Principal Environmental Consultant: insights from Bernie Weekes

Bernie Weekes

Bernie Weekes has more than 20 years’ experience in the investigation, assessment, and implementation of contamination and remediation projects. Currently a Principal Environmental Scientist in our Site Assessment and Remediation (SAR) team in Perth, Western Australia, Bernie works with clients to develop scientifically sound approaches for contaminated sites in the mining, property, and commercial industries throughout Western Australia.

Bernie is also the Growth Practice Area lead for Water Studies. This study area focuses on environmental solutions for our clients in terms of hydrogeology, surface water/ potable water/ groundwater monitoring and compliance assessments, water treatment, dewatering and acid sulfate soils.

How have mining contaminated land projects changed over the years?

The work that I am familiar with at Tetra Tech Coffey has always been routine compliance monitoring and site-based investigation but now, there has been a shift towards mine closure related works including divestment and rehabilitation strategies for mine closure. Miners are also looking beyond contamination issues with traditional contaminants such as hydrocarbons and are touching on emerging contaminants such as PFAS and other more niche chemicals such as brominated fire retardants.

Tetra Tech globally provides technical support across the mine lifecycle for the reclamation, remediation, and closure stages of mining projects as part of our full-service offering. Being part of Tetra Tech means we can assemble a team of scientists, geologists, hydrogeologists, ecologists, engineers, and remediation specialists and support mine projects and sites from WA to New Zealand, and up in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

What do you think are some of the key areas where either you or your team will be playing?

It’s a good question but I think it comes back to broader economic or market conditions at the time. Regulation drives compliance, and where a client must comply, that’s where we come in and can assist with a relevant environmental solution.

Western Australia is still very much driven by the mining industry. So we are seeing that our clients in this sector are being far more proactive in actually investigating their sites and understanding their risk profiles in terms of environmental impact, so this is a key focus for our business development efforts.

Tell us about managing work within regulatory frameworks?

A lot of what we do is helping our clients navigate their projects through their environmental compliance challenges. For example, where a client has a prescribed premises (an industrial premises with the potential to cause emissions and discharges to air, land, or water and that are regulated under Part V of the EP Act) it must be licensed with the Regulator (Department of water and Environmental Regulation), and with licensing comes compliance responsibilities. We assist our clients with adherence to their license conditions and often facilitate client and regulator interaction to resolve compliance matters.

What are some of the major challenges in the field?

The major challenge in the field is the scale and distances we face on our client’s projects, in Western Australia in particular. For example, for monthly potable water sampling for a Tier 1 Mining Client, it can mean covering hundreds of kilometres on a daily basis just to collect a few water samples for important contaminant and microbiological testing to ensure drinking water is safe to consume so that our client’s operations aren’t disrupted. We can have two people on site for 10 hours a day up to 14 days at a time, just collecting water samples from various remote locations across a mining tenement. It can also be a logistical challenge meeting a short sample holding time when the water sample you have collected is thousands of kilometres away from the closest testing laboratory. So, it is a challenge.

How did you come to work within the SAR team?

Early in my career, right after graduation I worked as a casual field scientist specifically in site assessment and remediation for about eight years which allowed me to cut my teeth on contaminated land management but like most people I got to a point where I wanted to experience other things and broaden my horizons. An opportunity presented itself which involved switching industries to work in a more environmental compliance aligned role with exposure to various large mining, oil/gas infrastructure projects, and for the next five years I progressed in this capacity.  After seeing the course in this role, I decided I wanted to get back into consulting, and now coming full circle, I got back into the contaminated land management industry.

Now in my current role, I have multiple responsibilities with one of those being the GPA for water Studies. So, anything to do with water management, I work with our team to expand our solutions and service offering to our clients. This could mean using existing resources within SAR or leveraging National resources such as subject matter experts to have input into projects. It is enjoyable work as I have oversight of strategic projects and supporting our business to respond and grow into areas where we can help more clients.

In your opinion, what sets Tetra Tech Coffey apart from other consultants?

What sets us apart from other consulting firms, is that clients trust us to solve their complex problems, and we delivery on expectations. Our clients rely on us to help them better understand their risks, navigate environmental regulation and explain how it’s applicable to their site. Our client’s knowledge and appreciation of this varies, some clients are very good, and they’ll trust us to guide them through a process to achieve a positive outcome. But with other clients whose knowledge is not as advanced, we have to do a bit more coaching and education along the process.

But it is always great to see a client develop in this area and start to really stand on their own in terms of managing their sites.

Our focus in SAR is to deliver the best outcomes we can for a small number of trusted or key clients, this allows us to focus on great customer service and delivery which fosters our relationship with the client and promotes business development.

What do you enjoy most about working at Tetra Tech Coffey?

We’ve got a diverse culture within our team, and that’s what brings me into work.  Our people are fun and interesting. Project diversity is another aspect of work that keeps me interested, on any given month not one job is the same.

Even though we have a lot of variety in what we do, we still apply the same framework or set of guidelines. The real challenge is truly understanding what the client’s issue is and coming up with an appropriate solution that is best for business, and that’s the appeal for me.

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