Environmental Remediation Services


May 15, 2012

Sold on Komatsu excavators, KOMTRAX and Road Machinery support

About a year ago, Environmental Remediation Services Inc. (ERSI) began operations on the West Coast, starting the division from scratch in an unfamiliar market. The first step the East Coast-based remediation and demolition company took was to find the right person to manage operations out of the Los Angeles area.

That meant talking with Sonny Centeno, a more than 40-year demolition veteran who’s done about every type of project in the industry. It didn’t take long for ERSI to hire Sonny as its West Coast Senior Project Manager.

“I’ve worked for several demolition contractors during my career, and I’ve developed quite a clientele network,” said Sonny. “That helped ERSI open a few doors and get some work. Eventually, we want to build ERSI on the West Coast into the same kind of operations that it has on the East Coast. Once our customers see everything we have to offer, I believe they’ll see ERSI as the go-to company for demolition and remediation.”

Based in Schenectady, N.Y., ERSI offers demolition and remediation services for East Coast public, private and federal clients, handling everything from small houses to large, industrial warehouses. The company specializes in complex demolition projects, often involving removal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos. ERSI’s services include tearing down buildings; decommissioning and dismantling of infrastructure, such as bridges; emergency response to disasters; restoration services; and salvage and recycling operations.

ERSI prioritizes recycling on its demolition jobs, and Sonny says its goal now is to recycle at least 90 percent of material on a project. “We expect that percentage to go up because we want the least possible amount going to the landfill. We’re recycling wood, steel, concrete, block and brick.”

Since its founding in 2001, ERSI has grown into a company with annual revenues of about $25 million. In the past several years, it has been listed among the nation’s top asbestos/ abatement contractors by Engineering News-Record magazine. ERSI has locations in Burlington, Mass.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Piketon, Ohio; and Philadelphia. In the Los Angeles area, Sun Valley serves as home base.

Experienced staff

With Sonny on the job, ERSI set about building a staff that can support multiple projects, not only in the Los Angeles area, but the entire western United States. Already licensed in California and Arizona, the company is working on licensing in other neighboring states.

“Eventually, we’ll offer all the same services here as our East Coast operations,” said Sonny. “We’ve already gotten our feet wet with a few projects, and we’re building off that. Despite being new to the market, our biggest asset is an experienced staff that knows the demolition industry well.”

Those experts include Estimator Lawrence Grauman, who has more than 30 years experience; Contract Administrator Lourdes Reynoso, who’s worked with Sonny for more than 15 years; and Karin Stewart-Harmon, who handles business development and has more than two decades of experience. In addition, ERSI has veteran field personnel that are split into multiple crews, depending on work load.

“I’ve focused on hiring workers who know and understand the business,” noted Sonny. “I’m confident I can send them out on any job and they’ll work without me looking over their shoulders. They’re safe and, because of their experience, they know the most efficient and productive ways to go about the work.”

Those skills were put on display at ERSI’s very first West Coast project — demolition of a 128,000-square-foot warehouse in Van Nuys. Crews razed the building, removed the pile caps and paving, and rough-graded the site. Asbestos removal and crushing was subbed out.

“We did what I call reverse construction, meaning we started at the top and took it to the ground as opposed to the building process, which moves from the ground up,” Sonny explained. “Part of the roof was steel and part wood, and we recycled all of it. The tasks we subbed out, we’ll do ourselves as we get more established out here.”

Sonny points out that becoming more established on the West Coast, means developing repeat customers, something for which ERSI is well-known. “To this point, we’ve been mostly involved in private-sector and federal-government work, because that’s where the market is, but we’re seeing more and more development coming out for bid. That’s where we’ll build our repeat client list. We want them to come to us knowing that we’re competitive on pricing and the best at getting a job done on time and schedule, so let’s settle on price and get it knocked out.”

Sold on Komatsu excavators

As ERSI was securing its first projects, management was looking for new equipment. The company’s eastern operations rely nearly 100 percent on Komatsu machines, primarily hydraulic excavators. ERSI looked up Road Machinery, LLC and began working with Territory Manager Fred Sixt to purchase two Tier 4 Interim PC360LC-10 models.

“It was practically a foregone conclusion that we’d purchase Komatsu; it was just a matter of which machine was the right fit for out here,” Sonny noted. “We decided that the Tier 4 Interim machines fit the best, not only in terms of productivity, but meeting the tough California emissions standards. I have to admit, I was never a Komatsu guy, but working with ERSI and using these machines has made me a believer. They have good reach, power and stability. Our operators love them.”

One feature Sonny loves is Komatsu’s KOMTRAX remote machine-monitoring system that comes standard and is complimentary. “I can log onto the computer and get a lot of information about a machine, such as what time it started in the morning, what rpm it’s running at, how much fuel it is using per hour, etc. It also gives us a level of security. Some of our jobs take us into tough areas, and with KOMTRAX, I can use a geofence to prevent a machine from starting between certain hours if it’s not supposed to be running at that time. KOMTRAX is a great tool.”

For service, Sonny turns to Road Machinery’s Perris branch, which installed thumbs on the PC360LC-10s. “Anything we’ve needed, Road Machinery has been right there to support us,” confirmed Sonny. “Because we bought the Tier 4 Interim machines, Road Machinery does our routine service work through Komatsu CARE (a complimentary program that provides factory-scheduled maintenance for the first three years or 2,000 hours, whichever comes first). They track our machines through KOMTRAX and schedule a convenient time to do the work. It saves us time and money.”

Continual growth

Sonny hopes to build ERSI’s West Coast division to a point that equals or exceeds the company’s East Coast operation, which includes numerous high-profile projects, including demolition and asbestos abatement to decommission a railroad bridge over the Hudson River in New York.

“We’re constantly in hiring mode, looking for people to build our operations on the West Coast,” Sonny stated. “I believe with the experienced personnel we have in place, along with ERSI’s resources, we can grow into an operation that rivals our East Coast division in terms of work volume.”

Sonny is not concerned with ever running out of work. “I’ve been in this business for more than 40 years, and while there are ups and downs to the market, there’s never been a time when demolition completely dried up. In a metro area the size of Los Angeles, there are always buildings or other structures that need to be taken down to make way for something new. We have our footprint in place to do much of that work.”