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Ohio firm has major role in environmental cleanups

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PAULA SCHLEIS
Akron Beacon Journal

 

STOW, Ohio (AP) - The name EnviroScience on the small building along Darrow Road does little to indicate what's going on inside.

Nothing to suggest the company is home to 55 biologists, some of whom were responsible for helping to clean up the infamous BP oil spill.

Nothing to give away the fact that every major railroad in the country calls on them to assist after train derailments, even to the point that scientists dive beneath submerged cars to rig them for removal and minimize environmental damage.

Nothing to explain how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tapped them to take over the National Aquatic Resource Survey in which they will write the rules and train every state on how to take samples and examine trends in every river, lake, stream and wetland in the country.

"Having a company like this in Stow is unbelievable. Cities salivate over companies like this," said Mayor Sara Drew, whose city is selling a recently vacated parks and recreation building to give the company room to grow.

EnviroScience's headquarters, across the street from City Hall, and a second Darrow Road location where it stores boats and other equipment, will be condensed into a 20,000-square-foot city building near Silver Springs Park. Park employees were moved from the building last summer as part of a citywide consolidation effort.

The 30-year, $2.45 million lease/sale agreement enabled the privately held EnviroScience to stay in town when it was looking to expand.

Drew said the financial benefits to the city go beyond the purchase price. The schools will benefit from $40,000 a year in property taxes when the city-owned property goes into private hands, and the city will save $285,000 in interest when it pays off what it still owes on the building.

The company's partners, President Martin Hilovsky and Vice President Jamie Krejsa, are homegrown entrepreneurs, both born and raised in the Cleveland area. Both now live in Summit County.

Hilovsky founded the company in 1989, a couple of years after Ohio started mandating biological testing of water discharges.

Prior to that, the Ohio EPA required cities and businesses to test only for chemicals, like PH, iron and zinc. But in 1987, a group of Ohio scientists successfully argued to legislators that chemicals don't tell the whole story of whether discharges into public waterways were affecting marine life.

Today, about 10 percent of EnviroScience's business is still based on its original purpose, serving some 200 business and municipal clients in Ohio and surrounding states.

In the basement of its Darrow Road home, lab technicians place bugs called ceriodaphnia dubia (c. dubia) and fathead minnows into discharge samples to see if they can live, grow and reproduce. If the cycle of life is cut short, they know there's a problem.

Hilovsky said Krejsa was an early employee who taught him a lesson about diversifying.

Some 20 years ago, Krejsa was a new employee in the lab when he took a phone call from a West Virginia steel company that needed a field survey done of eight miles of Ohio River as part of an EPA lawsuit.

The boss wasn't around to ask, so Krejsa said, "Yeah, we can do that."

That phone call turned into a $2 million contract and a new reputation for EnviroScience, which exported Ohio's fledgling biocentric standards to become models for other states.

"It taught me a lot about taking chances and encouraging my employees to use their interests to do new things," Hilovsky said. "If someone has an interest in endangered bats, then they can work on that," including finding clients to support it.

For many years, EnviroScience has been a national go-to consultant for major train derailments. Company employees are among the first responders, helping to determine how to minimize the environmental impact. They also teach railroad employees how to react to accidents.

About a quarter of the business now comes from emergency response. After the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, EnviroScience was hired to design the protocols for environmental sampling, train people how to do it, and then audit the process from start to finish.

That kind of expertise helped them land a $38.5 million, five-year contract with the U.S. EPA to take over the annual effort to sample and monitor trends in the nation's waterways.

Because the company's aquatic biologists are also certified divers, EnviroScience branched out into work that includes locating and preserving endangered mussels. The mussels are coveted for their ability to filter water, so communities are interested in knowing where they are and how to keep them from being disturbed.

In Pennsylvania, EnviroScience has even helped the state decide where to place bridges by diving to survey mussel populations.

"When they want to know where to build a bridge, they don't ask an engineer. They ask a biologist," Krejsa said.

While the company's reach is national - it recently opened a second office in Nashville, Tenn., at the request of southern clients - it does a lot of local work as well.

After the Twinsburg Park and Nature Reserve was created a few years ago, EnviroScience was hired to identify "everything that lives, breathes and grows there," Krejsa said.

That kind of information is important for knowing where it's OK to put a ballpark and what sensitive ecological systems need to be kept away from even hiking trails.

The company designed the Little Cuyahoga River expansion that was part of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. redevelopment project in East Akron, and the cleanup of the contaminated Haley's Run, a stream restoration project by Lockheed Martin near the former Goodyear Airdock.

"That kind of work is tricky," Krejsa said, "because you want to restore it to its natural state so the things that thrived there before are what comes back" and not invasive or non-naturalized species.

Hilovsky said the company is fortunate to be in the midst of so many quality universities. It draws employees from Kent State University (where Hilovsky graduated), the University of Akron (where Krejsa graduated) and several other local schools.

It was the research of a KSU biologist that led EnviroScience to commercializing the milfoil weevil, a bug that it raises and sells throughout the U.S. and Canada as a means for controlling the noxious Eurasian watermilfoil weed.

"We have a great relationship with faculty," Hilovsky said, "and that has led to new opportunities, too."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.