EcoLogix Sees Citizen Input as Key Ingredient to Success
When big, vital and expensive projects fail, stall or bust their budgets, community or advocacy group opposition is often a primary cause of the project’s downfall. Sure, project sponsors will try to keep stakeholders informed through public meetings, social media and other methods of communication, but misunderstandings, miscommunication, distrust and resentment still appear to be the norm.
Professionals with EcoLogix Group Inc., a Maryland-based environmental consulting firm, say stakeholder engagement needs to be bumped up to the next level.
“Because we so strongly believe that citizen input leads to better projects, we have become the trusted link between stakeholders and project sponsors,” said EcoLogix Group’s Managing Principal Rick Sheckells. “To us, stakeholders are a valuable resource with legitimate concerns, and ones that can provide essential information. They truly deserve a seat at the table, and when that happens, everyone benefits,” he observed.
“We’ve all heard that the messenger matters, and it does. Our team is comprised of former governor-appointed secretaries and government, corporate and nonprofit executives, and with these diverse backgrounds, our firm understands all perspectives. We use this understanding to guide participation, input and advocacy toward productive, fact-based and nonadversarial discussions that result in win-win solutions for our clients,” continued Sheckells.
EcoLogix Group takes pride in its ability to think strategically and use its stakeholder relationships to help clients, such as the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA), be good neighbors and responsible stewards of the Chesapeake Bay’s natural resources.
“In doing so, our group of veteran executives with experience in every aspect of environmental policy and organizational achievement has also furthered MDOT MPA’s mission to keep the Port of Baltimore the leading economic engine for the entire region,” said Sheckells.
When EcoLogix Group began working with MDOT MPA, well before the 18-year-old firm had clients nationwide, its approach of using stakeholders as a resource was new and unproven. EcoLogix Group gives MDOT MPA high praise for allowing the public direct access into the process of identifying the next location for the sediment dredged from Baltimore Harbor.
In the early 2000s, after facing decades of public opposition to each of its proposed dredged-material placement sites, MDOT MPA hired EcoLogix Group to develop a process that would recommend a placement site acceptable to the public. To accomplish this task, EcoLogix Group, with support from the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) arranged by MDOT MPA, recruited private citizens, nonprofit group members, local government officials and business representatives from around the Baltimore Harbor.
The group named itself the Harbor Team, meeting every three weeks for five months, after which it recommended a project in Masonville Cove that included a dredged-material placement facility, a community park and an environmental education center. The previous processes had all been contentious and costly. The new one gave MDOT MPA what it needed and turned a former brownfield into what the community wanted: a way to be reconnected to the water through an outdoor environmental education center.
More than 10 years later, Bob Hoyt, EcoLogix Group’s Founding Principal and Harbor Team Facilitator, still smiles remembering the process. “After one of the public hearings, the regulatory agency rep kiddingly said to me that EcoLogix Group had taken all of the fun out of the evening because it was the only public meeting on a dredged-material management facility in the entire country that hadn’t had any public opposition,” Hoyt recalled.
The success from working with the Harbor Team on Masonville led MDOT MPA to request that the stakeholder group develop recommendations for the ongoing management of dredged material within the Baltimore Harbor. The Harbor Team developed those recommendations in 2011; they continue to guide the management of dredged material in the harbor.
EcoLogix continues to support MDOT MPA’s approach to engaging the public on issues of mutual interest. For example, when the Panama Canal expansion produced more shipping opportunities for U.S. ports, there was a concern that the result would be increased air emissions, poorer air quality and other harmful human health effects, especially in the underserved communities near the water.
EcoLogix used its relationships with community groups to open a two-way dialogue about potential air-quality concerns. As a result of this effort, citizens provided much-needed support for MDOT MPA applications for federal grants to reduce pollution from the diesel engines used in cargo-handling at the Port of Baltimore. Cargo going through the Port has indeed increased, but remarkably, air emissions have decreased, due in part to the $30 million awarded through these federal grants.
Knowing that community members are allies when treated with respect is not EcoLogix Group’s only fundamental belief. EcoLogix Group, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and MDOT MPA are engaged in a unique forum that brings onboard another stakeholder that is traditionally viewed as a potential hurdle to successful project implementation: the environmental regulatory agency.
In December 2015, EcoLogix Group developed an inter-agency agreement that was signed by MDOT, MDOT MPA and MDE. These partners agreed to collaborate on air-quality improvement projects. EcoLogix Group facilitates monthly meetings of an Inter-Agency Working Group where MDOT MPA, MDOT and MDE discuss the challenges of reducing air pollution, identify potential solutions and work together to seek funding for the solutions.
EcoLogix Group does more than stakeholder engagement for MDOT. The company also works with Harbor Development to accomplish its immediate and long-term dredging goals and to support communication needs with the MDOT MPA’s Office of Safety, Environment and Risk Management (SERM) on water, air-quality and environmental stewardship. The group also partners with private-sector Port businesses Liquid Transfer Terminals, Ports America Chesapeake, Sparrows Point Marine Services, Contanda and Smith Shipyard (to help them achieve environmental goals) and Tradepoint Atlantic and Essroc Italcementi Group (to help them with facility security plans).
The firm’s specialties go beyond stakeholder engagement and strategic communications and include organizational support services, public policy analysis and response and regulatory compliance support.
EcoLogix’s deep and recognized expertise has also led to work with other ports and maritime interests along the East and Gulf coasts. EcoLogix assists these clients with environmental strategies, emissions programs and their navigation and channel-dredging projects.
In looking at the high level of expertise and experience that EcoLogix Group offers on all environmental issues, Hoyt said, “When people ask us, ‘What does EcoLogix do?’ We can’t help but smile and say, ‘What environmental and regulatory help do you need? That’s what we do.’”
ABOUT ECOLOGIX GROUP, INC.: Established in 2001, EcoLogix Group is an environmental strategy firm that helps clients achieve challenging organizational and project goals.
AT A GLANCE
CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS: 5 Applewood Court, Parkton, Maryland 21120
U.S. LOCATIONS: Employees based in five states. Since 2014, EcoLogix has been a total telework firm, now with 23 employees working from home office locations, which reduces the environmental impact of their company travel.
DID YOU KNOW: EcoLogix’ team comprises subject matter experts, including former governor-appointed secretaries and government, corporate and nonprofit executives.
GOOD WORKS: The firm is a founding partner of the Businesses for the Bay program, which is a partnership of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the business community. EcoLogix Group, Inc. prides itself in giving back to the community, and volunteering at community river and stream restoration events, tree plantings and neighborhood cleanups.