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2019 Men of the Year: Gary Pendergrass

GeoEngineers Inc.

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Give Gary Pendergrass an opportunity to build something out of nothing and chances are he’ll jump at it.

That’s just what he did for GeoEngineers Inc. in 2010, when the Seattle-based company recruited Pendergrass from his job at City Utilities of Springfield. Officials tasked him with building an environmental practice in GeoEngineers’ Springfield office.

In the span of five years, the practice had nine professionals and annual billings approaching $3 million, handling Superfund remediation, environmental due diligence, sinkhole investigation and industrial permitting.

As principal and environmental group leader for GeoEngineers, Pendergrass manages and markets environmental, geological and geotechnical projects in the Midwest and South.

He’s twice been recruited to other companies. Both times, he left CU – but the moves were 25 years apart. In 1985, six years into his first CU stint, Pendergrass was asked to join Syntex Corp. to help manage its dioxin liability as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was aggressively pursuing environmental cleanups.

“Syntex had inherited tremendous liability as a result of acquisitions,” he says of the toxic chemical compounds.

EPA officials estimated the cost of site cleanup in Missouri at $1 billion.

Pendergrass led the technical negotiating team that secured what he says was the first “mixed work” agreement in the nation. Syntex successfully cleaned up its plants in Springfield and Verona and negotiated a deal in which the EPA and state of Missouri were responsible for part of the cleanup in eastern Missouri.

Pendergrass then had primary corporate responsibility for the Eastern Missouri Dioxin Project, a $600 million Superfund cleanup project involving remediation and restoration of 29 dioxin-contaminated sites, including the Times Beach resort town that was entirely evacuated in 1982.

From 1985 to 2000, Pendergrass led Syntex’s environmental management division.

“I directed a team … to complete the corporate obligations outlined in the settlement agreement and resulted in the restoration of the Times Beach site and creation of the Route 66 State Park,” he says. “The stigma of dioxin contamination was removed from the state of Missouri.”

Another high-profile project was Pendergrass’ effort in the Missouri Carbon Sequestration Project. While at CU, he assembled electric companies including Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric Co., Associated Electric Co. Inc. and Kansas City Power & Light, to study the feasibility of capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Pendergrass says he secured $6 million in federal and private funding to research underground geological formations as storage sites.

“Carbon sequestration was feasible in Missouri,” he says, pointing to sites in the north part of the state. “Congress has not yet been able to promulgate effective regulations addressing climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, but Missouri utilities are now positioned to implement carbon sequestration if required.”

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