Travis Fern’s office is acres of dirt. From the cab of his truck, he watches as a water tanker rumbles by, spraying the ground and suppressing the dust that rises from sprawling, open land.
Fern is the compliance manager for Earthworks Environmental, a Gilbert-based company that primarily serves land developers, vertical developers, commercial construction and land-holding companies. It helps mitigate the potential risk of these entities not meeting county or state environmental compliance standards.
And the cost of not being in compliance could be hefty: fines can range from a first-time violation of $200 to a repeat offender or up to $10,000 – an amount that is per violation per day.
It’s a muggy June morning with the Valley’s summer monsoons looming. Fern drives the perimeter of Cadence at Gateway in Mesa. At 190 acres, it represents one of Earthworks’ largest sites for which it will provide compliance services.
Earthmovers crawl across the site, making way for the start of infrastructure construction. A site this large requires 36 hours of watering. A 1.5-million-gallon water pond sits on the southern edge of the development.
Fern begins his inspection by opening a series of metal boxes adjacent to the project sign. He finds large binders that hold water records, gravel pad and stabilization records, and dust certification cards.
“The initial inspection was in late May,” Fern says, stopping his truck to let an earthmover pass by. “We will make multiple inspections a week depending on weather and phase of the project. We have to make sure the permits and the site conditions are in order. Early on the inspections may take just a couple of hours because not much work is being done. As infrastructure starts being built the inspections take longer. There are a lot of moving parts at that point.”
Founded in 2014 by Principal Cherie Koester, Earthworks Environmental provides services that include storm water pollution prevention, dust control, and construction safety compliance. She appreciates the importance of compliance. Koester was previously a universal inspector in the compliance division for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department with more than 12 years of related experience.
“Cadence is one of those projects that is ideal for our services,” Koester says. “There are multiple entities who are stakeholders in this project and nobody wants non-compliance. We assist in these scenarios to watch everyone’s back.”
Earthworks manages and conducts regulatory inspections with whatever regulatory agency is requesting the inspection. This includes Maricopa County, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Some of Earthworks’ clients include Taylor Morrison, D.R. Horton, CalAtlantic Homes, KB Home, Richmond American, Woodside Homes, Pulte Homes, Beazer Homes, Hancock Builders and Mattamy Homes.
“Earthworks Environmental is an asset and extension of our company,” says John Nagel, land development manager for Silver Fern Companies, which is contracted by Harvard Investments, the developer at Cadence, to provide construction management services.
“I have been able to rely on their knowledge and expertise to get all of my dust control, storm water protection and environmental needs satisfied within the residential development sector,” Nagel says. “Their innovative service and extensive knowledge of regulatory compliance has provided me with the assurance to mitigate risk on every project.”
Technology plays a big role at Earthworks Environmental. It recently launched ERX, the acronym for Earthworks Reporting Xenagogue. ERX is an inspection and reporting system that allows it to be 100 percent electronic.
The system can maintain permits, inspections and corrective actions for the required records retention time limit per municipality. It does, however, still keep paper copies on site. Regulatory agencies still require paper forms.
“ERX is not only a repository for records and permits,” Koester says. “We also utilize it for field proposals. Our next phase of ERX will implement billing statements. Our goal is to be a true one-stop shop both in the field and in the office.”
Earthworks Environmental recently expanded its operations to Florida and Texas.
Mark Hubbard runs the Orlando/Tampa/Jackson, Fla., office as a lead compliance manager. He is responsible for Storm Water Pollution Prevention (SWPP) manual preparation, notice of intent/notice of termination filing, SWPP program management, permit compliance assistance and construction general permit (GCP) applications.
According to Koester, the need for SWPP consulting is even greater in Florida due to the wetlands, sensitive waters and massive growth of development. The amount of rain Florida receives causes storm water issues.
“Cherie and her team have been a significant asset to the Phoenix development market,” said Shannon MacDougall, vice president of land development at Hancock Builders. “They have extensive knowledge of not only the regulations but also how it applies to each project specifically.
“We are fortunate to hold a strong relationship with a trade/subcontractor that has our back and best interest in mind,” MacDougall adds. “Earthworks has found the niche to bridge regulatory agencies with the development industry.”