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Aquaterra Engineering building on nearly five decades of work

Ridgeland-based Aquaterra Engineering, LLC, was founded nearly 50 years ago, and over that time has forged a reputation as a go-to geotechnical engineering firm. In fact, it may have done too good of a job of making a name for itself in that field.

Aquaterra has grown over the years into more than just a geotechnical engineering firm. It is a full-service firm, a one-stop shop for property development work. However, many are not aware of the firm’s total capabilities, so Aquaterra has launched a new service that showcases all of the firm’s brain power and muscle.

Ricky Simon, Aquaterra principal and regional vice president, says, “We started as primarily a geotechnical engineering firm, but in the 1980s, with all the new environmental regulations, moved into environmental consulting. We still are a geotechnical engineering firm, but we offer much more than that.”

Changing times

The roots of Aquaterra go all the way back to 1961. It was originally a geotechnical engineering firm providing foundation engineering services to industry, municipalities and the commercial sector.

Over its history, Aquaterra experienced a number of acquisitions and mergers. At one point, it was a subsidiary of a large, national firm. Today, it is again locally owned, bought in 2001 by Vic Donald, P.E., and named Aquaterra Engineering, LLC.

Aquaterra is a regional engineering firm with offices in Ridgeland, Atlanta, Nashville, Chattanooga, Tenn., Baton Rouge, La., Birmingham, Ala., and Mobile, Ala. Its largest office is in Ridgeland, which has a staff of nearly 40. Firm-wide, Aquaterra employs approximately 120 people.

Many of the important changes at Aquaterra have occurred this decade. In addition to Donald’s acquisition of the firm, Simon came on board in 2002 from New Orleans where he worked for a large engineering firm, was eventually made a partner and now oversees the operations of the offices in Ridgeland, Baton Rouge and Mobile, which opened in 2006.
However, perhaps the most important change at Aquaterra was in the 1970s and 1980s when environmental concerns began to make headlines. With the promulgation of new environmental regulations, Aquaterra saw its future, and was something of a pioneer when it moved into environmental consulting.

The Aquaterra of today, whose headquarters is located on South Pear Orchard Road in Ridgeland, employs engineers, geologists, scientists and technicians trained and skilled in earth science disciplines. It offers specialized engineering to meet the needs of site property development, site mitigation and facility construction. As it likes to say, it “takes a project from the drawing board to the ribbon cutting.”

Siteworks launched

Simon used a current project as a prime example of Aquaterra’s full slate of services and capabilities. The client is DDB Construction, and the project is at the Madison South Landfill. The site was once a mining operation for fill material, but is now expended. The owners are now looking to utilize the pit for construction material disposal.

Landfill design is a specialized service, one Aquaterra is capable of handling. On the project, the firm is conducting everything from geotechnical investigation to construction drawing to wetland delineation to environmental permitting.

“Instead of them having to go to three or four firms for services, we can do all of this for them in house,” says Simon, a University of New Orleans civil engineering graduate.

To let the business community know of its full-service capabilities, Aquaterra has initiated Siteworks, which touts the firm’s comprehensive site planning and construction solution. Siteworks services facilitate the seamless integration of a project from one phase of the development to the next, utilizing Aquaterra’s natural resources, environmental, geotechnical, land development and construction quality services to provide a full-service site development solution.

Simon says Aquaterra has been working on Siteworks for approximately five years now, including the last four months putting together marketing and promotional material. He adds that hopes are Siteworks will “introduce” Aquaterra’s true strengths and offerings.

In the mean time, Aquaterra continues to grow. Simon says the firm is finding plenty of work in coal assessments as coal-burning power plants make a comeback. In the past year alone, the firm has conducted two such assessments, and Simon sees more in the future.

When asked what he feels has been Aquaterra’s key to success, Simon was quick to say responsiveness. He notes that while Aquaterra has a number of capabilities, if its services are not delivered on time, those strengths are useless.

The firm has a growth model that includes both opening new offices and acquisitions. Simon says Aquaterra’s goal is to be a 200-person firm with two or three more offices in the next five years. He adds, however, that the firm intends to remain a Southeast firm, with no ambition to grow into other geographic areas.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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