In today’s Four on Friday, we spoke with Jack Wintle of Clearwater Environmental Resources, LLC, which works to provide environmental support to private sector firms. Wintle shared how he got his start in the business and how he provides environmental support to the likes of developers, manufacturers and law firms. Many thanks to Wintle for his time.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Clearwater?
Wintle: I have been married to my wonderful wife (and treasurer) for over 29 years. Carole brings common sense to my life and work, and as a former regulator with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, she is a great sounding board.
After working for various small and large environmental firms in the Southeast for more than 24 years, I opened Clearwater Environmental Resources, LLC to provide support to private sector firms including developers, law firms, and chemical manufacturers, to name a few, throughout the U.S. and Canada. As I have for years, I am very involved with every job we get, and in fact conduct and complete many jobs myself.
How did you originally get into the field of providing environmental support to developers, manufacturers and law firms, to name a few?
Wintle: I worked in the oil field as a geologist in the early 1980s and was downsized along with most everyone else that lived in Houston when the price of oil dropped. Through contacts in Georgia, I went to work in Atlanta with a large environmental engineering firm (Westinghouse). Since then, I have mentored under some of the best environmental professionals in the field and have been lucky enough to work for many of the same clients throughout the years — some for more than 18 years — learning the ins and outs as well as the regulatory requirements of each. I’ll have to admit that much of my attention to detail has come from working with the attorneys at Hartman Simons over the years.
You deal with a lot of Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, what trends have you seen recently with these and have they been picking up in general?
Wintle: Between my experience and what I hear from others in my field, it appears that commercial real estate is in the process of gaining momentum, although it does not seem to be a steady progression. My clients tell me that although they want to move forward, it is taking longer for the projects to come to fruition than it used to. This year, I have been more involved in performing Phase I and Phase II assessments on contaminated sites in order to provide an accurate cost estimate for the environmental issues so the clients can make decisions based on actual data rather than just walk from the deals. They are more willing to purchase impacted sites than they were before, especially if that property is in a location where they need to be.
What’s a common misconception that people have when it comes to Phase I assessments?
Wintle: Some buyers do not consider Phase I assessments as an integral part of a real estate transaction, but just as a box to be checked so the lender will work with them. They don’t see the reason to pay for a firm that uses senior professionals to conduct the assessment, and they are not interested in hearing that there may be an environmental issue on the property. Having conducted hundreds of Phase I assessments over the years, I have seen some very costly environmental issues that without the historical research would not have been identified. As I like to tell my clients when we have a hard decision to make, if you don’t do the work now, when you get ready to sell in the future and the prospective buyer hires someone like me that does find an environmental issue, the selling price will drop and you could end up with a large investigation/clean-up bill instead. Alternatively, many environmental issues first identified in a Phase I assessment may not in fact be considered issues after the research.