Vice President of the Site Assessment and Remediation team, Mike Cassidy, is celebrating his 10th anniversary with Alta Environmental. We sat down with him to talk about how he got his start, some of his notable career experiences, and his perspective on the industry and where it is headed.
1. How and when did you first get involved in environmental consulting?
I had just graduated with my master’s degree from San Diego State University…and I wanted to take a break before jumping into the workforce. But unfortunately for me, the environmental consulting field was booming and a former student of mine was a persistent recruiter. He would not take “no” for an answer so eventually he convinced me to go to work for his company.
2. What work, project, or experience do you see as a career-defining moment that helped shape you into your role as a Vice President?
The project that really was “career-defining” for me started early in my career. The site is an above-ground storage tank facility in operation since the 1890’s and located in downtown San Diego. There were many product pipelines going to and from the facility that had been abandoned in place in the streets and across various properties. Just after joining my first company, I began working on various aspects of this site and quickly became the project manager. I conducted extensive assessment of the site with several remediation methods being considered, and I helped facilitate the installation of the largest vapor extraction system to be used in the area at that time. I also oversaw excavation work and installed a 400-foot long product recovery trench system. I worked closely with the various attorneys involved in litigation regarding the site, was designated an expert witness, and testified in depositions and at trial. The pipelines were in the way of a major development in downtown San Diego (Petco Park), so I was able to be involved in the environmental and legal aspects of the development process from beginning to end. I have worked on this site and the associated pipelines for 25 years and still occasionally get calls from the responsible party regarding the pipelines.
3. What have been some advantages to working at a growing firm like Alta Environmental?
Many firms that do not pursue growth as a primary driver settle comfortably into a rut and do not innovate or actively pursue being thought leaders in the industry. Those firms fall behind as the industry changes. One of the advantages to working at a growing firm like Alta is not only tracking the upcoming changes to the industry, but leading the way by working with regulators, other environmental professionals, and clients to help shape the future. Being on the forefront gets you noticed and facilitates the growth process. Also being known as a company that encourages thought leadership and that has been awarded and formally recognized as a great place to work attracts top talent, which makes my job of growing a team easier.
4. So far, what has been the most challenging work you and your team does or has done? How did you overcome those challenges?
We successfully executed a major bioremediation project which required regulatory permitting hurdles, long-term pilot studies, installation of 75 dual-nested wells, and injection of significant quantities of bioremediation amendments into the subsurface at a very active manufacturing facility with 1,000 employees. We overcame the challenges by being nimble, persistent, and innovative.
5. What are some significant changes that you’ve seen this industry undergo?
Regulations are one of the major drivers of our industry, and these regulations tend to change based on various political influences and scientific studies. Early in my career, many sites we were remediating were closed by the regulators and represented a significant downturn in work. These closures were based on a study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories regarding natural attenuation and plume length in petroleum groundwater contaminants. This was followed by a major push to open new cases based on the discovery of MTBE in the groundwater and classification of MTBE as a probable carcinogen. Furthermore, defining and quantifying human health risk is an ongoing process that has also changed the industry.
6. What goals do you have for your team at Alta?
As for goals, I am building a team where excellent professionals can build their careers and focus on all aspects of being a quality environmental consultant. This includes being trusted advisors to industry, conducting outreach to potential new clients, developing professional relationships with the regulatory community, being thought leaders, and providing exceptional customer service to all clients both internal and external.
7. What advice can you offer to the next generation of environmental consultants?
My advice for the next generation of environmental consultants would be to talk to individuals in the industry before you choose your coursework and decide on which major you will pursue. Try to tailor the classes you take and the degree you earn to the profession you will be pursuing. For example, in site assessment and remediation in the state of California, you need to have a professional registration (professional geologist or professional engineer-civil) to sign, stamp, and submit most of the critical documents to the regulatory agencies. Tailoring your coursework to facilitate having one of these professional registrations can really help your career.
Interview conducted by Natalie Kvochak, Site Assessment and Remediation Specialist I.