National Engineers Week - Profile of Steve Mayer

  • Published
  • By Susan Wolbarst
"When people think of being an engineer in the Air Force, they generally think of airplanes. They may not recognize all the vast fields of possibility in the Air Force. This is true throughout the DoD - not just the Air Force," according to Steve Mayer, the Base Realignment And Closure Environmental Coordinator (BEC) at the former McClellan Air Force Base, the highest ranked Department of Defense site on the National Priorities List. Due to groundwater contamination, McClellan was placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's NPL or Superfund in 1987. The environmental cleanup program is regulated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA.)

Mayer has the ideal background for his job. He began working at McClellan Air Force Base as a civilian in 1989. As Environmental Program Manager in the Maintenance Directorate, he faced the challenge of reducing environmental impacts by implementing numerous pollution prevention initiatives.

In 1994, he switched to the Environmental Directorate, working as an environmental engineer in the Compliance and Pollution Prevention Division. He became chief of the division's Environmental Branch a year later. "The challenge was managing the large number of hazardous waste streams we had," he recalls.

McClellan closed as an active air base in 2001. Mayer's next career move was into the CERCLA world of environmental restoration as Soils Remediation Program Manager. Mayer became McClellan's BEC in 2006, overseeing all environmental cleanup activities at one of the most contaminated Air Force sites in the country. "The biggest challenge is the large number of sites that we're managing. We have 300 IRP (Installation Restoration Program) sites and 10 Records of Decision (RODs)."

Stationed at the Air Force Real Property Agency's Western Region Execution Center at McClellan, Mayer is responsible for environmental remediation of contaminated sites, protecting and maintaining facilities, and disposing of excess Air Force property at the former base. He works closely with the local redevelopment agency (Sacramento County) and the developer (McClellan Business Park) to expedite property transfer and coordinate the cleanup to support future use.

Mayer has had ample opportunity to embrace new technologies over the years. "McClellan's been a demonstration base for new technologies going back to the 80s and 90s. With all the contamination, we were a perfect place to test new technologies, both in prevention and restoration," he said.

One technology tested at McClellan was the Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) system. "SVE has had the single largest impact on the base. Over 1.5 million pounds of contaminants have been extracted and treated. We were one of the first to demonstrate it, installing 14 systems." Mayer explained that some of the soil cleaning systems are coming to the end of their life cycle and he's now involved in what's called "the stop process" to determine timing for shut down, which requires regulatory approval.

Mayer describes his philosophy as "based on a cooperative teaming approach. We have a lot of interaction with the regulatory agencies and other stakeholders - the RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) and McClellan Business Park. I think we've made significant strides in maintaining a cooperative spirit and progress completing major cleanup decisions."

A graduate of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Mayer received a Bachelor of Science degree in Geological Engineering. He also completed a certificate program in Environmental Management at the University of California Davis and is a Registered Professional Civil Engineer with the State of California. Before joining the Air Force, Mayer worked for nine years as a field engineer and sales engineer in the oil industry for Schlumberger Ltd.

"There are a lot of opportunities for professional development and growth. I used my skills to become a Registered Professional Engineer. In the Air Force, there's a wide variety of experience that can be gained. You could be working on the mission support side of the house or the BRAC side. My experience was supporting an active base and now a closed base. These are the opportunities for new engineers in the Air Force."