people they can learn from and be mentored by.”

To be sure, Tighe & Bond employees regularly volunteer in classroom programs to encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers, but it also seeks to be an “employer of choice,” Pinsky said, for college graduates launching their careers.

“People want to work for great firms — they want to go to firms where they can grow and develop their careers, where there are strong core values, and for us, those values include respect, integrity, commitment, excellence, and reliability. They want to know they are contributing to the firm’s overall vision.”

The days of writing a vision plan and stashing it in the CEO’s top drawer are over, he added, noting that Vision 2020 was developed in conjunction with the whole team and distributed to each of them.

One recent change was the dramatic renovation of the firm’s Westfield headquarters, which increased the floor space from 32,000 to 42,000 square feet, accommodating 180 employees in one building instead of 130 in two, and adding more space for collaborative work. The project included ‘green’ elements like LEED-certified carpeting, LED lighting and more natural light, and a stepped-up recycling initiative to reduce waste. Similar expansion projects have been undertaken at the Worcester, Portsmouth, and Middletown, Conn. branches.

“We’ve improved our offices, invested in technology, and, overall, invested in people. That’s extremely important to us. We’ve created an environment where our people love being here,” Pinsky said. “Sometimes little things matter. It’s the culture of the organization — being connected with clients, and everyone in the office knowing they’re appreciated for the time they put in and the good work they do.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections

What Goes Around …

Noah (left) and Seth Goodman

Noah (left) and Seth Goodman left their family’s paper recycling business to establish Northstar Recycling and fill a void in the marketplace.

Noah Goodman scrolls through photos on his smartphone, searching for a picture of a whiteboard.

It was taken before he and his brother, Seth, opened Northstar Recycling, and showcases the first step they took in establishing their company: Creating a set of core values.

The list includes, “We Do First Things First”; “We Count on Each Other for Help”; “We Do Our Personal Best Today”; “We Do the Next Right Thing”; and “We are Impeccable With Our Word.” But the final item, which is underlined and was written in capital letters, reads “WE HAVE FUN!”

It’s a principle they both subscribe to, and although making sure employees have a good time at work is hardly a priority for many business owners, these partners attribute their accelerated growth and success to the combination of these core values and the atmosphere they have carefully crafted in their East Longmeadow facility.

They say it has helped them attract graduates from prestigious schools such as Princeton — they actually have five Ivy Leaguers on the payroll — as well as employees from large urban centers such as New York City, who joined their firm because they want to work in a place where their well-being is a primary consideration.

In fact, that premise recently earned the company accolades when Fortune magazine ranked Northstar Recycling as one of the top places for women to work in the U.S.

Teresa Chamberlain graduated from Lehigh University last year with a degree in environmental engineering and environmental studies and moved from Ohio to work at Northstar. Her story, and remarks, are typical.

“It’s a relaxing, professional environment,” said the client development executor, who takes a proactive stance in her job. “I’m not micromanaged and because the responsibility to get my work done is my own, I am empowered to do things well.”

The Goodmans told BusinessWest that Northstar is filling a need in the marketplace, and has experienced phenomenal growth. “Four years ago, we had 11 employees. Today, we have 34,” Noah said. “We’ve grown so quickly that we are doubling our space in January and taking over the entire 8,000 square foot building we are in.”

The interior of their space also reflects attention to detail. The entranceway is dominated by a soothing, 9-foot waterfall with Northstar’s logo imprinted on the rock surface beneath the flowing water. The ceilings are lofty and a hallway with an arched faux metallic-patterned silver ceiling leads to spacious offices and a break room, which is kept well stocked with free food and snacks.

There is a picnic area outside with a barbeque grill and patio tables with umbrellas; they are installing a horseshoe pit; employees are treated to a meal each week at the local Coughlin’s Place restaurant, can bring their dogs to work, and get free haircuts, courtesy of their employer, at Ace Barber Shop in the building.

And of course, they have their own composter. “We are a zero- waste-to-landfill office,” said Noah, explaining that Northstar’s purpose is to create recycling programs for national manufacturing firms and other businesses, and materials they deal with include cardboard, plastic, metal, wood, and organics.

“We partner with companies and manage their recycling, because they typically have environmental goals they have to achieve by a certain date and time,” Seth noted.

Noah explained that the company’s clients can’t find outlets for their raw materials, so Northstar does that for them in a way that creates a revenue stream, an important goal in addition to achieving sustainability and their environmental goals.

It’s an arena Northstar not only excels in, but one in which it is pushing the boundaries of what can be accomplished (more about that later). It also makes sure the recycling takes place as close to the manufacturing firm as possible.


Click HERE for a listing of area environmental services companies


“We’re always looking to reduce the distance where materials are recycled; a lot of things today are being sent to China and India in overseas containers,” Noah explained. “Recycled paper is the largest item exported out of the U.S. by volume.”

As a result, they work hard to find local recyclers wherever their client has a facility. “We make it as easy for the manufacturer as possible,” Seth said. “We coordinate everything, including the containers they use and the trucks and trailers that transport materials.”

Solid Foundation

The Goodman brothers are fifth-generation entrepreneurs. “Our great, great grandfather was a peddler in Western Mass., and he and our great grandfather had a scrap metal recycling company on Ferry Street in Springfield,” Seth explained.

Their father and uncle joined the business in the ’60s, but changed its focus and turned it into a private paper-recycling firm. “It grew to be one of the largest paper recyclers in New England, and we both worked in the business for 20 years,” Noah said, adding that these experiences helped them develop strong work ethics and they “did every job there that anyone could do.”

Seth Goodman

Seth Goodman says Northstar has employees whose only job is to continuously improve recycling programs at clients’ manufacturing plants.

However, five years ago the brothers developed a different vision, and made the decision to branch off on their own. “We felt there was a real need to help companies reduce what they were putting into landfills and increase what they were recycling,” Seth recalled.

Noah told BusinessWest they realized that U.S. companies had begun to take sustainability seriously and knew that large Fortune 500 firms didn’t have the expertise to meet stringent standards, which require them to reduce their carbon footprint as well as the amount of material they put into the trash.

They said the U.S. produces more than 50 millions tons of waste every year (more than any other country in the world), and more than half of it is dumped into landfills, contaminating water supplies and polluting the air with dangerous amounts of methane gas, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

This factual information, coupled with their shared values and relationship — “we’re best friends and very much in tune with each other; we communicate openly and honestly and defer to whoever is the most passionate about something, which means there is harmony at the top,” Noah said, — led them to launch Northstar Recycling in 2011 with 11 employees.

Their core belief was simple: Waste has value, and it is damaging to the planet and financially irresponsible to send reusable resources to a landfill. And from that their mission statement was born — to help businesses recycle more and send less to landfills.

“We felt we had the experience and know-how to help companies and saw a huge future in it,” Noah said.

But before they started, they spent time designing the culture of their future workplace.

“We wanted to create a workplace where people felt emotionally safe; where they could speak up openly and have their opinion heard and considered,” Seth said. “We also wanted our employees to have fun and care enough to really want to help us succeed.”

The brothers each have three young children, and because spending time with them is a priority, they felt it was only fair to provide employees with the same luxury.

“So, if someone has to leave work for a family issue, the first thing we ask is: ‘Is everything OK?’ and the next is ‘What can we do to support you?’” Seth said.

“Every decision we make day-to-day is in line with our core values — they are what and who we are as human beings,” he went on. “It’s also what drives our business and our culture, which are the foundations for our success. We have a great strategy and execute really well, but we couldn’t do it without our values; the people who work for us really want to see us succeed because of the environment we’ve created.”

In addition to those in East Longmeadow, the company has three employees in New York, two in Philadelphia, and one in Cincinnati.

However, everyone is brought to East Longmeadow on a quarterly basis, and after working together, they enjoy a fun-filled evening activity.

“We’ve staged a scavenger hunt in Springfield; a square dance with a professional caller and country western band; a team-building event; and a painting party,” Seth recalled. “And every year, everyone goes on a two-to four-day trip. Last year we saw Broadway shows. We have also gone to Mohawk Mountain (in Connecticut) to go horseback riding, and our sales marketing team (which goes on different trips) has gone to a dude ranch in Montana, skied in Jacksonville, Wyoming, gone white water rafting in West Virginia, and visited South Beach in Miami.”

Noah said the perks are important. “We want our employees to be happy, because if they are happy and healthy, they are more productive. So although we do have hourly weeks, we aren’t clock watchers,” he noted. “And everything that has happened in the last four years has exceeded our expectations.”

New Solutions

Seth said that when Northstar goes into a company for the first time, it conducts an initial assessment, which includes looking at areas where trash is generated.

“We typically find they are throwing away material that is recyclable,” he said.

At that point they assign two teams to work with the client. One of their primary roles is to find outlets for material that is being discarded, but could be diverted. Items often include stretch film, plastic strapping, and cardboard, which is frequently not all recaptured, even if attempts have been made to recycle it.

A Northstar team also creates a set of internal standard operating procedures for the client, because in many instances even if the company has established these measures, they are not efficient or inclusive enough.

“We have people whose sole job is to work at manufacturing sites to continuously improve their recycling programs,” Seth said.

The Goodmans are proud that their business has a positive impact on the environment and say the potential for growth is unlimited.

“There is a lot of opportunity because many companies have set goals to be more environmentally proactive. In fact, one of the nation’s largest fast food chains told all their suppliers if they want to continue to do business with them, their manufacturing facilities have to be ‘zero waste to landfill’ by a certain date,” Seth told BusinessWest. “Our business is being driven by large consumer-product companies throughout the country.”

Clients are visited on a frequent basis, and in addition, the home team constantly looks for new, innovative ways to recycle items traditionally considered non-recyclable. Success stories include selling textile scraps to a company that is using them to make bow-and-arrow targets.

“We also work with a large pet food manufacturer who used to send all its wet scraps to a landfill; now they go to a composter,” Seth said, noting that Northstar’s employees think creatively or out of the box.

“We research everything scrap items could possibly be used for, and are creating markets where there weren’t markets before,” he went on. “For example, we have a client that produces the film used to package coffee; it’s made of three layers of plastic and one layer of metal, and the scraps were going into the trash. But we found a company that turns them into a reusable packaging product.”

Noah said it’s a plus when consumer product firms can state in advertisements and literature that they are a sustainable company and all their manufacturers are zero waste to landfill.

“Northstar becomes a resource for these major corporations, and in many cases they refer their vendors to us; if they are having trouble meeting their goals, we can help,” he noted. “They realize they can devote a lot of time, energy and resources to the issue or bring their problem to us as we have a proven track record of getting the job done.”

Moving Forward

The Goodmans are proud of their company and what they have accomplished.

“When we began, we realized there were not enough nimble companies to help national corporations reach their goals,” Noah said. “There was a void in the market and we bet our financial livelihood on the belief that we could fill it, which we have done.”

They are also happy to continue their family tradition of entrepreneurship.

“Our company is located in East Longmeadow and our family has been in the area for five generations, so we’re proud to be able to help revitalize the business community in Western Mass. and are really excited to be bringing new jobs to the area,” Seth said. “But it all goes back to our core values.”

Environment and Engineering Sections

Opinion: An Opportunity to Fuel Growth

By RICHARD K. SULLIVAN

Sometimes it’s hard to accept ‘yes’ for an answer. Does Massachusetts need significantly more natural gas to reduce sky-high energy and heating costs, continue to meet its climate goals, enable the robust development of renewable energy sources, and sustain and grow its economy?

There is no question it does. Numerous independent studies have found that the state and region face a critical natural gas shortage, including one commissioned by the Patrick administration and released at the end of his term. These findings shouldn’t be surprising. New England has a limited natural gas infrastructure, and its pipelines are reaching — and in some cases have met — maximum capacity, yet it relies more than ever on natural gas not only to heat homes during long winters but to generate electricity year round.

The region’s dependence on natural gas will only increase as it continues to replace old oil, coal, and nuclear plants with state-of -the-art electricity generators fired by natural gas, a more environmentally friendly alternative. Since 2000, 22 gas plants have been built in New England, and nearly 50% of its electric generation is now fueled by natural gas, a percentage that will climb as new plants come on line.

The problem is that the region’s demand for natural gas exceeds the supply.

These constraints have created a number of serious problems, often downplayed or ignored by those who oppose adding capacity, fearing that natural gas will hurt development of renewable energy and impede other environmental objectives.

But increased natural gas capacity will help enable the adoption of wind and solar power. Renewable energy is intermittent, available only when the sun shines and wind blows. As such, there must be a reliable energy source to support renewables, which is why President Obama has called natural gas a “bridge fuel” that will power the economy with less carbon pollution as the use of renewable energy expands.

More natural gas will also alleviate other environmental concerns. New England remains the country’s most oil-reliant region. Throughout the winter, when home heating takes priority, new and highly efficient electric plants do not have reliable access to natural gas. As a result, the region must revert to oil and coal to meet its electricity needs, which causes large increases in carbon emissions.

According to ISO New England, which is responsible for operating the region’s power grid, on Feb. 15 this year, for example, coal and oil contributed to 42% of the region’s electricity. Gas produced only 17%. Massachusetts has made larger-than-projected cuts in emissions in recent years mainly by shifting to natural gas to produce electricity, but it will be difficult to lock in these benefits without a substantial increase in the gas supply.

There are also the stark economic realities that have resulted from inadequate natural gas capacity in the region, which at the peak of winter needs falls short by more than 1 billion cubic feet a day. The lack of supply has dramatically driven up the cost of natural gas for heating and electricity generation. New England pays the highest prices for electricity in the continental United States, and over the last two years spent a staggering $7 billion more for electricity than neighboring regions.

These costs are borne by businesses and consumers alike, and are a particular burden for low-income households. They threaten economic stability and growth. A recent Forbes story featured the owner of a specialty paper mill in Western Mass. whose biggest worry — more than labor, raw material costs and markets — is energy. She pays 14 cents per kilowatt-hour to run her machines, compared to a national average of 6.5 cents, and estimated she spends $1.2 million a year more for electricity than she needs to.

Study after study has found that meeting the region’s natural gas demands will lower electricity and gas costs, spur renewables and help meet climate goals.

Any proposed pipeline has to be sized to serve existing demand and provide lower-cost and reliable natural gas to western Massachusetts, allowing local distribution companies to expand supplies to local homes and businesses — spurring economic activity and growth in a region that is often overlooked.

The time for further study has past. It’s time to accept “yes” for the answer to the question of whether Western Mass. and New England needs more natural gas and act.

Richard K. Sullivan is president of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. Formerly, he served as chief of staff to Gov. Deval Patrick and secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs; (413) 787-1555.

Environment and Engineering Sections
The Goat Girls Offer a Green Solution to Invasive Plants

Hope Crolius, seen here with Dan

Hope Crolius, seen here with Dan, says the goat business came with a steep learning curve.

Hope Crolius remembers that it all started … well, quite organically.

She had left a career as a writer — she started as a reporter with the Daily Hampshire Gazette and later freelanced, working for several area colleges — and was doing well with her next entrepreneurial venture, known as Artemis Garden Consultants, LLC, what she described as a “garden-revival company.”

The customer inquiry that changed and enriched her life in several ways came in 2010 from a landowner in Shutesbury who had a barn and pasture that hadn’t been visited by grazing animals in some time and was starting to fill in with what Crolius called “early-succession woody plants” — red cedar and certain kinds of cherries.

“I said flippantly — I wasn’t serious, but in a way, I was — ‘you should really just get some sheep,’” she recalled. “And he took me up on it — he said, ‘go for it,’ and I went for it.”

Actually, before going for it, she did a little research and quickly discovered that what this landowner really needed were some goats, not sheep, because the former ‘browse’ while the latter graze, an important distinction. And she went about getting some — not for him, as it turned out (although she didn’t really know it at the time), but for her.

“I was driving by a farm in Amherst and saw a herd of goats wandering around the farmyard,” she recalled. “I knocked on the door and said, ‘would you ever be interested in selling any of these goats?’ and she said, ‘I’d definitely be interested; we have too many of them.’”

Crolius eventually acquired three mixed-breed ‘mongrels’ that would form the foundation of an enterprise known now as the Goat Girls.

It’s known not only throughout this region, but across the state and in other parts of New England. That’s because there aren’t many operations like this in the Northeast — they are more popular in other regions — and also because there is a rapidly growing constituency that, like the landowner in Shutesbury, would prefer to clear brush and invasive plants in a decidedly green fashion.

Indeed, while this is definitely the off season for the venture’s 19 goats — who are spending their time enduring the cold (something they do rather easily) while dining on a large supply of donated Christmas trees, among other things — the spring’s schedule is filling up, and fast.

And it’s been that way almost from the beginning.

“Right away, the phone started to ring; people would say, ‘I hear you have goats to rent,’” she told BusinessWest. “This thing just happened, and it just took off.”

The Goat Girls’ 19 goats

The Goat Girls’ 19 goats are currently feasting on hay and Christmas trees, but soon they’ll have tastier fare, such as poison ivy and bittersweet, to munch on.

Today, teams of goats (usually six or seven to a team) are dispatched to jobs large and small, at a rate that averages $575 per week. Clients have ranged from homeowners looking to clear a portion of a two-acre lot to the administrators of the 64-acre Boulder Brook Reservation in Wellesley, who hired the goats and their herders to clear the poison ivy, wild grape, and bittersweet that started invading the premises after crews for a nearby landowner cut down nearly 100 trees in 2011, letting the sunshine in.

There is no five-year plan for this venture or something approaching a firm, long-term strategy, but there is already talk of expansion and perhaps even licensing or franchising the operation. Meanwhile, one new, and popular, twist is an intensive training course the company offers to those from outside its service region who may want to start something similar.

It all sounds easy, but there was actually a steep learning curve involving everything from pricing to goat maintenance and veterinary care; from the ins of outs of electrified fencing to simple math — how many goats does it take to clear a certain amount of acreage?

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest takes a look at that learning curve and how the Goat Girls, even though it remains a very small venture, has became a rare breed of business success story.

Branch Offices

While quite proud of what she’s done with the Goat Girls, Crolius stressed repeatedly that this concept is certainly nothing new or imaginative — at least not the part about goats doing the work of lawnmowers, pruners, and herbicides.

Indeed, she said goats are second only to dogs in terms of the origin of their domestication, and there are those who say they actually predate canines in that regard. Meanwhile, goats have been used to clear brush and unwanted plant species for centuries; during World War II, when gas was heavily rationed, homeowners, golf courses, and park superintendents used sheep and goats to keep their grounds in order.

More recently, goats have been used in forest-fire-prone states like California to clear the undergrowth that can fuel such a blaze and extend its life, and sheep now patrol a number of landmarks in Paris as an alternative to lawnmowers.

What is relatively new — again, at least in this region — is the notion of goats as a viable, profitable business, said Crolius, stressing the importance of both those adjectives.

This brings her back to that learning curve she mentioned, because, in her estimation, it took probably three years to “figure all this out” and enable this subsidiary to finish a year in the black.

By ‘all this,’ she was referring to everything from goat diet and nutrition to determining how much the animals could clear in a day, week, or month; from understanding good goat working conditions (they don’t mind heat or cold, because they’re essentially desert animals, but really don’t like rain or wind) to determining how many times a crew would have to return to a site to effectively subdue a patch of poison ivy (three or four, by her count).

There were also lessons in worker productivity (only females and spayed males, known as wethers, are used, to make sure the help is focused solely on their work).

The process of learning these and other things began not long after that Shutesbury landowner said ‘go for it,’ said Crolius, adding that her foray into goats was a natural extension of what she was doing at the time.

And that was fulfilling an entrepreneurial urge that took her far afield from journalism, quite literally.

“I gave up writing for something more physical, and also to have my own time,” she explained. “Of course, I learned that going into business for yourself does nothing of the sort — a 9-to-5 job looks positively luxurious right now.

“But I still wouldn’t trade what I’m doing for a 9-to-5,” she went on, adding that Artemis Garden Consultants specializes in what she called “non-mechanical dimensions of landscape care — anything but mowing and blowing,” with a heavy accent on weeding, edging, and mulching.

The Goat Girls

The Goat Girls venture now has a wide array of clients, each one looking for a ‘green’ solution to their landscaping problem.

“If someone’s yard is tired and overgrown, or they don’t have time to take care of it, we’ll come in and prune small trees and shrubs,” she noted. “We’ll weed … we give definition to things.”

Over the years, she had built up a large portfolio of residential and commercial clients, most of them in Hampshire and Franklin counties, and wasn’t exactly looking to diversify into four-legged brush clearing, but, as they say, opportunity knocked, even if she didn’t realize it at the time.

Crunching the Numbers

The goats Crolius purchased from that farm owner back in 2010 went for roughly $100 each, or a fraction of what a purebred Labrador retriever puppy might run.

But while the animals, at least the mixed-breed varieties, certainly won’t break the budget, the overall startup costs, though light compared to some other businesses, are not insignificant, she told BusinessWest. One must factor in housing for the animals — she’s renting about a quarter-acre within a large farm in East Amherst and built an elaborate pen/office complex on it — as well as transportation to get the goats to and from a job; the electrified fencing that keeps them focused on their assignment and not the roses, hostas, or geraniums that they will also eat; and other factors.

But there is certainly enough demand for ‘green’ landscaping services, not to mention the frequent requests for goats for children’s birthday parties, festivals, and other occasions, to recover those costs, said Crolius, adding that the key to profitability is analyzing the numbers, making smart decisions with resources, and creating a workable model, which, as she said, took some time.

Dan Green, president of the Green Internet Group, who helped Crolius get the operation off the ground and expand it, and currently handles the Goat Girls website, agreed, saying this amounts to a new business sector, one where the entrepreneur has to learn by doing.

“If you want to start a dry-cleaning operation or a photo studio, you have many other ones to compare benchmarks to so you can figure out where that curve should be,” he explained. “There are not a lot of comparison-shopping opportunities for a goat business.”

Over time, Crolius calculated that a team of seven goats could clear a quarter-acre in a week, or an acre a month, performance that varies with the density of the brush and the frequency of fence moving. This allowed her to effectively price and allocate her services for what usually amounts to a 28-week season.

But as she became more experienced, Crolius, like all successful business owners, learned new ways to become more efficient and, therefore, more profitable.

For example, she realized a few years in that she could reduce expenses significantly, and make customers even more happy (in most cases, anyway), by leaving the goats with a client for the duration of their assignment (they hang in a portable pen), rather than dropping them off and picking them up every day, along with their herders.

“You instruct the client on how to take care of them, and believe me, the clients can’t get enough of them; they change their water, they talk to them … they hate to see them go,” she said, adding that, because most clients have gardens, they’re even grateful for what the goats leave behind after all that munching.

While making her foray into goats profitable, Crolius has, along the way, taken a number of steps to make it more rewarding personally. One is an extension of what she called an apprenticeship program at Artemis Garden Consultants that enables young people to join the venture as interns and gain invaluable experience toward a variety of different careers.

“My joy in life is hiring young people and giving them the opportunity to have hands-on, on-the-job field training,” she told BusinessWest, referring to her gardening business while noting quickly that she has taken that same passion to the Goat Girls.

Indeed, as she was saying those words, as if on cue, Emilie Rabideau, a pre-veterinary-science major at nearby UMass Amherst, arrived to help tend to the goats.

“It’s a really good résumé builder,” she said, “as far as experience and learning how to manage a business at the same as you work with the animals.”

As for the training program, set to commence in a few weeks, Crolius stressed that she is not breeding competition, but rather creating opportunities for more goat businesses and, therefore, more ‘green’ landscaping.

Over the course of two intense days, attendees can learn about everything from field work to care for the animals to marketing their goat venture, said Crolius, noting that there are three sessions slated for this spring, and a great amount of interest has been shown.

Looking ahead, but not that far, because that’s difficult to do in this business, Crolius said expansion is possible, although there comes a point where simply adding more goats is not cost-effective. Meanwhile, licensing the concept is an option that’s being explored.

For now, she’s focused on honing that business model, providing opportunities for young people to learn while doing, and making the region more green while also making some overgrown areas, well, far less green.

Brush with Fame

As she wrapped up her talk with BusinessWest, Crolius went to assist Rabideau with letting the goats into the front portion of their pen for a late-afternoon meal of hay.

Before doing so, she issued a recommendation — more like a warning, actually — to steer clear, because the goats will not go around anyone who happens to be standing in their way once the gate is opened.

It was a warning well-heeded.

Soon, the extreme energy the goats exhibited as they raced for their dinner will be directed toward the eradication of brush and invasive plants of all types and at all manner of venues.

Spring is almost here, which means it’s time for the goats to shine and give a new definition to the phrase ‘green business.’


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
FloDesign Continues to Ride a Wave of Innovation

Stanley Kowalski says FloDesign

Stanley Kowalski says FloDesign and its spinoffs are continuing a pattern of turning ideas into breakthroughs — and new companies.

Stanley Kowalski III says filters will soon become obsolete.

“They will never be needed in anything again — during manufacturing, in automobiles, airplanes, furnaces, faucets — anything you can possibly think of,” Kowalski, chairman of the board at Wilbraham-based FloDesign Inc., told BusinessWest, adding that he and his team at FloDesign Sonics, a spinoff venture, are developing technology that will use sound waves for that work.

That technology is based on a scientific discovery made two years ago by a team of engineers at FloDesign Sonics, co-founded by Kowalski, Bart Lipkens, Louis Masi, and Walter Presz, after Lipkens received a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to figure out how to rid reservoirs of anthrax.

“During a process of trial and error, we discovered that acoustics could play a vital role in detection,” said Kowalski. “It led to the discovery of a three- dimensional wave that we did not predict, and since literature didn’t capture what we saw and the theory for it was not fully developed, we went on a quest to find out why and how it worked.”

The principle they discovered is complex, but Kowalski provided a simplified way to explain it. “First, think of sound waves as an invisible force field that can be used to manipulate and hold things in space,” he said. “Next, imagine a chamber filled with fluid; if you generate a consistent flow of sound waves through it, then introduce living cells or debris into the wave, it will be held there by the invisible force field, and the cells will be gently pushed together and form clumps. When they get big enough, they either fall out of the solution due to gravity or rise to the top due to buoyancy.

“The 3-D wave is like an invisible catcher’s mitt,” he continued. “It retains the contaminant, and, because the diameter of the debris is increased due to acoustic forces, the gravity or buoyancy becomes dominant, and the clumps rise or fall out.”

This invisible catcher’s mitt has a seemingly unlimited number of practical applications, including drug manufacturing and filtering blood during surgery, said Kowalski, adding that the sound-wave technology is one of many interesting developments at FloDesign and its many spinoffs.

These include work on a firearms noise suppressor for the military, a development that will reduce high incidences of hearing damage, as well as new prototype development for a diverse set of clients.

Wayne Thresher, who took the helm at FloDesign three years ago, said engineers who work for the company and its spinoffs pride themselves in thinking outside of the box, executing a design efficiently, and manufacturing a prototype.

“We recently finished a product for a company related to fluid flow; they had needed it for three years, but couldn’t figure out how to make it. But Dr. Presz and I went to their location, and within 20 minutes, we came up with two concepts,” he said. “We like a good challenge, and a lot of things relate to fluid flow and air flow. This is our 25th year in business, and we have some really good success stories.”

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest looks at some of those success stories and others that are still being written.

Down to a Science

Kowalski said FloDesign Sonics’ sound-wave technology was patented and has earned the company several prestigious grants in a highly competitive market.

The first was from the National Science Foundation, which issued a challenge to find a way to separate oil and gas contaminants from water. This is critical work because a number of states have had their water supplies polluted due to a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas inside, which is problematic because some of the water that returns to ground level is contaminated.

From left, Bart Lipkens, Stanley Kowalski, Brian McCarthy, and Matthew Wilander

From left, Bart Lipkens, Stanley Kowalski, Brian McCarthy, and Matthew Wilander show off new technology used to manufacture pharmaceuticals.

FloDesign Sonics received a grant in 2012 for the initial phase of the project, and another in 2013 to build a prototype, said Kowalski, adding that, later that year, it also tested a prototype for a life-sciences application that involves harvesting and filtering cells derived from the ovaries of Chinese hamsters that are used to make injectable monoclonal antibody drugs, which are being used to fight cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses.

“Most drug manufacturers use a process called ‘harvesting’ in which the Chinese hamster cell is separated via filtration or centrifuge and then killed. Genetic engineering has enabled cells to reproduce readily and create higher concentrations per batch, but the higher concentrations put a burden on the current filtration and centrifugation methods that results in fouling of filters and loss of product,” Kowalski explained. “But FloDesign Sonics’ new method does not touch the cell. We can handle higher cell concentrations for batch processes and enable continuous manufacturing where the cell is kept alive; it is continuously fed with nutrients and continues to express the protein.

“This is the holy grail of drug manufacturing. All future drugs will be made this way, and FloDesign Sonics believes they have unlocked this potential,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the company used venture-capital money to perform more than 100 trials with leading biopharmaceutical companies, which resulted in six prototypes and a machine it is now selling.

In March 2014, the company hired 14 new employees, and in September of that year, it received another prestigious grant from the National Institute for Health, which came with a new challenge: devising a better way of filtering blood during bypass surgery.

“Although it’s the most popular surgery in the world, it is so invasive that incisions to the body cause fat and debris to be released into the bloodstream; the particles can get caught in the brain and cause strokes, which is referred to as ‘pump head,’” said Kowalski, explaining that this phenomenon occurs because the particles are not captured when they go through the centrifuges and filters used in the bypass process.

FloDesign Sonics used the $100,000 grant to put its acoustic-separation technology to work in a new machine that captures the particles, which it is testing on pigs. “We hope to have human trials with it shortly,” Kowalski said.

So, although the company has yet to create its own website or launch a marketing campaign, it has undergone remarkable growth over the past 18 months, including the securing of $10 million in investments, $3 million in grants, and frequent offers to buy the firm out.

“The discovery we made has limitless possibilities, which range from cleaning the planet’s water supply to use in the life-science field and manufacturing adaptations,” Kowalski said. “When we first started, we were really just replicating what others had done, but when we began getting into theories of acoustics, we found missing holes that we probed. We had already developed a system that worked through trial and error, but it was kind of a 3M moment when we understood the depths of what we had discovered.

“Recall that 3M discovered a glue ideal for the Post-it Note and didn’t realize how important the invention was,” he went on. “We had also discovered an amazing tool, but had to identify needs for it in industry. It blows us away that we’re now helping get life-saving drugs to people faster and cheaper.”

Lipkens, who secured the prestigious grants, said it’s exciting to take new technology and put it to use in successful commercial applications.

“It was always my dream to take a discovery in the lab and transform it into a startup company and see everyone involved, including students, become part of a successful endeavor,” he said, adding that he taught a course with his wife, Kirsten, in how acoustics work in musical instruments before the discovery was made at FloDesign Sonics.

Designs on Growth

Taking discoveries and turning them into products and companies, while also involving students in those developments, has been the pattern at FloDesign from the start.

The aerospace firm has designed, prototyped, and developed products ranging from noise suppressors for jet engines to something called a RAP nozzle, which transmits a fluid force, gas, or fine particles over a distance with minimal loss. The company recently purchased a new CNC mill and lathe, which will allow it to manufacture more prototypes in its Wilbraham location.

This ability to take a concept from the design stage to production is important to Thresher, whose former employers included United Technologies. “They outsourced all of their machine work, eliminating local mom-and-pop operations, and I thought it was the wrong way to do business,” he said.

Although FloDesign is not set up to do mass production, it has the capability of manufacturing up to 2,000 parts for a company, which sets it apart from other contract-engineering firms in the area.

“Engineering companies don’t usually have their own machine shops or the ability to manufacture what they design,” Thresher said, adding that, as a result, many engineers don’t consider factors such as cost when they create a design. “But we do, as we specialize in prototype development.”

Presz created the company in 1990 while he was an engineering professor at Western New England College so he could give his students an opportunity to put theory into practice, and, as a result, FloDesign has a history of using student interns. The experience has proved invaluable for many, including Amanda Kalish, who was unable to find a job after graduating from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“Employers want you to have work experience, so this allowed me to bridge the gap while giving me the flexibility to finish my master’s degree in mechanical engineering,” she said.

It has also given her the opportunity to take an idea from concept to prototype and, in some cases, a finished product. “What they do here is unique,” she told BusinessWest. “In a larger company, you are only assigned one aspect of a project and don’t get to see the whole cycle.”

Kowalski said FloDesign Sonics is just one of several spinoff companies that have come out of FloDesign. They include FloDesign Wind Turbine, which was founded in 2008, and FloDesign Water Turbine, which was established in 2009. “They all have something to do with fluid dynamics and acoustic solutions. We have the best people in the world working on this.”

A new product may soon spawn another company. It’s a firearm suppressor that FloDesign developed for the U.S. Marine Corps, and Kowalski said there is enormous potential for it.

He explained that almost every soldier in combat returns with hearing loss, which costs the government more than $2 billion each year. “If they can put a suppressor on every firearm, it could result in a paradigm shift,” he noted.

Although suppressors have existed for some time, they are prohibitively expensive and last only one-tenth as long as the barrel of a gun. “But the prototypes we have developed last longer than the barrel,” Kowalski said.

Expanding Horizons

Mike Harsh, who has recently been appointed to FloDesign Sonic’s board of directors, spent almost 36 years in medical instrumentation and imaging at GE Healthcare, he told BusinessWest, and he has never seen anything like the technology FloDesign Sonics has developed.

“It has the potential to fundamentally change entire industries and the way they think about filtration,” he said. “The entrepreneurial spirit in this company is contagious, and the convergence of this unique and innovative application of acoustics to filtration will unleash a new tool in healthcare that can also be leveraged into other industries.”

Kowalski is also enthusiastic and describes FloDesign’s Wilbraham location as a “think tank.”

“We have created more than 300 jobs, and, although this is our hub, we also have offices in Charlton and Waltham. But it all started here,” he said, as he watched fluid circulate in and out of the machine created by FloDesign Sonics to solve filtration problems related to the manufacture of new pharmaceutical drugs.

“We plan to save people’s lives and eventually clean the planet with our invention,” he said, describing what has become a very fluid path to success.

Environment and Engineering Sections
UMass Takes Leadership Role in Clean-water Innovation

David Reckhow

David Reckhow says state and federal investments in his department’s work may lead to breakthroughs in the way water is treated worldwide.

David Reckhow says water treatment is ripe for innovation.

“We’re working with technologies that are about a century old. We haven’t really advanced all that much over the past 100 years,” said the professor in UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering. “Think about biotechnology or information technology, and all the advances that have been made over the past century. Now imagine what our lives would be like if we had 100-year-old information technology.”

But that’s what water-treatment workers must deal with. Admittedly, one reason is that the processes in use have worked remarkably well at keeping people safe.

“Most of the water treatment being done in this country uses what we call conventional technology, which is fairly simple,” he told BusinessWest. “It involves simply adding a coagulant to untreated water, which allows particles to settle. We send the particulates through a filter, add chlorine as a disinfectant, and we’re done. That technology was developed around the turn of last century, and it’s been in use for 100 years. And it’s been great, because it’s controlled cholera and protected us from other waterborne diseases.”

However, other problems have emerged over time, such as a possible link between long-term chlorine exposure and increased risk of bladder cancer. “It tends to result in elevated levels of some carcinogenic compounds and can cause chronic diseases,” Reckhow said. “So, we’ve solved some acute-disease problems, but now we have some chronic-disease problems.”

That’s one example of why Reckhow’s leadership of the Environmental Engineering and Wastewater Resources Group, a division of the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is so important.

“We’ve been doing research on water for the 29 years I’ve been here,” he said. “We have a very active group — one of the leading groups in the country in this field — but we’ve been a well-kept secret. Not many people outside the field know about what we’re doing. But when something like this happens, people take notice.”

‘This’ refers to a $4.1 million grant Reckhow recently garnered from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will fund a national center for drinking-water innovation on the Amherst campus. That comes on the heels of Gov. Deval Patrick’s recent signing of a water-infrastructure bill earmarking $1.5 million from the state Department of Environmental Protection for water innovation.

The federally funded center will be one of two national research centers — the other is in Boulder, Colo. — focused on testing and demonstrating cutting-edge technologies for drinking-water systems. The Patrick administration, through the Mass. Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), supplemented the federal investment with a $100,000 grant for other water-innovation projects on campus.

In short, UMass is tapping into significant state and federal resources to move water research and treatment well forward into the 21st century — a time when rising global population and other factors threaten to make drinkable water the pressing issue across the planet.

Particle Man

In a tour of his department’s laboratories, Reckhow showed BusinessWest several high-tech pieces of equipment, including a $650,000 Xevo liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer manufactured by Waters Corp. in Milford, and used to identify the type and amount of chemicals present in a water sample.

“We got a grant for $700,000 to buy this thing, and we’re getting it up and running; we’re just about there,” he said. “We’ve been slowly outfitting the lab, so we probably have the best water-engineering testing laboratory in the country.”

The $4.1 million EPA grant will expand this work, funding the creation of the WINSSS, or Water Innovation Network for Small Sustainable Systems. The EPA intends to use this center and the one in Colorado to test and refine emerging water technologies for the betterment of the water utilities across the country.

“The EPA center is charged with developing technologies that are most appropriate for all drinking-water systems,” Reckhow said, adding that the work will be aimed at improving small treatment systems, which typically don’t have the resources of larger systems to solve their own problems. In addition, 97% of drinking-water systems in the U.S. are considered small.

engineering labs at UMass

The $4.1 million EPA center will be built near the engineering labs at UMass (pictured), where the Environmental Engineering and Wastewater Resources Group conducts its research.

“It’s really challenging — they’re just overwhelmed,” he added. “Often, very small operations in small communities don’t have the budget to hire people focused only on water. What they really need is help in having access to technologies that are inexpensive, that are green, that don’t require a lot of energy, don’t require a lot of attention and maintenance. These are some of the characteristics we look for; even big utilities would like that. Our task is to develop these technologies to the point where we can hand them of to another entity to carry them to the market.”

That could be one role for the New England Water Innovation Network (NEWIN), which has been working with UMass on ways to move early innovations into pilot tests and into use by the public and private sectors. Having traveled with Patrick to Israel and Singapore to see model water-innovation networks first-hand, Reckhow wants to help the campus create similar infrastructure for Massachusetts.

He noted that the industry faces a barrage of challenges, from the regulatory environment and increasing competition for water supplies to contamination and climate change. So they want to develop partnerships designed to foster a constant back-and-forth between innovators, researchers and end users.

One ongoing area of research involves ferrate, a compound produced by mixing iron salt with chlorine before it is used to treat water. The process eliminates much of the chlorine and has proven comparable to chlorine as a disinfectant, without the side effects.

“Ferrate may help us back off the chlorine a little bit and reduce the concentration of some of the carcinogenic byproducts we get,” Reckhow said. “It’s a green chemical because it doesn’t use chlorine, and we make it on site; there are various ways of making it.”

That’s only one of many promising efforts, however. “Before we received the grant, we identified 16 projects representing different technologies we’re going to work with,” he told BusinessWest. “The technologies we’re developing will ultimately help to alleviate some of those problems, especially if we can come up with better ways of taking used water to make it reusable.”

Singapore, for instance, is one country which has instituted water reuse. “Singapore has to do it because it’s a small land mass, and they’re at the mercy of their neighbors to get supplemental water beyond what falls as rain on that small country,” he said. “They have been forced to deal with this issue, but we think there are better ways to do this.”

As the governor noted at the press conference announcing the grant, “all over the world and right here at home in the Commonwealth, water challenges are threatening the environment and the economy. Investing in the development of water-innovation technologies not only protects precious natural resources and public health, but creates high-quality local jobs.”

Trial and Error

Among the projects UMass and NEWIN are collaborating on is the development of physical facilities for entrepreneurs in water-testing technology. One of those is a university-owned parcel of land adjacent to the Amherst Wastewater Treatment Plant, where UMass had built a wastewater pilot testing plant during the 1970s.

“It’s old and outmoded and not used, but we’re trying to get money from the state to rebuild it, so it’s a facility that can be used by companies making water-technology devices — startups or established companies or, for that matter, someone who just has a really good idea,” he explained.

“This is perceived as a real need in the industry, holding Massachusetts — and the whole country, in some respects — back a little bit: the lack of existing facilities. It’s expensive to do this. We have an earmark in the environmental bond bill to rebuild this pilot plant so it could be made available to anyone in the community — in reality, anyone in the country.”

WINSSS will focus on bringing early innovations to where they can be pilot-tested, an initiative that could spur the economy, Reckhow said, considering that the global water industry is estimated to generate as much as $600 billion annually. With about 300 institutions in Massachusetts involved in water technology, NEWIN was formed to connect these players and help convert their ideas into workable products.

“The EPA center will be focused on early-stage development of technology, and the mandate is to work on technologies that are most appropriate for small drinking-water systems,” he said, adding that those technologies often carry over into larger systems, particularly wastewater. Meanwhile, the restored testing plant will focus primarily on small to medium-sized wastewater systems, generally later-state development. “Together, they mesh nicely.”

He noted that the MassCEC grant will pay for a mobile pilot unit — a 35-foot trailer fitted with high-tech equipment — that will bridge that gap between early-stage and late-stage innovation and allow UMass to test treatment devices on site in the Commonwealth and beyond. Meanwhile, a recent grant from the National Science Foundation has helped fund the latest, most sensitive equipment for measuring contaminants in drinking water and wastewater.

It’s an issue of particular concern in areas like Cape Cod, which has been dealing with a growing problem of contaminants leaching from wastewater to groundwater to residential wells — just one of the public-health concerns being monitored in Reckhow’s laboratories.

“Providing safe, clean drinking water is critical for maintaining the health and security of the Commonwealth,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Researchers here at UMass Amherst are on the front lines of efforts to make sure that clean water is a reality for all our communities and citizens.”

Global Resolve

Reckhow and Patrick have been involved with the Massachusetts-Israel Innovation Partnership (MIIP), launched in 2011 after the governor participated in a trade mission to Israel. During that 10-day mission, a coalition of the state’s leading business executives and senior government officials explored growth opportunities of common interest for Massachusetts’ and Israel’s innovation industries.

One of those interests was safe water — and concern over this issue is only expected to increase in the coming decades.

“They talk about water being the next oil,” Reckhow said. “We’re running out of quality water. There’s plenty of water on the planet, but most of it is not usable; the water in the ocean is not usable, or, at least, it’s very expensive to use. So, as we move forward, there’s going to be more conflict over existing high-quality water sources. We have seen it in the Middle East for a long time, but it’s going to be more widespread.

“It’s an issue of national security around the world,” he added. “Israel has made some good strides. And we’re addressing some of these issues here in Massachusetts.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
Springfield Municipal Recycling Facility Marks 25 Years in Operation

Mass. Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) leaders recently joined local, state, and federal officials to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Springfield Municipal Recycling Facility (MRF). The Springfield MRF is owned by MassDEP, operated by Waste Management Inc., and counts 75 Western Mass. communities as members.  

Over the past quarter-century, member towns have recycled and diverted more than 1 million tons of material, saved more than $62 million in avoided trash-disposal costs, and received approximately $14.5 million in revenue from the Springfield MRF due to the sale of the recycled materials on the open market.

“The success of the Springfield MRF was made possible by the state and community partners working in tandem to create a successful, scalable resource for thousands of residents,” said MassDEP Commissioner David Cash. “The MRF is the perfect combination of environmental protection through waste diversion and economic growth through the sale of valuable materials.”

The 25th-anniversary celebration was held at the Delaney House in Holyoke, and guests included state Rep. Stephen Kulik and Greg Superneau, chair of the Springfield MRF advisory board.

“All of us in Western Massachusetts can be proud that, for 25 years, we have led the way with effective municipal recycling programs in the Commonwealth,” Kulik said. “The revenues that come back to cities and towns from the MRF have saved local taxpayers millions of dollars, and we are reusing materials that used to be buried in landfills. Our recycling success has created jobs, saved money, and created a cleaner and healthier environment.”

Added Superneau, “this anniversary stands as a testament to the spirit of cooperation from all of our MRF community members.”

In the fall of 1989, MassDEP provided the bricks and mortar to build the Springfield MRF. By the end of 1989, the first cities and towns in Western Mass. delivered their newspaper, glass, steel, and aluminum cans for processing. Since 1995, the MRF has consistently turned a profit that continues to pay municipalities a reliable revenue source from the sale of their recyclables.

“I am proud of the partnership we have had with MassDEP and our communities over the years,” said Chris Lucarelle, area recycling operations director for Waste Management. “We have not only played the role of an operator, but have had the opportunity to be an innovator as well. Through the advisory board, we will continue to work with the members to advance our capabilities with the common goal of recycling more and wasting less. We look forward to continuing our partnership for years to come.”

The communities are represented by municipal delegates on the advisory board, which acts as a liaison between the MRF and its member communities and works to increase the quality and quantity of recyclables coming into the facility. Over the years, the board has provided communities with recycling bins, mini-grant funding, educational materials, and long-term planning for regional recycling.

“Simply put, the completion of the Springfield MRF in 1989 was one of my signature accomplishments as mayor of Springfield,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal noted in written remarks delivered to the anniversary celebration. “Twenty-five years later, I am still proud that the inaugural recycling center in Massachusetts was built in the City of Firsts. Now serving 75 communities in the region, the facility reinforced our legacy of innovation, and helped clean and protect the environment in the process. With this bold initiative a quarter of a century ago, we put ourselves on the forefront of the clean-energy movement.”

Environment and Engineering Sections
With the I-91 Viaduct, Future Prospects Are Up in the Air

91ViaductDPartNick Fyntrilakis, vice president of Community Responsibility for MassMutual and frequent spokesperson for the financial-services giant, urged the state to hit the ‘pause’ button when it comes to a planned $260 million project to replace the stretch of Interstate 91 that runs through the center of Springfield and is known as the ‘viaduct.’

He used that term at a well-attended public hearing on the massive public-works project late last month, and in reference to another, much broader possible plan for the stretch of I-91 that slices through the very heart of the city’s central business district — taking it down to street level or perhaps even below street level, thus facilitating the process of reconnecting the city with the Connecticut River for the first time since construction of the highway began a half-century ago.

“We see this as a possible game changer, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix a 60-year-old problem in the city of Springfield — being disconnected from the riverfront and the access to economic-development opportunities that exist there,” he told those assembled, and especially Michael O’Dowd, project manager for the Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT). “If this [repair] project proceeds as proposed, it’s going to be very difficult to see $260 million of work just go away based on another design that comes up through the planning effort.

“If we go down this road,” he went on, again referring to the repair project, “we’re going to miss an opportunity, and we’re going to have this viaduct for the next 40 or 50 years, which I don’t think the majority of the community is looking for.”

And therein lies the problem, or controversy, arising at a time when most would expect public officials and business leaders to be thrilled, or at least happy, with the prospect of the federal and state governments spending a quarter of a billion dollars to fix a very tired stretch of road.

repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 cannot wait

Officials with MassDOT say the proposed repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 cannot wait due to the deteriorating condition of the roadway and cost of continually patching it.

But there are other concerns as well. They include logistics — the proposed repair project, even on a planned accelerated construction schedule, would take probably three years to complete, and prolonged closings of several off-ramps and partial closures of the parking garages under the highway would be unavoidable — as well as timing. Indeed, the project could coincide with the now-likely construction of an $800 million casino between State and Union streets, just a block or so from one of those aforementioned off-ramps.

But the pause that Fyntrilakis and others are seeking — to study a potentially bolder endeavor involving the viaduct — is not likely, or even advisable, said O’Dowd.

That’s because this section of I-91 is deteriorating rapidly, and the state is spending about $2 million a year annually on what amount to patch jobs that do little but buy the city some time. And, in his opinion, it can’t buy any more.

“This is something that needs to be done now,” he said at the public hearing, putting the accent on that last word as he talked about the financial and safety considerations that he believes should deter any delays in getting started.

But beyond those aspects of hitting ‘pause’ on the viaduct work, there are also economic-development concerns, said Jeffrey Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

He told BusinessWest that discussions about an extensive ‘repair-in-place’ project involving the viaduct have been ongoing for some time. But they took a far more serious tone — and the initiative moved into a faster lane, if you will — after the second level of the I-91 South parking garage had to be closed for an extended period due to falling concrete from the deck above.

“That convinced people that this was serious — it really showed the economic impact upon Springfield,” he said, adding that there are several buildings downtown that don’t have attached parking and rely on the I-91 lots. “When they closed that floor of the parking garage and told everyone to park in I-91 North, that overloaded that system, and we started realizing how dependent downtown Springfield is on two or three parking facilities.”

Frank DePaola

Frank DePaola says accelerated bridge construction, or ABC, should allow crews to complete the repairs of the viaduct section of I-91 in three construction seasons.

So it appears that the repair project will proceed as planned, with a contract slated to be awarded later this year and work to commence possibly next spring. This will be a long and likely painful period for those who live, work, and do business in the downtown area, said Ciuffreda, adding that it will be his agency’s goal to help minimize the disruptions through planning and communication.

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest focuses on those steps and many other aspects of what is turning into a controversial project long before any work actually begins.

Concrete Examples

It’s called ‘accelerated bridge construction,’ another term simplified to the acronym ABC.

And, as the name implies, it involves processes and materials — such as pre-fabricated sections of highway decking — that enables projects such as the proposed I-91 initiative to be completed in less time than under more traditional methods, said Frank DePaola, MassDOT highway administrator.

Before elaborating on just what’s involved, he told BusinessWest that the state has already had some experience with ABC, and it’s due to get quite a bit more in the years to come, because there are many elevated sections of highway like Springfield’s I-91 viaduct, most of which were built about the same time — the mid- to late ’60s, as the Interstate Highway Project was reaching its zenith — and they’re in generally the same condition: poor.

A partial list would include the I-90 (Mass. Turnpike) viaduct in Boston, the Route 79 viaduct in Fall River, the McCarthy Overpass in Sommerville, and a section of I-93 North that also passes through Sommerville, he said, adding that some have been repaired and others are awaiting work.

Reiterating O’Dowd’s comments, he said the work in Springfield cannot, and should not, be put off much longer.

“Over the years, the water, the salt, and just the weather elements have weathered the deck, so that without predictability, sections of the deck fall out, and we have to go out there and patch holes in the deck,” he explained. “We’ve spent, on average, $2 million a year patching the holes in the deck.”

Beyond this cost, and the safety element driven home by the closing of the upper level of the parking garage, there is a “nuisance factor” as well, he said, noting these patch jobs he described entail shutting down lanes of the highway for sometimes long stretches at a time.

Rather than continue with this frustrating, Sisyphean approach, the state has proposed an ambitious, and expensive, plan to replace the decking on the 67 spans of northbound highway within the viaduct and the 62 spans on the southbound section.

If all goes as planned, the contract for the repair project will be awarded later this year, and work is expected to commence late this fall. The plan is to keep two of the three lanes in both the north- and southbound sections open at all times, said DePaola, noting that, while 14 sections of I-93 were replaced in 10 weeks by shutting that section of the highway down completely, a similar strategy is neither necessary nor recommended for Springfield’s viaduct.

Keeping two lanes of traffic open on both the north- and southbound sections of the highway will reduce the overall inconvenience from the project, but there will undoubtedly be an impact on commuters as off-ramps are closed and traffic is detoured onto East Columbus and West Columbus avenues and other arteries, said O’Dowd at the public hearing.

Exits 6 and 7 on I-91 South will be closed, and traffic detoured to a temporary ramp to be constructed north of exit 8 to provide access to downtown Springfield via West and East Columbus avenues. The on-ramps to I-91 North from both State and Union streets will also have to be closed, he went on. I-91 northbound access will be provided via East Columbus Avenue, with I-291 access provided via a detour off East Columbus Avenue to Liberty and Dwight streets.

Ramping Up

Ciuffreda, who has many not-so-fond recollections of the I-91 ramp-reversal project that accompanied the opening of the new Basketball Hall of Fame, said residents, business owners, and those who work downtown couldn’t be blamed for being skeptical about vows to minimize the disruption from the planned I-91 project.

Indeed, the ramp project took far longer than originally estimated, and the impact was considerable. And those same things can be said about the Memorial Bridge reconstruction that took place 20 years ago, and the more recent repairs to the South End Bridge.

But Ciuffreda believes there is also room for optimism with regard to the I-91 initiative.

“The state has come a long way with how they go about construction projects like this one,” he said, citing the I-93 repairs as one example. “It’s going to be a major, major construction project, but they feel pretty comfortable — and I feel pretty comfortable — that they can minimize the downside of it.

“Clearly there will be disruptions — you can’t do a major construction project without them — but I think they’ve learned enough to expedite it and to minimize the adverse effects.”

But the 17-day run of the Big E each fall will severely test the patience, and the abilities, of those trying to keep the traffic flowing, he added quickly, noting that construction might have to be shut down during the fair’s run, and other steps, such as shuttling visitors from remote locations, might have to be undertaken.

And if a license is granted for MGM’s proposed South End resort casino, as expected, and construction begins later this year — that’s the current timetable — two of the biggest construction projects in the region’s history would be going on at the same time, and within a few hundred feet of each other.

Overall, effective communication with the public about the project, specific phases, lane and off-ramp closings, and other considerations are vital to efforts to minimize disruptions and the impact on commerce, said Kevin Kennedy, Springfield’s chief development officer.

“My issue is to make sure there’s enough communication so that we know where they’re working so we can tell people who work and come to downtown Springfield and use our parking facilities what’s going on and what the best route to get here is going to be,” he said. “It’s going to uncomfortable for a while, and no one likes that, but the idea that we can get a good fix, rather than a patch job, is good for Springfield in the long run.”

As for that broader vision for the viaduct and improved access to the river that Fyntrilakis mentioned, there is a study, being conducted independent of the repair project, that is exploring options.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has repeatedly called for something “bold and visionary” in his public comments on the matter, and State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said it might be possible to take some sections of the elevated highway down to grade level or just below.

But there are myriad questions that will be need to be answered, about everything from what the soils can handle to how other barriers to the riverfront, such as East and West Columbus avenues  and the rail line just east of the river would be negotiated; from how such a project would be funded to whether the state and federal governments would invest heavily again in a road they just paid $260 million to fix.

“Once the repair project starts, it will take some of the options off the table for getting to the riverfront, but I’m not sure it takes all of them off the table,” said Ciuffreda. “We may have to settle for a lesser connection than we ideally would like. That’s just the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s a crumbling road, and if it ever went down to one lane, that would just cripple the economy.”

Bottom Line

How that hand will be played remains to be seen, but it appears that the pause sought by Fyntrilakis and others is not in the cards.

And for that reason, projecting down the road, for the short and long term, will be difficult. That’s why, when it comes to Springfield and its controversial, half-century-old viaduct, so many things are still up in the air.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
WNEU Team Chosen to Compete in Prestigious Solar Decathlon

E-Board members, from left, Garrett Bieksza, Samuel McLaren, Adison Vanina, Tiffany Behuniak, and Justin Parlapiano

E-Board members, from left, Garrett Bieksza, Samuel McLaren, Adison Vanina, Tiffany Behuniak, and Justin Parlapiano, will have leadership roles in the biathlon project.

Samuel McLaren was talking about anxiety, a few sleepless nights, 16-hour days, and the pressure of meeting tight deadlines.

And that was just the application process.

There is certain to be much more of all of the above as he and more than 100 other students at Western New England University, which will lead one of 20 teams that prevailed in that application phase, take part in something called the Solar Decathlon.

Over the next 22 months or so, students across a number of disciplines, from environmental engineering to mathematics to mass communications, will design, fund, and build a completely solar-powered, net-zero home, then test it, disassemble it, transport it to Irvine, Calif., where it will compete with those 19 other entries, disassemble it again, and ship it back to Springfield.

“This is an enormous task, obviously,” said Kenneth Lee, professor and chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at WNEU, who was on hand for the 2013 Solar Decathlon, and pronounced it a working display of energy innovation in action. “It’s going to require teamwork, lots of hard work, and a strong focus on innovation.”

McLaren, a junior who transferred to WNEU from Housatonic Community College, and one of several students on the project’s leadership team, or Engineering Board, or E-Board, agreed.

“It’s already been a lot of work — we worked on this tirelessly last semester, getting our application ready,” he said, adding that those long days and sleepless nights, which extended into the intersession, were obviously worth it.

Indeed, on Feb. 13, the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which stages the decathlon, announced that WNEU and two collaborating partners, Universidad Tecnologica de Panama and Universidad Tecnologica Centroamerica in Honduras, would be competing against the likes of Stanford, Yale, California Polytechnic State University, Vanderbilt, and many other top schools, in this country and abroad.

The winning team will receive a cash prize, said Lee, adding quickly that the more important rewards — which will go to all of the more than 2,000 contestants — include the experience of working with others to plan and execute the project, and also working on the cutting edge of innovation in energy efficiency.

The biannual event is called a decathlon because, as the name suggests, there are 10 contests within the larger competition. Teams will be judged on architecture, market appeal, engineering, communication, and affordability — components that will be juried — as well as ‘comfort zone,’ hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance, which will be measured (home entertainment will also be juried).

For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest talked with Lee and several of the students who will be leading WNEU’s participation. They all described it as a unique opportunity to take what is being taught in the classroom and put it to work in a real world that is searching for ways to become more energy-efficient.

Bright Ideas

The scope of the Solar Decathlon became clear at a meeting involving many of the students who will participate.

The auditorium on the ground floor was packed with more than 100 students across a number of disciplines. More than a dozen would move to the front of the room to discuss specific aspects of the project that they would lead, and essentially recruit members for those teams.

These specific assignments ranged from planning and design to public relations; from interior design (led by a young woman who admitted she knew nothing about engineering, but didn’t need to) to fund-raising and soliciting sponsors.

And Lee summed up the principle that will drive each of these tasks, but especially the design phase, when he told those assembled, “we need innovation, innovation, innovation. We’re going to have to separate our house from everyone else’s, and the only way to do that is to apply innovation to everything we do.

“This is going to be the experience of a lifetime,” he went on,” he went on, during what could be described as an informational session presented in the form of a pep talk. “This is probably the best experience you’re going to get in your undergraduate career. You’re going to work hard — I’m going to make sure of that — and you’re going to have to earn your way on this team.”

Innovation has been the watchword since the Solar Decathlon was first staged in 2002. Since then, a total of 192 teams and nearly 17,000 students, representing 33 countries, have taken part.

Those numbers will increase with the 2015 competition, which will include eight returning teams and 12 new squads; four of the teams will have partners from international schools. The field looks this this:

• California Polytechnic State University;

• California State University in Sacramento;

• Clemson University;

• Crowder College and Drury University;

• Lansing Community College, Kendell College of Art and Design, and Ferris State University;

• Missouri University of Science and Technology;

• New York City College of Technology;

• Oregon Institute of Technology and Portland State University;

• Stanford University;

• State University of New York, Alfred College of Technology, and Alfred University;

• Stevens Institute of Technology;

• University of Florida, National University of Singapore, and Santa Fe College;

• University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen;

• University of California Davis;

• University of California Irvine, Saddleback College, Chapman University, and Irvine Valley College;

• Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University;

• West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata;

• Western New England University, Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, and Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana; and

• Yale University.

Those teams will looking to duplicate the success of Norwich University in Vermont, which took home the Byron Stafford Award of Distinction (named after one of the event’s original organizers, who passed away last year) for something called the Delta T-90 House, which, according to last year’s program guide, “is guided by the beliefs that high-performance, solar-powered dwellings should be available to all and that good design is not a function of cost.”

Seeing the Light

At present, the WNEU team’s entry doesn’t have a name, a design, or even a budget, said Tiffany Behuniak, a sophomore studying civil and environmental engineering and project engineer for the decathlon bid, noting that these pieces to the puzzle will fall into place over the next several months.

She conjectured that the WNEU team’s application struck a chord with those reviewing the entries because of the international partners, the fact that the school had committed $24,000 to the project and raised another $26,000, and other tangibles and intangibles.

And since word came from the Department of Energy that WNEU’s team had been chosen to compete, the process of filling out that team and assigning work has commenced with the necessary degree of urgency.

“We’re getting all of members together and splitting people into groups based on what they want to work on,” Behuniak explained. “And then we’re going to start all of our training and design work, getting more sponsorships and doing more fund-raising. There is a lot going on all at once.”

Students at the partnering international schools will be working with those at WNEU on individual projects, mostly via skype, said Lee, adding that, when the endeavor reaches its final stages, some of these students will come to the Springfield campus for actual hands-on involvement.

Adison Vanina, a sophomore electrical engineering major and project manager for the decathlon bid, said that, for all those involved, this will be experiential learning of the highest order, and an invaluable experience that could help open doors to careers in the green-energy field.

“When Dr. Lee first introduced this to us, it seemed like a great opportunity to build our experience in engineering,” he said, “and also take what we’ve learned in the classroom and put it to practical use, while also working in a team environment.”

While many of the aspects of the project involve science, architecture, and engineering, there are other components that make it a truly campus-wide initiative, said Lee.

He cited, for example, the communications segment within the decathlon. In that competition, a jury of communications professionals evaluates Web content, an audio-visual presentation and information, the quality of on-site graphics, the delivery of messages to target audiences, and the use of innovative (there’s that word again) methods to engage audiences.

And then, there’s the fund-raising aspect to the project, which, while it is not scored as part of the actual competition, is obviously vital to its success. The Department of Energy provides some funding, as does the university, said Lee, but the team must pound the pavement and be creative to cover the full cost of building the home (projected to be $250,000 or more) and also additional expenses, especially those involving getting the house — and the students who built it — to California and back.

All those we spoke with said this project is at its very earliest stages and there are many unknowns ahead, which is one of the more intriguing aspects of this effort.

What is known is that there will be many more of those long days and possibly sleepless nights in the months to come.

Whether the WNEU team can take the top prize in the 2015 competition remains to seen, but one thing is clear: this will be a well-earned day in the sun for all those involved.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
The Dennis Group Becomes a Leader in Food Engineering

DennisGroupSabraPlant

The 120,000-square-foot Sabra hummus plant near Richmond, Va., which the Dennis Group built in 2009, will double in size by 2014.

A large poster hanging in the stairway of the historic Fuller Block building in downtown Springfield effectively tells the story of the company now occupying most of that landmark.
Well, sort of.
The black-and-white image, affectionately titled ‘The Geeks’ by staff at the Dennis Group, presents what looks like three college students eating hamburgers, with some accompanying verbiage: “we were fascinated by food even before we become engineers.”
It all makes sense — if one is familiar with the company and the niche it has successfully cultivated over the past quarter-century. This would the field known simply as ‘food engineering,’ although that phrase is somewhat of a misnomer and certainly needs some clarification, said Dan McCreary, one of the firm’s four partners.
The company doesn’t actually engineer food, he noted, adding that it designs and builds specialized plants that process many of the convenience-based foods consumers buy every day, from prepackaged lettuce to energy drinks to frozen, ready-to-heat sandwiches.
“We’re actually architects and process engineers for the food industry,” McCreary went on, acknowledging that the latter term itself requires explanation.
And he provided one, noting that there is an elaborate process involved with building such facilities — from selection of a location (more on that later) to operations to energy efficiency, a subject of increasing importance as fuel costs rise and the desire to be ‘green’ increases.
By excelling in the art and science of helping clients navigate this process, the Dennis Group has witnessed explosive growth since it was launched by founder Tom Dennis in his attic. It now boasts nearly 200 employees in its Springfield headquarters (now spaced over four of the renovated Fuller Block’s five floors) and another 100 in satellite offices strategically located in Salt Lake City, San Diego, Toronto, and Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the client list has grown to include many of the household names from the food industry — Nestle, Dole, Tropicana, PepsiCo, and numerous others — and the Dennis Group now books projects totaling more than $500 million annually.
Some of this success can be traced to timing — specifically, an explosion in the popularity of convenience-based foods and the almost (that’s almost) recession-proof nature of the food industry, said McCreary, noting that “people have to eat.”
But beyond these realities, the firm’s remarkable growth can be traced to its relationship-building abilities — it has drawn repeat business from many clients as they have grown and expanded into new business opportunities — as well as an operating philosophy based on calculated risk taking and what often would be considered unorthodox thinking.
As one example, McCreary, who spoke for the company while Dennis was attending to business at one of the satellite offices, cited some aggressive action during the recent economic downturn.
At the height of the Great Recession, two of the firm’s $100 million projects were essentially halted, he noted, but Dennis’ response was not to trim staff and hunker down, but rather hire some of the the talent that was becoming available.
“He said, ‘we’ve often struggled to find the right people when the economy was good, and now, with the engineering, architectural, and construction industry being hit so hard, there’s talent out there,’” McCreary recalled. “So we went on a hiring spree.”
The bold move paid off for the company, he went on, because it was well-positioned to seize the opportunities that came about as economic conditions improved — and it did, adding a number of projects to the portfolio.
For this issue and its focus on environment and engineering, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Dennis Group, its appetite for growth, and its status as a true leader in the large and still-expanding realm of food engineering.

Salad Days
They’re called Uncrustables.
That’s the name Smucker’s has put on a simple yet fascinating product — a frozen, ready-to-eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich, one that comes, as that name suggests, without the crust.
“It’s every kid’s dream — they stamp out the center of the sandwich so there’s no crust,” said Tony Graves, another senior partner at the Dennis Group, noting that Smucker’s reached out to the Dennis Group to design and build what eventually became the largest automated bakery in the world, in Scottsville, Ky., to produce Uncrustables.
Smucker’s addition to the supermarket’s frozen-foods aisle is just one example of the direction the nation — and the food industry that serves it — is taking, said Graves and McCreary, noting that there is ever-greater demand for convenience products, including some that probably couldn’t have been imagined a decade or two ago.
Like packaged salad.
“It’s the simplest ideas that are amazing,” said McCreary, who was vice president of Finance for Dole when it ventured into the packaged-salad business more than 20 years ago. “I mean, how hard is it to make a salad? Who is going to buy this? But, as it turned out, everyone did.”
And this phenomenon is one of the many reasons why the Dennis Group has enjoyed steady growth for the past 26 years, said McCreary, who hired the firm (then with 20 employees) to expand Dole’s facilities in California to accommodate the new product lines, and then was recruited by Tom Dennis to join him in his growing venture.
McCreary said he was attracted to the Springfield-based firm by everything from its already-established reputation for excellence to its decidedly different operating philosophy, or culture.
McCreary described the style as “informal,” and as an example, he referred to his business card, which lists only his name and contact information.
“We don’t have titles … we have very little in terms of a management structure,” he explained. “We have 300 people, but we don’t have an employee handbook — not because we forgot or it’s too hard, but because we want people to use their own judgment.
“Our philosophy is that we hire bright, ambitious people,” he went on, “and if we trust an employee to handle millions of our clients’ dollars, then we trust them to know what a sick day is.”
But what ultimately attracted McCreary to the Dennis Group was its vast growth potential, which he recognized while the firm handled Dole’s expansion efforts.
Taking such a facility from the drawing board to reality is a lengthy, complicated process (there’s that word again), he went on, adding that the Dennis Group ultimately owes its sweeping success to its ability to effectively guide clients through the many steps involved.

The Complete Package
The firm’s full menu of services includes everything from design to construction management; from identifying and handling environmental concerns to waste disposal and energy consumption, he told BusinessWest, adding that the process usually begins with the all-important questions of what to build and, perhaps more important, where.
Indeed, geography is a key consideration in the food-production industry, McCreary and Graves explained, adding that location has an impact on everything from energy costs to distribution.
“With these large companies, if you’re trying to distribute a product nationwide, you want to be more toward the center of the country, rather than up in the corner in some cases,” McCreary said, pointing in the air to the Western Mass. region.
“The process begins with questions like, ‘where do your raw materials come from?’ ‘where do you distribute the product?’ and ‘where is the most beneficial location to meet those needs?’” he continued, adding that, once a preferred geographic region is identified, the Dennis Group works with the client to select a specific location.
And there are a number of factors that go into picking a site — from cost and availability of power (food-processing plants consume huge amounts of energy) to the ability of a given community to handle the large waste streams such plants generate.
“A lot of what we solve with a simple checklist of site needs is an educated guess for what the building size will be and how it can be laid out on the site,” said Graves. “It’s what we try to accomplish before the client makes a mistake.”
Ten sites that might be favorable for new building, he added, will quickly turn into only two sites, due to the complexity of the food-production processes and distribution needs.
With assistance on the economic-development side for regional tax-incentive financing, grants for employee training, etc., the Dennis Group is able to identify and design a purpose-built structure around a customized site, and provide construction management for production of a variety of foods and beverages.
In food engineering, as in most business sectors, success breeds more success, said Graves, who has been with the company for 21 years. He said the food industry, while large in terms of dollars, is much smaller in terms of players and the individuals managing them. In this environment, a good track record can help foster relationships that bring new additions to the portfolio.
“You run into the same people year in and year out,” he explained. “They move around within the industry and bring us along with them.”
One example of such relationship-building is the Sabra hummus company. The Dennis Group started working with it in 2009, when it was a $40 million enterprise that wanted to go national. Currently, the firm is leading a project that will double the size of a 120,000-square-foot plant for what is now a $500 million company.
While repeat business is a leading contributor to the firm’s continued growth, the need within the food industry to reduce energy consumption and retrofit aging plants so they are more efficient has also become a source of new business.
“In food, it’s ‘heat things up, cool things down,’ and you’re always cleaning things in these plants,” said Graves. “So that’s where all their energy usage is, and sometimes energy costs more than the raw materials.”
One of the firm’s recent projects, the Frito-Lay Sun Chips plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, is a net-zero facility, meaning that it has annual zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions; its energy is supplied by solar-powered facilities.

Food for Thought
Looking ahead, McCreary and Graves said the Dennis Group is well-positioned for continued growth in a number of respects, from those aforementioned relationships within the food industry to simple geography, especially in the form of its satellite offices in Salt Lake City and Atlanta, areas clients are increasingly targeting for new building and expansion.
Meanwhile, the nation’s consumers have a seemingly unlimited appetite for convenience food, and an imaginative and resourceful food industry continues to find new and different ways to meet that demand.
These trends and developments bode well for a company that has always had designs on being a business leader — in every sense of that phrase.
Those who don’t know the story of the Dennis Group probably won’t understand the relevance of that poster in the Fuller Block stairway.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
FloDesign’s New CEO Eyes Aggressive Growth Patterns

Walter Thresher

Walter Thresher says he would like to position FloDesign to be a ‘skunkworks’ operation for defense and aerospace corporations.

Walter Thresher certainly wasn’t thinking about retiring after a nearly 34-year career at Hamilton Sunstrand, now United Technologies Aerospace Systems, but he was looking to perhaps throttle down a bit, to borrow an industry term, after work on everything from the B2 bomber to the Comanche helicopter to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

“I was looking for a different challenge — something approaching part-time,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he’s found the former, but not exactly the latter, in his new capacity as CEO of Wilbraham-based FloDesign.

This is the company, founded by Western New England University Engineering professor Walter Perez and led by WNEU Engineering graduate and serial entrepreneur Stanley Kowalski, that is most associated with a radical new design for wind turbines. But while that concept was, indeed, designed by FloDesign engineers, Kowalski and Perez now maintain only a minority ownership in the company they spun off to take the concept to the marketplace — FloDesign Wind Turbine — and the company is now headquartered in Waltham.

Meanwhile, another spinoff, FloDesign Sonics, still based in Wilbraham, is engaged in developing technology using sound waves for a variety of uses, including water purification.

The parent corporation, FloDesign, is essentially an aerospace company that has designed, prototyped, and developed products ranging from noise suppressors for jet engines to something called a RAP nozzle, a device that transmits a fluid force, gas, or fine particles over a distance with minimal loses. Thresher takes the helm at an intriguing time for the enterprise, as it looks to create new business opportunities and avenues for growth.

Thresher, who came to the company in February, is considering a number of options for the company, but especially evolution into what he called a ‘skunkworks operation’ for major defense and aerospace companies, like Hamilton Sundstrand.

Skunk Works is the official alias for Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs operation, formerly known as Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, which was created in the 1940s and developed aircraft ranging from the U-2 to the SR-71 Blackbird to the F-22 Raptor. But over the ensuing decades, the term has been applied (using the lower case) to a group within an organization, or an outside venture, given a high degree of autonomy to conceive and prototype new products and technologies.

“The team we have here has very good capability in design, rapid prototyping, and then getting parts on test fast,” he explained. “And that’s something that larger companies have a hard time doing; they tend to go slow and follow very fixed processes. What I’d like to do is operate as a skunkworks operation for a larger company.”

Thresher brings vast experience in aerospace product development and engineering to his new position at FloDesign.

After starting his career with Pratt and Whitney as a development engineer in turbine cooling and dirt-separator development, the WNEU graduate moved to Hamilton Sundstrand a year later, where he developed high-pressure water separators, air mixers, sub-freezing heat exchangers, and air-bearing turbomachinery. He led the engineering efforts to improve heat-exchanger-manufacturing processes and defined the build process for air-bearing air-cycle machines used in a number of current military fixed-wing applications.

He has also been responsible for systems on the B2 bomber, and was chief project engineer for the Environmental Control System (ECS) for the F/A-18 E/F aircraft. Later, he was the design manager for the thermal-management systems for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program, and also performed the function of weight manager to control and reduce the weight of the design. As part of that effort, his team received a special challenge award from Boeing for creative use of design tools to achieve weight reduction.

He was previously chief engineer for the Comanche helicopter ECS, and was most recently the chief engineer for the CH53K HLR helicopter secondary power system. During the design phase, he led efforts to reduce system weight, resulting in a simplified system with little functional compromise, and a 10%-under-contract weight system.

Summing up what’s on that extensive résumé, Thresher said his work centered on parts and systems such as water collectors, air mixers, and heat exchangers, devices similar to those with which FloDesign has made its reputation.

What’s more, the company had been working on some specific projects that intrigued him, such as initiatives involving UAVs, or unmanned air vehicles, for both military and civilian use.

Thresher was eventually approached by Kowalski about taking the helm at the aerospace division of the company. “I was thinking that this was a bit more than a part-time job,” he said, “but it was an exciting opportunity to do some of the things that were on my list at Hamilton.”

He told BusinessWest that his primary job description is to determine the next direction for the aerospace unit. One of his immediate goals is to use proprietary mixer/ejector technology that the company has developed to move two products from the drawing board to the market.

One is a noise-suppressing device that has been in development and funded through a grant from the Small Business Innovation Research program, while the other is the RAP nozzle, which Thresher believes has potential for use in a number of markets, from fire suppression to personal protection.

“We’re trying to figure out just where to go with it at this point,” he explained. “But it has a number of potential applications.”

And his long-range goal for FloDesign is to become an independent skunkworks operation that would take advantage of its experience with everything from scale-model testing to work in design of “less-than-lethal” weapons to design and develop products and technologies for what could become a variety of clients.

“We’re able to do things faster and less expensively than larger operations can,” he explained. “That’s a major area of opportunity that I plan to expand.”

Thresher said FloDesign could thrive in such a role because, while there are many smaller shops that specialize in one phase of product development — design, fabrication, or testing, for example — there are few that can, like FloDesign, handle them all.

“We also have the technical capability to think through what the issues are with the first round of what was designed and tested, and even design modifications,” he said. “And that’s what would make us unique compared to other companies.

“Normally, at a test house, you take parts there, you run a test, they give you the data, and you go home,” he went on. “At a design house, you tell them what you want designed, they do the design, and they give it back to you. We can do all those things.”

 

— George O’Brien

Environment and Engineering Sections
Five Large-scale Hydropower Facilities Are Up for Relicensing

Andrew Fisk

Andrew Fisk

For thousands of years, the Connecticut River has supported human communities throughout New England as a food source, transportation corridor, and, most recently, power provider. Today, electricity generated from hydropower facilities on the Connecticut River and its tributaries is a major part of the New England power grid.

In a unique process, five of these facilities, which generate almost 30% of our region’s electricity and span more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River, are being jointly relicensed for operation by the federal and state governments for another 30 to 50 years. The current licenses for these facilities were last issued between the late 1960s and 1980s, and all expire in 2018.

The five hydro projects included in the relicensing are Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Dams in Vermont, all owned by Transcanada, which also owns hydropower facilities in northern Vermont and on the Deerfield River, and the Turners Falls Dam and the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage Project in Massachusetts, owned by FirstLight Power, a subsidiary of GDF Suez.  Both companies have extensive holdings throughout North America and beyond. What were once locally owned utilities are now holdings in large, globally diversified energy portfolios.

This relicensing process began in October 2012 and will continue according to a strict timetable for the next five years. This process will entail a great deal of study, dialogue, and negotiation between the public and the facilities’ two owners, Transcanada and GDF Suez. In early March, the first major deadline was reached, with dozens of individuals and organizations submitting their thoughts on what questions need to be answered about these facilities’ operations. The federal and state laws that guide this process require a balancing of public and private interests, where, in exchange for the right to dam the public’s river, a private company must provide the public with direct benefits, such as recreational facilities, and ease the problems that dams cause to migrating fish and riverine habitats.

What happens to the river when you use it for electricity generation? These facilities are all designed to store water and then release it through turbines, according to business strategies governed by how the New England energy market is regulated. One of the principal strategies for these facilities is to generate electricity at times of the day when it can be sold at the highest price, known as peaking mode. This has the effect of fluctuating the river’s height behind the dams many times a day; in some locations, this fluctuation is up to nine feet.

At the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility, water is pumped from the river at night when electricity is cheap to an upper reservoir at the top of Northfield Mountain, and power is generated by spilling water back into the Connecticut River during peak demand periods.

For those fish that move up and down the river — such as American shad, eels, alewives, or herring — to do their jobs in the ecosystem, they must do more than just get around the dams themselves or avoid the turbines that do the actual generating. The ecology of the river is also affected by the flow changes created by the dams. How much water is released at what times and at what rates has a tremendous impact on whether fish such as the endangered short-nosed sturgeon can breed successfully or if riverbanks erode and lose their trees and vegetation.

But it’s not just about the fishes. Dams can have a positive or negative impact on river recreation, and much of the dialogue over the next several years will be about improving access to the river through boating facilities, enhancing cultural and historic resources at dam sites, and improving portages around dams for paddlers making short trips — or the epic, 400-mile, source-to-sea paddle that has captivated generations of adventurers.

The relicensing process is complicated and has many moving parts given the number of facilities and the amount of river they impact. But it’s a process designed for the public — because it’s your river and your wildlife — to engage in dialogue about what we want our watershed to do for us over the next two generations.

For more information, visit www.ferc.gov or ctriver.org.

 

Andrew Fisk, Ph.D., is executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Environment and Engineering Sections
WNEU Creates New Civil and Environmental Engineering Program

Student Emily Lynch, seen here with Kenneth Lee

Student Emily Lynch, seen here with Kenneth Lee, says she’s always been fascinated by bridges, and ultimately decided to make civil engineering a career.

When asked about the factors that drove Western New England University’s decision to create its new Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ken Lee summoned some telling numbers.

The first were from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is projecting an employment growth rate of 19% for civil engineers and 22% for environmental engineers — one of the fastest-growing subspecialties within the broad realm of civil engineering — between 2010 and 2020.

Another number — and probably the one fueling those BLS projections — comes from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which, when assessing the nation’s aging infrastructure, projects that $71 trillion in infrastructure investments will be made by 2030.

“Everything we make in civil engineering has a lifespan,” said Lee, chairman of the new department, in an article announcing his appointment in the university’s alumni publication, the Communicator. “Buildings and bridges are crumbling, and transportation systems need overhauling. We need plenty of engineers to plan, design, analyze, develop, organize, and manage retrofits and new construction projects.”

Couple these projections with the university’s desire to grow its well-regarded College of Engineering, and civil engineering, with a strong focus on environmental engineering, was the logical path to take, said S. Hossein Cheraghi, dean of the College of Engineering.

“We want to grow, and one of the best ways to do that is with new programs,” he said, adding quickly that existing offerings are also being expanded. “And when we looked at different programs and at statistics from the Department of Labor in terms of future opportunities for employment, we realized that civil engineering made the most sense for us.”

He told BusinessWest that talks on such an expansion were initiated about three years ago, and they culminated with a program launched last fall with 13 students.

Emily Lynch is one of them.

A Connecticut resident, she said that, while growing up, she became fascinated by bridges — “I would drive over them and just be awestruck,” she explained — and by her junior year had decided to make civil engineering a career.

“I liked math more, but I didn’t want to make that my livelihood,” she went on. After being alerted by her guidance counselor to the new program at WNEU, she made that school one of three options — Wentworth in Boston and the University of New Haven were the others — and eventually decided to became part of the inaugural class at the Springfield campus. “There’s supposed to be a huge jump in demand for civil engineers in the years to come; I want to be part of that.”

Creation of the Civil Engineering program is one of the primary drivers of a planned expansion of Sleith Hall, home to the College of Engineering, said Cheraghi, noting that plans call for 8,600 square feet of new space, as well as renovations and upgrades to the entire building.

Work on the two-story addition, projected to cost between $12 million and $13.5 million, is expected to begin this summer, he went on, adding that the new area will house laboratory space for the new program, as well as labs for Biomedical Engineering, classroom space, and a computer lab. The project also includes building-wide HVAC improvements, the installation of a new sprinkler system, and technology improvements.

S. Hossein Cheraghi, dean of the College of Engineering

S. Hossein Cheraghi, dean of the College of Engineering, says the new civil engineering program will help “internationalize” the WNEU campus.

“The addition of new programs and growth in existing programs in the College of Engineering is driving the need for additional space,” said Cheraghi, noting that the school also added a doctoral program in Engineering Management and has seen increasing enrollment in its existing engineering programs — biomedical, electrical, industrial, and mechanical.

For this issue and its focus on engineering and the environment, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the university’s new Civil Engineering degree and what it means for both the school and those currently enrolled in the program.

 

Bridging a Gap

When asked why he left a teaching position at UMass Lowell to come to WNEU, Lee broke into a wide smile.

“Opportunities to lead a new program, especially a civil engineering program … those are quite rare today,” he said, adding that he was looking forward to the many challenges involved with getting such an initiative off the ground, from hiring faculty to recruiting students to setting the tone academically. “This is a very exciting career opportunity.”

It came about, said Cheraghi, because the School of Engineering, and the university as a whole, has set some ambitious goals for continued growth, and civil and environmental engineering represented both the most glaring area of need and the best opportunity for expansion, given those projections from the BLS.

The new program also fits nicely into a recently developed strategic plan for the university, one component of which is the goal of greater “internationalization” of the campus and thus the student population.

“We want to bring more international students to our campus,” he explained. “And this is one of the most important programs for developing countries. There is a global need for civil engineers.”

Meanwhile, an analysis of the regional market revealed that there was a need for — and thus room for — another civil engineering program.

Departments exist at UMass Amherst and UConn, said Lee, and there is an associate’s degree program at Springfield Technical Community College. A two-year degree opens some doors to employment, he went on, but a baccalaureate or graduate degree offers access to many more opportunities.

Cheraghi told BusinessWest that the new program will play a large role in helping the College of Engineering continue its pattern of growth and reach ambitious targets for enrollment. Indeed, the Engineering department had 320 students in 2009, boasts 475 at present, and would like to be at 600 within five years, he said, adding that these numbers clearly indicate the need for the planned expansion of Sleith Hall.

While the Civil and Environmental Engineering initiative is new, Lee said, the university has a long history of excellence in engineering, and this will certainly help draw people to what’s called the CEE program. WNEU’s comparatively smaller class sizes and its so-called ‘theory to practice’ approach to engineering education, which provides hands-on experience that enables students to hit the ground running as they enter their chosen careers, are also effective selling points.

These were some of the factors that helped prompt Lynch to eventually choose WNEU. She’s still wrapping up her freshman year, but already has designs on what she wants to do professionally.

“I’m leaning toward the structural side of civil engineering — building roads and bridges and fixing the many that are crumbling,” she said. “I really want to fix our infrastructure.”

Students in the program will focus on the latest advances in the design, construction, and maintenance of today’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, water-treatment and supply networks, and environmental systems, said Lee, adding that students will study the many areas of civil engineering, from structural engineering to geotechnical engineering.

The WNEU program is somewhat unique, he went on, because of its separate environmental engineering concentration. Students who take that route will get a civil engineering degree, which provides great flexibility, he explained, but also a strong focus on issues involving water — from treatment to renewable energy.

Another unique aspect of the program will be the incorporation of ‘green’ engineering techniques and sustainable materials, he said.

“Until recently, efficiency and environmental impacts have not been major parts of the equation,” he told the Communicator. “But now, when you design a building, you want it to be as energy-efficient as possible and use as little water as possible.”

Original projections for the program’s first year were for 10 students, said Lee, adding that, without much (if any) advertising, 13 were chosen from roughly 75 applications. And both of those numbers project to go much higher for year two, with perhaps 140 applications and possibly 20 to 25 students admitted. The goal is to reach 100 students in the program by the time the first class graduates in 2016.

One popular route could be transferring into the program from STCC after completion of the two-year program there, he noted, adding that WNEU can begin accepting transfers when members of the inaugural class reach their junior year.

The university is set to hire a second faculty member for the program for year two, said Lee, who was the first, and add two more for the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

 

On the Right Road

Assessing his career shift and decision to both teach and administer WNEU’s new engineering program, Lee said he believes he’s in the right place at the right time.

And the same can be said of the 13 students in that program’s inaugural class and those who will enroll in the years to come.

Indeed, the projections made by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics would seem to provide ample evidence that he’s right.

Time will tell if WNEU’s large investment will prove worthwhile, but already there are signs that the university is building momentum — in more ways than one.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
Statewide Initiative Helps Chicopee Move the Needle on Uniroyal Site

Uniroyal complex in Chicopee

One of the buildings in the former Uniroyal complex in Chicopee.

Tom Haberlin, director of Economic Development for Chicopee, has been dealing with the fate of the sprawling former Uniroyal plant and neighboring property in the center of the city for more than 30 years.

And as he talked about the project and the recent progress made in readying the site for redevelopment, he chose words that were succinct yet powerful.

“We’ve had a stage-four cancer here in the heart of Chicopee for decades,” he said. “And cancer surgery is expensive.”

That cancer, of course, is the combination Uniroyal (tires) and Facemate (a Johnson & Johnson textile mill) site, a 65-acre strip of polluted land and buildings along the Chicopee Falls section of Chicopee River that, until last year, was home to 23 century-old manufacturing, administrative, and maintenance buildings in various stages of physical and environmental decay. Only 11 of the original buildings remain.

The area is officially designated by the Commonwealth as a ‘brownfield’ site, due to the high level of environmental contamination on the property — PCBs, petroleum, and asbestos have been identified there — and with this designation, as well as proper planning and considerable collaboration with state and federal agencies, the city has finally begun to see real progress in efforts to rehab the site.

Much of this momentum is due to an initiative launched by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who dealt with a number of brownfield projects when he was mayor of Worcester, and took that experience — and lessons learned from it — to the State House. There, in collaboration with Gov. Deval Patrick, he worked to create the Brownfield Support Team (BST), which in many ways complements the 1998 Brownfields Act by bringing together state environmental and economic-development agencies to target assistance for some of the Commonwealth’s most challenging and complex brownfield sites.

The Uniroyal/Facemate site was one of six across the state to receive assistance under Round 2 of the BST initiative; four others are in Attleboro, Chelmsford, Somerville, and South Gardner, while citywide assistance was granted for Brockton. (Springfield’s Chapman Valve site was among five included in the first round of funding).

Assistance from the BST has accelerated work on an initiative known as RiverMills at Chicopee Falls, a project that includes construction of a new senior center on the Uniroyal site, possible development of market-rate housing and office/retail facilities, and expansion of a river walk.

The BST was created to help communities clear the innumerable hurdles presented by brownfield-site redevelopment, including assistance with both charting a course for contaminated property and then dealing with — and securing funds and other support from — an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies, said Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette.

To date, the program has helped to coordinate efforts and secure support from MassDevelopment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, and others, said the mayor.

For this issue and its focus on Environment & Engineering, BusinessWest talked with Murray and city officials about the many challenges involved with brownfield development, and how the BST is helping to write a new chapter in the history of the Chicopee site.

 

Not Treading Lightly

Bissonnette said people in Chicopee often ask, “how come it takes so long to knock down those buildings?”

“I get that all the time,” the mayor sighed. “People don’t realize that it’s a very complex process that involves asbestos, mercury, PCBs, and other petroleum contaminants, and asbestos remediation, for one, can triple this long part of the process.”

He offered the example of a fictitious $2 million project to demolish an old manufacturing plant. The building looks hollow — just a pile of old bricks — but $1.3 million will be needed to properly dispose of all the contaminants, many broken down by the elements and leaching into the soil, while the actual razing of the structure costs only $700,000.

Returning to the Uniroyal/Facemate site, the mayor said, “we could sell it, on its best day, for $4 million, but it would take $20 million to get there [cleaned up], and then we’d hope for a private partner to develop it.”

The question is, who will pay that $20 million, he went on, adding that no private development would take on that burden and the municipality is certainly not in a position to do so.

Michael Bissonnette

Michael Bissonnette says local residents don’t realize how costly and complicated it is to raze a large brownfield site.

Overcoming such stalemates and achieving progress on projects that have, like the Uniroyal property, moved at a snail’s pace for decades was the specific motivation behind creation of the BST, Murray told BusinessWest. He noted that clearing such roadblocks requires high levels of patience, collaboration, accountability, and, most of all, funding, and the BST was designed to generate all of the above.

He recalled a report showing that remediating Worcester’s brownfield sites would potentially result in almost $30 million in tax revenue for the city, which in one year would provide funds to resurface every needy street, cut property taxes, and allow aggressive movement on school construction.

“This was a pretty powerful data point that struck me,” he said, “and it got me thinking that, if we had a focused and disciplined approach, and prioritized the cleanups with the highest return first, we’d be making some progress over time.”

He convened the Mayor’s Brownfield Roundtable, which met monthly with the Legislature, the private sector, and state agencies to talk about how they could prioritize sites. Brownfield sites typically require massive environmental oversight and have multiple owners, and agencies are often putting liens against landowners or fighting one thing or another in several courts. All told, the complexity before one even gets to remediation is challenging at best.

In the case of the Uniroyal/Facemate site, all of the above were in play, and assistance from the BST has helped pave the path to progress.

 

Getting a Grip

“When we started, the city did not have control of either site, and the municipality had to get control of it, a clear title,” Bissonnette explained. “And the EPA had a lien against the Facemate land.

“We were in an interesting position of arguing with them [the EPA] that they were trying to collect money from us on the one hand,” he continued, “but eventually we’re trying to get money from them to clean this up on the other hand. It didn’t make sense.”

It eventually worked out as a ‘discharge of the lien,’ which was litigated in three different courts and is something quite rare, Bissonnette said. The city then partnered with MassDevelopment for a $4 million grant to do site assessment and remediation assistance, and the EPA gave $600,000 more for asbestos cleanup. A $5 million loan was taken out by the city, and $1.4 million from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is being used to help pay that loan.

“The city has cobbled together pretty close to $10 million in federal and state monies and loans, with the city putting in $4 million of the $8 million needed for a senior center on the Facemate site,” said Haberlin. “In late October, we’re expecting to hear on approval of a $1.6 million MassWorks grant to finance the construction of roads, water, sewer, and a pump station to the senior center and two private parcels on either side.”

In all, the 65-acre site includes 45 acres (only 20 to 25 are buildable) of Uniroyal property, and 20 acres of Facemate, but while the Facemate area of the site is set, the Uniroyal ownership is another issue. Haberlin said it was purchased from a private owner by Michelin North America several few years ago, and the company inherited all the issues that come with a brownfields site; Michelin argues that it is responsible for cleaning up what the decaying buildings do to the soil, but not the buildings themselves.

Haberlin said he belives he has another five years of what he called the “Uniroyal saga” to contend with, and Bissonnette concurs.

“If this was easy, it would have been done before me.” Bissonnette said. “But the good news is that Michelin is coming to the table, and we are moving toward a joint agreement on how this will proceed.”

All those involved say the assistance from the BST has been instrumental in moving the process forward, and that the Chicopee project, the largest to date in terms of size to be so designated, provides more evidence that the unique initiative is working and worthy of emulation.

Murray said the Uniroyal/Facemate project was chosen for assistance because the RiverMills at Chicopee Falls redevelopment opportunity was already in motion and had solid potential for return on investment, but needed a higher level of coordination to move ahead.

“We try to target some of the bigger projects where maybe a municipality has some preliminary and conceptual plans done, so we don’t have to start from the beginning,” he explained. “But the municipality just needs the technical expertise, the resources, and the staff power to move it forward.”

Through the BST, said the lieutenant governor, a dedicated staff person from each of the agencies is assigned to the project in question, providing a level of ownership, or accountability, that is needed with such complex projects.

“They are involved in weekly conference calls and monthly meetings,” he explained. “The idea is that you’re all in charge [of your own agency], and it’s your responsibility; you’re accountable. And it’s been a very good model.”

Murray is encouraged by not only the recent remediation progress of Round 1 of the BST and now the advancement of Round 2, but the EPA reports that other states are looking at the Massachusetts model to replicate it.

“I do think we are ahead of the curve, and in the last round nationally of brownfields money [$69.3 million in assessment/cleanup grants and revolving loan funds], we got $6.75 million of that total, far and away the highest total of any state,” Murray told BusinessWest. “I think it’s because we have a track record of collaboration and coordination, and we want to get this money from the federal level as quickly as possible so communities like Chicopee are the beneficiaries.”

Round 3 is in the works, and all teams, especially the DEP and EPA, will be looking at which sites could be next. And a large number of projects are competing for funds, something Murray says is a good problem to have.

“It forces the communities to prioritize which sites they want to go forward on,” he said, “and forces municipalities to come up with consensus plans and be disciplined in their approach.”

 

Clean Slate

For Chicopee, the figurative field of dreams is quickly — at least by government standards — becoming the literal reality. Bissonnette is encouraged by the many comments from people he sees at the post office in Chicopee Falls, who no longer stare at the old, vacant Facemate buildings.

“It’s an encouraging sign for them; those buildings are gone, and it means progress,” said the mayor. “We will soon have the most beautiful walk and bikeway along that river. It’s gorgeous, but they just can’t see it yet.”

In other words, the expensive cancer treatment is working.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
MassDEP Program Will Recycle Organics for Clean Energy

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Results Program (CERP) is an innovative, first-of-its-kind new program that was launched in November 2011 by the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). The program is designed to maximize the combined resources of both agencies to better advance the siting and successful implementation of renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects.
A key goal of CERP is to promote an increased capacity in the Commonwealth for anaerobic digestion (AD) — a process that breaks down food and other organic material to produce a renewable biogas (largely comprised of methane). This biogas is then combusted to generate electricity and heat. Just over a half-year from launch of this new program, the agencies are making great strides toward this goal.
Diverting commercial organic wastes (such as vegetable waste from farms, food processers, grocery stores, institutions, and restaurants) from the waste stream and converting them to a useful fuel has many significant benefits. Removal of these materials from the waste stream saves them taking up limited capacity in the state’s landfills.
In addition, because Massachusetts has some of the highest solid-waste disposal rates in the country (ranging from $60 to $90 a ton, nearly double the national average), recycling organic material for reuse can considerably offset disposal costs for the businesses that generate these materials. Furthermore, producing renewable biogas from anaerobic digestion is a sustainable, renewable energy solution. Active capture and use of methane from the breakdown of organic material reduces emissions of greenhouse gases and diminishes our dependency on fossil fuel.
MassDEP is working with DOER, the Mass. Department of Agriculture, the Mass. Clean Energy Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that, by 2020, the Commonwealth is generating 50 megawatts of electricity from this renewable source — up from the fewer than 10 megawatts being generated now. These partners also have a goal of diverting 350,000 tons per year of organic material from landfills and incinerators to anaerobic digestion and other organics-processing facilities; organic material represents more than 25% of the total amount of waste currently being thrown away in Massachusetts.
MassDEP and its partner agencies have identified specific steps to increase diversion of organic material for productive reuse via anaerobic digestion and other processing facilities. Those actions include streamlining and clarifying regulatory requirements, increasing diversion of food waste at large businesses and institutions to ensure a supply of material for anaerobic digestion, and encouraging appropriate siting of more anaerobic digestion projects across the Commonwealth.

What’s Next?
MassDEP is in the final stages of amending its solid-waste regulations to facilitate significant expansion of the state’s capacity to process and recycle source-separated organics and other recyclable materials. Concurrent amendments to regulations governing municipal wastewater-treatment plants will allow those facilities to accept appropriate source-separated organics for AD processing, which will in turn boost their energy production and reduce their operating expenses. The agency has been working with stakeholders to address the thoughtful comments received on draft regulations earlier this year, and MassDEP’s final AD regulations are expected to be published by this fall.
In addition, agencies have made great progress conducting a preliminary evaluation of sites on public lands that may be well-suited for new anaerobic-digestion facilities. We have narrowed the sites to a manageable list of eight, and are meeting with the state Division of Capital Asset Management, agency heads, and host communities to talk about the feasibility for siting these demonstration projects.
Massachusetts has already made significant progress in diverting organics from the waste stream and has been a leader in working with commercial generators of organics on building an infrastructure for collection. Over the past decade, MassDEP has worked extensively with major supermarket chains in Massachusetts, and as a result more than 300 of the 600 supermarkets are diverting organics (produce and breads) from disposal for compost at nearby farms. MassDEP has also worked with a number of other business sectors that generate significant quantities of food waste to help them establish diversion programs. Sectors with active diversion programs include hotels, colleges and universities, convention centers, hospitals, and large restaurants.
Given the importance of diverting organic materials away from landfills and into beneficial renewable energy, the Commonwealth will soon be proposing adding commercial organics to the other materials currently banned from landfills and incinerators.
The Patrick-Murray Administration seeks to put all of these pieces together so that, before too long, all commercially generated organic waste is diverted from disposal and processed through AD to harvest the renewable fuel source.
In many European countries, large-scale anaerobic digestion of organic waste has proven successful in the creation of jobs, improving energy independence, stimulating economic growth, and being an important component of the renewable-energy strategy. Through the combined efforts of DOER, MassDEP, and other key stakeholders, Massachusetts is leading efforts to make this a reality in the Commonwealth.

Kenneth Kimmell is commissioner of the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection.

Environment and Engineering Sections
New OSHA Compliance Rules for Employers Are on the Way

Daniel W. Morton-Bentley

Daniel W. Morton-Bentley

After years of deliberation, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon release a rule requiring employers to develop a written injury and illness prevention program (IIPP). This requirement, already in place in several states, is a proactive measure designed to help employers find and fix hazards in the workplace.
The rule is also likely to include additional requirements, such as developing a system for communicating with employees and conducting employee trainings.
OSHA is the federal agency that administers the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA’s duty is to ensure that workplaces are safe and free of hazards. To that end, it prescribes safety regulations and engages in site investigations. While these efforts have largely been remedial in nature, OSHA’s new rule represents a significant step toward preventative regulation.
Generally, IIPP programs require employers to develop, communicate, and carry out workplace injury-prevention plans. More than a dozen states have adopted such programs, including, most notably, California. Thirty-four states either require or encourage employers to adopt IIPPs (15 require them), and many large organizations have voluntarily done so. OSHA has identified six elements crucial to any IIPP program:
• Management leadership;
• Worker participation;
• Hazard identification and assessment;
• Hazard prevention and control;
• Education and training; and
• Program evaluation and improvement.
OSHA has not yet released a draft of its IIPP program, but it is likely that the federal program will resemble California’s influential program, first instituted in 1991. That state’s IIPP initiative requires that plans be in writing and satisfy the seven following criteria:
• Accountability (identifying the person(s) responsible for administering the program);
• Compliance (creating a system that recognizes compliant employees and requires regular training and retraining);
• Communication (ensuring employee awareness of the IIPP and developing a system for communicating with employees that informs them of their right to complain without fear of reprisal);
• Identification (identifying and evaluating workplace hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections);
• Investigation (implementing a procedure to investigate occupational injury or occupational illness);
• Methodology (developing methods and/or procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions); and
• Instruction (providing training and instruction at specified times).
California’s law also contains exceptions for small employers. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees can satisfy the communication requirement by orally informing employees about potential hazards, and businesses with fewer than 20 employees are exempt from certain documentation requirements.
California’s IIPP plan also contemplates, but does not require, the establishment of a labor/management health and safety committee. If California employers have a labor/management committee that meets often enough and satisfies certain requirements, this satisfies the employer’s communication requirement. OSHA’s rule could include a similar provision, or mandate the creation of such a committee.
What will this rule mean for your business? If you don’t already have an IIPP, developing one will certainly cost time and money. But, despite these short-term costs, OSHA anticipates that the rule will produce savings in the long run. A study cited in a January 2012 OSHA white paper indicates that IIPP programs have consistently increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved both employee retention and morale.
The effect of OSHA’s proposed rule on small businesses deserves special note.  This new requirement will be yet another legal hoop for small-business owners to leap through. However, as explained in the OSHA white paper noted above, the rule will likely be procedural and not mandate specific, quantifiable results.  Therefore, small businesses must only develop a plan suited to meet the needs of their specific workplaces (which may be relatively simple).
Small businesses should also be aware of the effect of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). This law affords small businesses greater input into the regulatory process and eases the burden of enforcement and administrative penalties on small businesses.
When a proposed OSHA rule (such as this one) is expected to have a significant impact on small entities, OSHA initiates a consultation process with the Small Business Administration. A review panel is convened and considers comments from industry representatives. After this meeting, a written report is prepared and submitted to OSHA within 60 days. OSHA then reviews the report, incorporates suggestions, and publishes the rule in the Federal Register for public comment. OSHA’s IIPP rule will undergo this process shortly (it was delayed late last month).
Businesses will be able to weigh in on the IIPP rule. Small businesses may contact the U.S. Small Business Administration’s small-business ombudsman at (888) REG-FAIR in anticipation of, or during, the SBREFA review process.  And once this process is complete and a final version of the rule is published in the Federal Register, any business (or interested member of the public) may submit written comments to OSHA during the rule’s notice and comment period.
OSHA has been pushing for a federal IIPP requirement for years, and it will likely be here before we know it.  Businesses both small and large now have opportunities to offer their thoughts on the rule and to plan for what a written IIPP plan will mean for their organizations.

Daniel W. Morton-Bentley, Esq. specializes exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal LLP, a woman-owned, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
Huntley Associates Takes Pride in Its Diversity and Long History

Michael Schafer, left, and Senior Engineer Gregory Henson

Michael Schafer, left, and Senior Engineer Gregory Henson take pride in offering alternative designs and approaches to each of Huntley’s projects.

Huntley Associates, P.C. is a Northampton firm that dates back to 1870 and specializes in surveying and engineering projects. The scope of its work is diverse, but whether the job in question is a multi-million-dollar operation or simply involves giving advice to a municipality, integrity is the company’s cornerstone, said President Michael Schafer.
Specifically, he makes it a point to shake a client’s hand, look him or her in the eye, and give his word that his company will do everything possible to stay within budget and complete the project through carefully orchestrated teamwork. “It all boils down to proper planning and preliminary design. People who see the end product often don’t understand all of the steps that went into it. And in today’s economic times, proper strategic planning is important for a project to be cost-effective,” Schafer said, adding that clients are presented with alternative designs, ideas, and approaches to ensure that they are satisfied.
“When I write out a proposal, it’s very detailed. It lays out every step required from planning to finish. It also allows the client the opportunity to see the cost, which is particularly important because it can determine whether they decide to proceed,” Schafer said. For example, if a residential housing complex will intrude on wetlands, it may become cost-prohibitive or more than a client wants to spend.
“It really depends on the complexity and location, but if a project involves environmental concerns or reviews from state or federal agencies, the scope and fees can become a little fuzzy,” he continued. “For example, if a road has to cut through a swamp, there may or may not be endangered species living there, such as turtles or frogs. Wetlands are a big concern, and you have to work around them, which can mean moving the project or a building to a different location.
“A successful project can no longer be defined in purely technical terms,” he went on. “Regulatory, economic, and administrative issues are now major concerns.”
Therefore, it’s critical to lay out roadblocks to reduce the potential for change orders during construction, Schafer said.
He prides himself on creating a working relationship with everyone who will play a role in or on the job. “I promote a team approach,” Shafer said. “It involves the owner, client, and contractor as well as regulatory agencies, including towns or cities.”
They sit down together, which is important, as it allows different sectors to have input “sooner rather than later, after construction has begun,” Schafer said.
His staff members are not typical engineers. “We’re people who have been in the construction industry, so we understand the complexities involved, which makes it a positive experience for everyone. And if we help each other, the end result is typically an exceptionally constructed project that is completed within budget,” he told BusinessWest.
Schafer said unexpected issues often come to light during the building phase. “But if we work with the contractors, they work with us, so we end up with fewer change orders due to our relationship. And we like to take a project from start to finish to ensure that our clients are truly getting everything they are paying for. It helps that we know the local boards, conservation commissions, and regulations, because we have worked here for 50 years and are surveying the area in which we live.”

In the Beginning
Huntley Associates was founded by E.E. Davis in 1870, and is one of the oldest continuously practicing surveying and engineering firms in New England. “Our employees live in the area, so they are committed to making this a better place to live,” Schafer said.
The company was purchased by Almer Huntley in 1963. “At that time, the company’s main forte was surveying. The first engineering project was done in the late ’60s,” Schafer said.
The additional scope led to growth, and a second office was added in Maine. “By the late ’80s, the company had gone from a two- or three-man show to 80 employees,” he noted.
Huntley reached its peak during the ’70s and ’80s when it was called upon to do a number of projects across Western Mass. A large portion of the work was the civil and structural engineering and mechanical and electrical planning required to build wastewater-treatment plants.
“They were turnkey projects,” said Schafer, noting that the boom continued during the Reagan administration. “There was a lot of money pumped into the economy which was targeted for wastewater plants and infrastructure.”
But after Reagan left office, jobs became harder to get. There was a downturn in the economy, so Huntley closed its Maine office, and the firm stopped doing structural, mechanical, and electrical work, focusing instead on site development via civil engineering and surveying.
When Huntley made the decision to retire, Schafer purchased the firm. He had established Schafer Engineering Associates in Albany, N.Y. in 1994, and the men had worked together.
At that point, Schafer incorporated the services of his two companies. “It was done to consolidate resources and provide a larger capability to clients,” he explained, noting that today, the two companies share resources. “It allows us to keep our rates reasonable.”
Local clients who employ Huntley’s services find they can save time and money when historic records are needed, since their files date back to the mid-1800s. “We have old prints as well as plans and records from subdivisions in many communities, including Springfield and Holyoke. It’s a valuable resource,” Schafer said.

Changing Focus
In 2002, much of Huntley’s work was focused on new residential subdivisions. However, once the recession hit in 2008 and those jobs began to decline, the company’s focus changed again. Today, it’s working on subdivisions in Granby and New York as well as a nine-building apartment complex with 54 units in Amherst.
Other projects include new public-safety buildings in Granby and Montague. “And we are in the final stages of construction of a public-school expansion,” Schafer said.
His two companies have also collaborated on projects for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they have done work on parks in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York.
Road construction is another forte, and a recent $1.3 million project involved improving a 1.3-mile stretch along Parker Street in Springfield. “There was an overhead railroad bridge which was very narrow, so the street narrowed at that point,” Schafer said.
As a result, the crossing and bridge both had to be rebuilt, which meant the train track had to be temporarily relocated. It was a complex project and involved many agencies, as it was federally funded.
The company was also responsible for the portion of the Manhan Rail Trail that runs through Northampton. Three bridge crossings were included in the initial plan, but a reduction in budget meant it had to be changed to a street crossing. Providing access to the pathway also proved problematic due to elevated stormwater levels and telephone poles which stood in the way and could not be moved. “It took a lot of coordination and communication,” Schafer said.
But these large undertakings are only part of what the company does. “We consider ourselves a multi-disciplinary firm and have always been known as an icon in the area. But most of our work is not recognized. We do structural inspections of municipal and private buildings and a lot of assessments of historic structures,” he explained. There is also storm mitigation work, which has occurred frequently since the June tornado and major rainstorms that followed.
“A major stream bank that collapsed in Whately is threatening the water supply there, so we are helping there,” Schafer said. The company also spends time with officials in municipalities who call on them seeking advice about their treatment systems, grant applications, and landfill monitoring.
“Smaller projects are our bread and butter. We do everything from single-home surveys to surveys of 200 acres or more. And we have worked for many government agencies on the state and federal level,” Schafer said.
The company tries to be creative whenever it can, and uses environmentally sensitive approaches, such as a rain garden it designed for the Amherst apartment project that will divert the runoff of water from the buildings to the garden. “It’s an eco-friendly approach that we can use within the available budget,” he noted.

Back to Basics
The company has evolved continuously during its 142-year history, but through all that change there have been many constants.
“We’re still here and have been here for a long time,” Schafer said. “We have worked in every arena and every county, and are economical.”
But to him, what matters most is the company’s reputation.
“When I shake hands with someone or tell them something, my word is golden,” he told BusinessWest. “I get a real kick of out of helping people and enjoy solving problems. In the end, it’s not just a business. It’s what I believe in.”

Environment and Engineering Sections
Rivers Protection Act Balances Needs of Development, Environment

Melissa Coady paused before explaining the Rivers Protection Act. Because there’s a lot to explain.
“Of all the pieces of wetlands protection regulations, the section about riverfront protection is the most convoluted,” said Coady, project environmental scientist for Tighe & Bond in Westfield. “There’s so much ‘if this, then this’ that has do with when a parcel was created or when the land was subdivided.”
The Rivers Protection Act, initiated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was passed into law in 1996 with a number of goals in mind, from preventing water pollution to erosion control; from protecting wildlife to preserving shellfish supplies. It does so by barring or heavily regulating development along the edges of rivers and streams.
“The riverfront area exists to protect the functions and value of those streams and the adjacent areas, in terms of water supplies, groundwater, flood control, prevention of floor damage, wildlife habitat, and fisheries,” Coady said. “It’s trying to roll all these into one area.”
Any understanding of those regulations begins with the riverfront area itself, which is defined as the area along any perennial stream — roughly defined as a stream or river that runs all year, except in extreme drought — between the water line’s annual high-water mark and a parallel line measured 200 feet offshore (except in certain urban areas; more on that later).
“The initial purpose of the Rivers Protection Act was to provide a buffer zone along streams and rivers that are considered perennial — that is, they don’t dry out,” said John Prenosil, president of JMP Environmental Consutling in Springfield. “The idea is to provide wildlife habitat protection, water quality, flood protection, nutrient removal, benefits of that nature.
“A perennial stream,” he explained, “is defined as a stream that’s shown on the most recent USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] mapping as a solid blue line. A dashed line represents an intermittent stream, meaning it dries out.”
And protected property doesn’t necessarily have to be, well, wet. According to the DEP, “riverfront areas may contain wetlands and flood plains, as well as what have traditionally been considered upland areas. As a result, the features of the riverfront area vary by location: from asphalt and landscaped greenways in urban areas to woods, lawns, and farm fields in suburban and rural areas.”

Melissa Coady says the state’s riverfront rules are among its most complex regulations in the realm of wetlands protection.

As Coady noted, “even though it can be comprised entirely of an upland, non-vegetated area, it’s still considered a wetland resource area under the act.”
That can make life tricky for developers, and even thornier for individuals who purchase their dream property, only to find out it’s essentially useless to them.

Multiple Goals
The DEP, however, decided 16 years ago that the value of protecting waterways outweighed the needs of developers. It argued that unspoiled riverfront areas prevent pollution by filtering and trapping sediments, oils, metals, and other pollutants, as well as cleaning water through toxic chemical breakdown in soils and plant roots.
It also asserted that riverfronts protect water supplies by removing pollutants that are carried in runoff from nearby commercial sites, roadways, housing developments, and parking lots before they reach surface water, as well as allowing water to seep down into the ground to replenish groundwater supplies and maintain base flows in streams and wetlands. More than 60% of Massachusetts communities are at least partly dependent on surface water as their primary source of drinking water.
In addition, according to the DEP, riverfront areas protect fisheries and land containing shellfish by moderating stream temperatures, reducing erosion, and filtering sediments and pollutants before they reach rivers — important, because these fisheries and shellfish beds are critical for recreational and commercial harvesting, as well as providing food sources to support the aquatic food chain.
Riverfront areas also protect wildlife habitats by providing food, shelter, and water for many plants, birds, and animals; serving as travel corridors year-round and during seasonal migrations; and harboring rare or endangered plants and animals.
Finally, the DEP noted, riverfronts control flooding and prevent storm damage by absorbing and storing water during storms and releasing the water slowly back to the river.
The law does take into account the fact that urban development tends to spring up alongside waterways. The protected area is reduced from 200 feet to 25 feet inland from the high-water mark in cities with a population above 90,000 or areas of smaller communities with a certain population density; in Western Mass., only Springfield merits that distinction.

John Prenosil

John Prenosil says navigating the nuances of the act is difficult because every site and proposed development project is different.

Prenosil said the 25-foot urban zone “makes sense from a development standpoint; it’s difficult to work in a riverfront area that’s never developed. The point of the act was to protect an undisturbed buffer from the edge of streams and rivers. I think the original intent and purpose was not so much to provide protection along developed areas. It’s for when you go up to the hilltowns and have that proverbial 30-foot-wide trout stream, to provide some protection from development.”
Historically, Coady said, urban areas were built up along rivers to begin with, “so the function and value of undeveloped riverfront areas are virtually absent. But there’s still a need to regulate to a certain extent how those areas get developed.”
However, Prenosil noted, “that being said, the Rivers Protection Act does make development in urbanized areas difficult for sure,” even in municipalities that qualify for the 25-foot protected area.
Of all the resource areas designated by the DEP, Coady said, riverfronts are probably the trickiest to deal with. “The burden is always on the applicant no matter what the filing is — to demonstrate that you’ve met the performance standards, that you won’t have an adverse impact, and if you do have an impact on the resource area, that you’re mitigating it in the way the regulations call for.”

Some Exceptions
But what about properties purchased before the act went into effect? It turns out the law offers a bit of wiggle room.
“If you are working on a parcel of land that was recorded on or before Oct. 6, 1997, then you are allowed to alter 5,000 square feet, or 10% of the total riverfront area, whichever is greater,” Coady explained. However, “you have to keep at least 100 feet of undisturbed vegetation between the high-water line of the river and the limits of your disturbance. So, even though the provision allows for the development of the riverfront area, they’re still trying to protect the corridor along the river.”
And what if someone purchases a previously developed parcel along a river or stream? As it turns out, the state grants some leeway for development, as municipalities and state agencies are always seeking to improve neglected properties while still adhering to the intent of the 1996 law.
“If you’re not looking at a pristine landscape, if you’ve got an area that already has roads, or has an old parking lot, or is devoid of topsoil — dumping grounds, that sort of thing — if you clean that up, you can develop that area,” Coady explained.
“They’re trying to give an incentive to improve the existing conditions,” she added. “But there are some caveats. The total footprint of the work can’t exceed the total amount of degraded area, and you have to provide some sort of restoration of the degraded riverfront area.
“It could be that people have been dumping things there, and you could be removing the dumped material. You could plant native herbaceous or woody species to enhance the existing riverfront area,” she continued. For instance, if the previously developed area encroaches to within 75 feet of the river, but the 50 feet closest to the water line is undisturbed, a developer might provide new plantings over the intervening 25 feet.
“When you’re redeveloping a piece,” Prenosil noted, “as long as everything stays the same footprint, it’s relatively straightforward, as long as you’re getting no closer to the waterfront.”
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, Coady added. “That’s one of the reasons this set of regulations is so lengthy and complex. It’s very difficult, even with a clear-cut case, to fit these projects into neat little boxes. A lot of headscratching goes into it, and sometimes, there’s a lot of gray area.”

Common Good
The DEP claims that the legislation “took a measured approach to environmental protection — work in the riverfront area is not prohibited, but applicants must demonstrate that their projects have no practicable alternatives and will have no significant adverse impacts.”
With her background in this field, Coady said, it was natural for her to consider flood plains and wetlands and rare species when she purchased property, but not everyone seeks professional help before making a purchase, and many have been stuck with undevelopable land.
“It would absolutely be recommended to have a feasibility study done beforehand,” she said. “If the property has any wetlands or riverfront area, it would be advisable to take into consideration what uses someone wants to get out of that property in the future, because it may not be feasible under the current regulations.”
The law can be particularly thorny in cities that don’t meet the population threshold for the 25-foot exception, Prenosil said.
“This works great up in the hilltowns, but Pittsfield is problematic when working with residential areas,” he noted. “It’s difficult to apply one standard to everyone because there’s always unique situations.
“Basically,” he continued, “the DEP said, ‘look, we need more protections along the streams and rivers.’ The regulations are always changing; they’re dynamic. Maybe the next iteration of this will address some of those problems.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Environment and Engineering Sections
Environmental Compliance Can Come at a Steep Price

John Prenosil

Massachusetts has adopted numerous laws and regulations to protect the quality of its natural resources. These laws provide a baseline of protection and are bolstered by municipal regulations that provide supplemental protection to state laws.
I think we all agree that environmental protection is paramount. However, this protection often comes at a significant monetary cost. Why? Compliance with environmental laws and regulations can require a significant outlay of capital and time and is reflected in the price of land. It is the role of the land-development consultant to address these laws and regulations and assist developers through the permitting process.
This article is not meant to suggest that environmental laws should not be levied or provide less protection, and does not provide a comprehensive outline of environmental regulations. It should provide, however, a basic primer on typical environmental-development constraints and their respective roles in driving up land-development costs.
Let’s consider a theoretical parcel of land purchased by XYZ Land Development. XYZ believed it could save money and decided not to hire a land-development consultant prior to purchasing its parcel. XYZ purchased an exceptional parcel encumbered by a slew of environmentally related development issues. The parcel is interspersed with wetlands, located within an area identified by the Commonwealth as containing rare species, located predominantly within the 100-year flood plain of a nearby river, and is downgradient from a gasoline-storage facility. If we consider an identical parcel of land without these issues, you will see how these constraints drive up the development costs for this parcel.

Wetlands
Wetlands in Massachusetts are protected under the state’s Wetlands Protection Act and, in many cases, by additional municipal bylaws. Municipal bylaws are more restrictive and often impose no-build zones and/or additional requirements beyond the Wetlands Protection Act. Let’s assume our parcel is also subject to a municipal wetland bylaw that stipulates a 50-foot no-build zone from wetland boundaries.
By the time XYZ hired a consultant to identify wetlands on the property, leaves had fallen, and most vegetation was dead. Let’s assume it’s late November. Although a competent wetland scientist can identify the edge of most wetlands in late November, most conservation commissions require wetland boundaries to be verified when vegetation is actively growing. It should be noted, however, that certain types of wetland boundaries cannot be accurately identified without vegetation. And yes, you guessed it: the wetlands on our parcel can’t be accurately identified without vegetation.
Because identifying accurate wetland boundaries is one of the first critical steps in developing the parcel, XYZ must now wait at least five months before an accurate and defensible wetland boundary can be determined. Wetland issues (assuming the regulating agencies have no other concerns) have cost XYZ at least an additional five months of wait time, carrying costs, and potential lost revenue.

Rare Species
Concurrent with preliminary identification of wetland boundaries, the consultant filed an information request with the Mass. Natural Heritage Program (NHESP), the state agency tasked with enforcing the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. A response letter from NHESP typically takes 30 days and provides only basic information on the identity of the species thought and/or known to occur on the parcel.
To provide a response, NHESP must understand the major components of the proposed development to determine if impacts to rare species may occur. This response requires the consultant to prepare a site plan illustrating, at a minimum, the proposed development, development limits, and other major site improvements. Upon initial review of the site plan, NHESP may request additional information, including the type of soils on the parcel, forest type, and other environmental characteristics.
A formal investigation of the parcel, called a Habitat Assessment, may also be required. For the sake of discussion, say a rare turtle and rare plant species occur on the parcel. It’s late November, and the turtle is snuggled down in the ground, and the plant is dormant for the winter and unidentifiable. Rare-species issues have cost XYZ a minimum of five months and up to one year of additional wait time, resulting in increased carrying costs and potential lost revenue.

Flood Plains
Although the parcel is not immediately adjacent to a river, more than 95% is located entirely within the 100-year flood plain. In Massachusetts, work within the 100-year flood plain has specific regulations and requires that the flood plain not be filled in. Generally speaking, fill within the flood plain, from grading, site work, and construction, results in displacement of floodwaters (at altered elevations) downstream at those same elevations.
This is a difficult concept to grasp. But let’s think of our flood plain as a cup of water. Imagine the cup is two-thirds full before you pour in a half-cup of sand. The water will overflow because it is displaced by the sand. A flood plain is no different. If you fill it in, its capacity to store a given volume of flood water is decreased.
This issue can be addressed more easily when a parcel has areas located outside (upgradient of) the flood plain. To meet the regulatory criteria for working within the 100-year flood plain, ‘compensatory storage’ must be provided. If you fill in 100 cubic yards of a flood plain, you need to offset this by providing 100 cubic yards of storage. This is accomplished by digging a hole at the same elevation to create what is referred to as compensatory storage.
The XYZ parcel does not have sufficient land located outside the 100-year flood plain to provide compensatory storage, and, unfortunately, the proposed development will require significant amounts of fill to be placed within the flood plain. If compensatory storage cannot be provided on the parcel, it must be provided at the same elevations on an adjacent parcel. To locate compensatory storage on an adjacent parcel requires additional surveying, engineering, and, obviously, landowner approval. Obtaining off-site compensatory storage cost XYZ six months.

Hazardous Waste
XYZ did not perform correct due diligence when purchasing its parcel, and decided to finance the sale privately. An environmental site assessment was not conducted, and XYZ assumed that, because the parcel was never developed, there would not be any hazardous-waste-related issues. XYZ did not consider the possibility that underground storage tanks on the adjacent, upgradient gasoline-storage facility may have leaked.
Well, guess what? They leaked. A lot. The extent of the leak was determined by installing a test well, sampling soil and groundwater, and performing laboratory analysis for contaminants. A significant volume of contaminated soil had to be removed, and long-term monitoring systems had to be installed to meet regulatory criteria. The legal costs of coordination with the owners of the storage facility cost tens of thousands of dollars and took almost a year. Disposal of contaminated soils was also expensive due to a particular type of contaminant.
This example clearly illustrates that compliance with environmental regulations can result in significant outlays of capital and time. I should note that the XYZ property actually exists and was successfully permitted. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

John Prenosil is a land-development consultant with more than 14 years of experience. His company, JMP Environmental Consulting Inc., provides an array of land-development services throughout Massachusetts; (413) 272-0111; www.jmpec.net

Environment and Engineering Sections
Cooley Dickinson Cops National Award for Sustainable Practices

John Lombardi (left, with Assistant Director of Facilities Scott Johnson)

John Lombardi (left, with Assistant Director of Facilities Scott Johnson) says CDH has long made it a priority to promote healthy living and a healthy environment.


Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton has long taken what it considers a leadership position in terms of green practices and operating philosophies. And now, it has some paperwork to back up those claims.
Indeed, the Volunteer Hospital Assoc. (VHA), a national health care network, recently presented John Lombardi, director of Facilities and Engineering at CDH, with its 2011 Leadership Award for Sustainability. That term ‘sustainability’ means using a resource so it is not depleted or permanently damaged, and the hospital has proven it has a burning desire — exemplified by its wood-burning co-generation system — to protect the environment and the health of the community.
Cooley Dickinson was one of only 13 health care facilities across the nation recognized at VHA’s recent annual conference in La Jolla, Calif. with a Sustainability Excellence/Best in Class Individual Program award.
In fact, its system is so unique and successful that Lombardi was asked to speak about it the week before he accepted the award at the Sustainable Hospitals 2011 conference in San Diego, sponsored by Active Communications International. The purpose of that conference was to help hospital officials understand how creating a sustainable environment can reduce operational costs, improve staff retention, and enhance the patient experience.
“It’s always been a Cooley Dickinson initiative to promote healthy living and a healthy environment,” Lombardi said, adding that it is the first hospital in New England to use woodchips to heat and cool its facility. “Hospitals use a lot of energy and resources to keep up with patient care, and it would be easy to burn oil and use nasty plastics and not be conscious of ecology. But we have been ahead of the game since 1980.”

Firing Up
Cooley Dickinson has been burning woodchips to heat and cool its campus for 25 years. “The hospital applied for a grant to install its first wood-burning operation,” said spokesperson Christina Trinchero. It was approved, and in 1985, the federal government funded half the cost of a new woodchip plant. The chips are purchased locally and consist of scrap wood from milling operations or old trees.
“Our boiler was designed and installed to eliminate the need to burn high-sulfur fuel oil when oil cost less than 50 cents a gallon,” Lombardi said. “The design of the hospital’s power plant has been in the forefront of running on sustainable energy since the ’80s.”
In 1996, a 500-ton steam-absorption chiller was added to provide chilled water for air conditioning. Lombardi explained that the steam supply for the chiller comes from the woodchip plant and reduces the electrical power needed for air conditioning.
In 2006, hospital officials made the decision to continue to expand their green initiative. Before building a new 110,000-square-foot surgery center, they invested in a second woodchip boiler. It was designed with an efficient-emissions package approved by the Mass. Environmental Protection Agency and the city of Northampton.
Lombardi said this was no small investment, as the unit costs about $2.5 million. But it offers many benefits. The wood chips are purchased locally, and since much of the material comes from waste, it reduces the load on landfills. The operation also creates jobs that Lombardi says would not otherwise exist, and the ash produced by the boiler system been donated to farms for fertilizer.
In 2008, the hospital employed an agency to conduct an energy study. As a result, additional measures were implemented to help produce electricity and continue to reduce Cooley Dickinson’s dependence on energy from other sources. Modifications were made to the power plant, which included drilling a new well, and today CDH’s energy-saving measures benefit the environment and save the hospital approximately $450,000 each year.
Recent energy initiatives that began in January of 2010 include installing 4,600 energy-efficient light fixtures, along with new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning controls, and upgrading the steam-distribution system. In addition, the hospital launched a food-waste composting program in February, which reduces costs by taking waste out of the trash system.
“We realize that waste is inefficient and there is a lot of waste in things we do. So, the right thing to do is to minimize our waste,” Lombardi said. “We also believe in a healthy environment, and wood is cleaner to burn than oil.”
The hospital operates its burner under an Environmental Protection Agency permit that requires it to remove dust particles from the smoke. “So the emission from the smokestacks is mostly steam,” Lombardi explained.
He told BusinessWest that the new clean-energy features, along with micro-turbines installed in 2009 and 2010, save approximately 825,000 gallons of fuel oil and prevent 1,534 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
“That equates to 301 passenger cars not being driven for a full year, or 179 typical households being taken off the energy grid, or 469 tons of waste recycled,” he said.

Winning Idea
When he decided to fill out the application for the award, Lombardi never thought the hospital would win.
“It was a national competition, and there were a lot of other hospitals involved. I thought there would be bigger hospitals with bigger stories than ours at Cooley Dickinson,” he said. “Our story is simple — we burn wood and make electricity and heat and cool with it.”
So he was very proud when he was introduced at the gala. “We were honored to receive the award because it takes a lot of work on the part of our staff members and engineers to maintain the system. There are a lot of components and technology that affect many people at the hospital who have to coordinate their efforts to keep the system running at capacity and efficiently. So it was nice to be recognized nationally.”
During the conference, participants from other medical facilities expressed admiration and awe. “They didn’t understand how we could generate air conditioning out of wood. But to us, it’s easy,” he said.
Lombardi is proud of CDH’s system, and credits hospital officials for their support.
“Our senior leaders had confidence in the facilities team that the investment would pay off,” he said. “The old-school hospital mentality is to spend money on bigger machines and state-of-the-art technology. But that continues to waste energy, which is needed to run the machines. Instead, we are spending our money wisely in regard to sustainability and the environment, and it has paid for itself and also provided jobs for people.”