While North Wind Group has provided environmental services since 1997, its 2010 purchase by an Alaska Indigenous-owned corporation positioned the Idaho Falls, Idaho, firm to become a leading competitor for federal contracts ranging from small site assessments to large-scale remediation projects and infrastructure operations.
The firm, which rose 10 spots on this year’s Top 200 list to No. 45, gained 95% of its $277 million in 2018 environmental services revenue from federal clients. They include the U.S. Energy Dept. nuclear waste management programs at Oak Ridge, Tenn., Hanford, Wash., and Savannah River, S.C., as well as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers munitions waste cleanups in Ohio and Iowa.
Among North Wind’s key missions is as remedial action contractor since 2011 for DOE’s Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project, where it removed and relocated disposal tailings from a Moab, Utah, uranium-ore mine that once supported U.S. atomic bombmaking.
The project has relocated 60% of the tailings, about 7 million tons, and is set to continue until 2034 for an estimated $1 billion. In February, DOE and North Wind accelerated removal, doubling weekly shipments to a disposal site.
Among private sector jobs, it won a 20-month utility consulting contract in June to develop a strategic plan to relocate spent nuclear fuel at the San Onofre nuclear plant in California to a commercial off-site facility.
CEO Christopher Leichtweis says over the past six years the firm has essentially “franchised” itself by creating separate regional operations and management hubs “to get closer to our customers,” as it expands its market. North Wind opened an office in Morgantown, W.Va., to serve the East Coast, and a base in Guam to support environmental work related to the U.S. military’s region-wide realignment. That includes remediating waste generated by more than 75 years of activity on Okinawa and unexploded ordnance cleanup and related work on Guam, Saipan and other Pacific Rim locations set for new or expanded bases.
Cost control is an ongoing concern, Leichtweis says, particularly given pressures like environmental project uncertainties and commodity influences on materials prices.
North Wind follows a construction management-at-risk approach and maximizes net revenue by self-performing 60% of work. Leichtweis is confident it will win a sizeable portion of multiple federal small-business environmental services contracts up for recompetition this year and in 2020.
The company also plans to pursue acquisition and private equity financing.
One risk is how the outcome of the 2020 election may affect federal investment in environmental remediation work. “I don’t think the market will get any better than it is now,” he says. “We’re hoping that it will at least remain sustainable.”
Click here to read more about the ENR Top 200 Environmental Firms and their $57-billion marketplace in 2019.