It’s quiet inside her SUV as she rounds a stockpile and begins inching toward a spot on the site’s southern border. Her tires turn deliberately over the rough, muddy earth, but as she rocks in step with the vehicle her eyes are sharp and unfazed.
“Most of the time we’re doing exactly as we should be doing,” she says, scanning the bone yard. “But every so often, you catch something minor. I’ll probably mention that we should be sure to keep our dumpsters closed, but other than that, this place looks good.”
An open dumpster in the middle of a Texas rock quarry may not appear to be a big deal, but as Leslie Mackay explains, a hard enough rain could cause it to overflow and spill contaminated water over the site. As an environmental engineer, this is exactly the type of thing she tries to prevent.
“I’m here to help our operations minimize their potential to emit pollutants,” she says, pulling up beside a fuel storage tank that looks to be in perfect order. “For the most part, it’s about taking the time to do things the right way. If you do the little things, you minimize the chance of a drastic incident down the road.”
Mackay has only been in the business for three years, but says she’s learned much since coming to Martin Marietta from Texas Industries in 2014. Perhaps the clearest lesson, she says, is that in her line of work, there’s no such thing as an average day.
“It doesn’t exist,” she says. “You just do what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s getting out to a site early to train the team before they start their day. Other times, it’s reading the fine print of a 40-page permitting document to stay up to date with regulations or to figure out which specific rules apply to us.”
There are dozens of Southwest Division operations under her purview. Beyond those, there are scores more. Luckily, she has help.
Across the Company, there are environmental managers, engineers and specialists whose shared goal is to ensure Martin Marietta operations don’t just comply with, but exceed the environmental requirements set forth by a host of regulatory agencies. Some work alone and others in relatively small teams.
Because the Southwest Division is a vast territory expanding across nearly five states, its Environmental Services Department is quite sizable.
One part of the team, comprised of Environmental Services Manager Don Bell, Environmental Scientist Kevin Stone and environmental engineers John Hopper and Jesse Martindale, covers northern Texas, southern Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Mackay covers aggregate operations in central and southern Texas along with Senior Environmental Engineer Julia Andoe and environmental specialists Elda Espinoza and William Rasmussen. This group (pictured above at right) was hand-selected by Regional Manager of Environmental Services Aleisha Knochenhauer.
“They come from different backgrounds, which is great because that makes us solve problems better,” Knochenhauer says. “Each of them has the technical ability, but what’s more important is that each works together. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach fit. You’ve got to find people who are the right fit.”
It’s the varied talents of her group that allow Knochenhauer to rest knowing that the department is truly serving the support function for which it was designed. Still she doesn’t rest often.
By 8 a.m., she’s already been in the office for hours. While checking emails and discussing the day’s agenda over a span of five minutes, four different people knock on her door to discuss a host of projects. The flow continues into the parking lot where she jumps behind the wheel, plugs her phone into her Jeep and receives a message she must return immediately. She affectionately refers to her role with Martin Marietta as one of “beautiful, organized chaos.”
“We try to stay out in front of our operations so they’re not waiting on us because if they’ve got to wait for the right entitlements or permits to come through, that’s time and money lost,” she says.
Knochenhauer is spending much of her day preparing for an evening town hall meeting, where she’ll answer questions – some of them not so kindly stated – about the likely environmental impact of a proposed project not far from San Antonio. Standing before a room of 250 people is not an easy task, but it’s one she enjoys.
“Not everyone understands our industry very well and I like changing their perceptions,” she says. “I like when people see that Martin operates soundly, professionally and correctly. I like them to know that when people at Martin say they’re going to get the proper permits and abide by them, they mean it. It’s part of a culture that comes from the top.”
The Company’s record on environmental matters may help Knochenhauer (pictured right) as she stands before the community, but without the proper documentation that record would not exist.
Each Martin Marietta operation is subject to the rules of more than a dozen regulatory agencies across multiple layers of government. Where there are regulatory agencies, there are permits. Where there are permits, there is paperwork. Where there is paperwork, there is Espinoza.
“We can have the best operation anywhere and be 100 percent compliant, but if we don’t document it, it never happened,” she says while thumbing through the colored tabs of a three-ring binder. “Documentation is what regulators look at. Documentation is how we prove that we’re doing the right thing.”
Espinoza says she utilizes her organizational abilities to look out for the Company’s operations in ways that others may find difficult.
“I have a passion for documentation, permitting and regulation,” she says. “When I think of all that our plant managers have to worry about – the safety of their teams, their production, their communities – I want them to know that I’m here to protect them and to defend them and that I can make their lives easier.”
For Jason Ritchey, a foreman whose responsibilities include operations at Bedrock Quarry and management of the neighboring Kerrville greensite, the help offered by Environmental Services is integral.
Ritchey (pictured above at left) says his miners have trained with Knochenhauer’s group to understand the environmental damage that can result from even the simplest mistakes. He also has worked with Mackay to determine the most convenient and effective ways to document the steps his team is taking to limit the Company’s environmental impact.
“They’re committed to the Company and they’re committed to the environment,” Ritchey says. “They’ve helped me understand the terminology and they’ve helped explain to my team the importance of keeping the land pristine so that we can pass it on to the next generation.”