Earth Services & Abatement Inc. Unearths Surprises on FasTracks Route Across Metro Denver
When the devil is in the project details, Earth Services & Abatement Inc., (ESA), based in Denver, Colorado, is ready to dig in. Literally.
"You name it, we found it," said ESA President Kory Mitchell, referring to tainted soil, asbestos, abandoned landfills and other unsafe construction obstacles the company encountered and corrected during its five-year, $16.7 million contract for environmental remediation and demolition services on Eagle P3, a multi-billion Denver transit project ranked as the largest such venture in recent Colorado history.
Eagle P3 is part of the Denver's Regional Transportation's (RTD) FasTracks, a 2004-voter approved plan to expand commuter light rail and bus transit across the Denver metro region.
ESA's involvement in the massive endeavor included comprehensive services on 43 miles of light rail corridor, connecting the city to Denver International Airport (DIA) and beyond. ESA crews were onsite during the construction of three commuter lines that weave through six local jurisdictions and across some of Denver's oldest, most historic and industrialized sectors. Light rail cars now glide over land frequented in the 1820s by French trappers; past two operating railroads and dozens of heavy manufacturing blocks; over a creek where a lucky miner made the state's first gold find; and near the site of Denver's old Stapleton Airport, now a large planned mixed-use community.
Eagle P3 is the first major U.S. transportation project to use a public-private partnership (P3) to finance, design, build, maintain and operate the system over 34 years. Denver Transit Partners (DTP) holds the project concession. Global engineering giant Fluor is the concession managing partner and holds a 33-percent stake in operating and maintaining the completed system.
The family-owned ESA, which began as an environmental remediation company in 1982, was selected for Eagle P3 for environmental-related services, one of the project's most critical jobs, given the industrial rail corridor's history, length, jurisdictions and geography.
ESA, with licenses and certifications in 35 states, is recognized as one of the top turnkey environmental remediation and demolition firms in the country. The company owns its own equipment, facilities and through the Midwest Training Institute, ESA's training division, delivers a workforce that is skilled, certified and cross-trained to the specific requirements of each job, Mitchell said.
For example, ESA crews were fully prepared to handle all planned and unplanned challenges on the Eagle P3 job before the project started. ESA even trained its demolition workers in environmental compliance so they would know how to handle unexpected materials, such as asbestos, during demolition activities.
"One of our niches is rail-related abatement and demolition. So, before even signing the contract our teams had completed at least 100 hours of safety training and all had full e-rail certifications, which was mandatory on the Eagle P3 job," Mitchell explained.
Although ESA has completed more than 8,000 jobs over the years, with contracts ranging from $5,000 to $20 million, the Eagle P3 project was unlike any other right from the start, Mitchell said.
"Initially, we were contracted to perform soil remediation. However, as the project unfolded our scope grew to include water remediation, as well as asbestos abatement and demolition of structures in the way of the rail line," Mitchell explained.
Potential project complications included working near heavy city traffic and two 24-7 operational railroads; the relocation of 500 utilities; new bridge construction; and a myriad of federal, state and local environmental compliance requirements to meet.
However, Mitchell continued, "Until digging began, no one knew for certain what the subsurface would reveal. A great deal of corridor right-of-way intersected or passed within blocks of some old and heavy industrial land uses so we expected our responsibilities for remediation and tear-down would grow."
Staying Safe and on Schedule
As the project moved forward, preparing a safe work way, while staying on schedule, were project priorities in which ESA played a key role, said Matt Zoss, the project's Environmental Compliance Manager and an employee of DTP subcontractor, Kleinfelder.
"One of the biggest challenges was keeping construction crews safe and the project moving without delays while constructing through some of the most contaminated sites in Denver," said Zoss. "ESA was instrumental in getting the sites ready and safe for the general trades workers to build infrastructure."
ESA performed work on more than 70 parcels throughout the life of the project. Its crews abated asbestos and demolished many existing structures; performed remediation on some 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water; and completed soil remediation on more than 250,000 yards of material. Not surprisingly, Mitchell said, soils were polluted with asbestos, lead, petroleum and coal ash.
Old, forgotten landfills were a common discovery on a number of parcels, including an especially messy one near the downtown home stadium of the Colorado Rockies major league baseball team.
"We ran into a number of old landfills, including a very large one behind Coors Field that was loaded with bottles, asbestos, lead and arsenic," Mitchell said. "I don't think people realize how many big landfills like this are scattered throughout old, large cities. They have to be completely remediated, otherwise the foundation of any structure built on them will crack and fail."
Equipment Keeps Project Moving
With the project's complexity and tight schedules, the fact that ESA owns a full fleet of equipment made it possible for the company to tackle its mission-critical work in record response time.
"Because ESA self-performs all aspects of our contracts with our own equipment and with skilled teams, we can mobilize very quickly in response to unforeseen challenges. That's true on all our jobs and was particularly so on Eagle P3. Because there were some subsurface unknowns, we were basically on call throughout the project for unexpected discoveries or problems," Mitchell said.
"There was no waiting when DTC needed us on short notice. We got in, got the job done, often within a few hours, and got out of the way to keep the project moving. This was a critical ability in order to maximize time and costs on such a large job," Mitchell explained.
ESA's proactive commitment to workplace safety and skills-specific professional training also came into play on the Eagle P3 project, Mitchell said. The company, which holds a current EMR rating of 0.71, developed a pre-job safety plan and monitored it daily on all job sites. Personnel completed rigorous hazardous materials training geared to meet or exceed EPA and OSHA regulations, Mitchell added.
"Our portion of this project went over 250,000 man hours and we never had any lost work hours stemming from safety issues," Mitchell noted. In fact, he added, ESA's Project Manager Scott Huset and crew received the subcontractor safety award from DTC for continually "going above and beyond the safety requirements of the Eagle P3 project."
The "A Line" commuter rail opened to rave reviews in mid-April, thanks to the A Team efforts of dozens of public and private partners. ESA was one, clearing a safe construction-way to the project's eventual success.