Geologist Kim Marcus is a rolling stone.
Rock samples cluster on a window ledge in his office at Dames & Moore in Spokane. Prints from China, Malaysia and the North Slope of Alaska hang on the walls.
His bookcase contains Chinese translations of lectures he gave in that country a year ago on environmental management, including rulemaking and permitting.
He is helping create an environmental protection agency for Jamaica. He will visit the Dominican Republic later this year, Cuba sometime in 1997.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity in Mexico as well,” said Marcus, who arrived in Spokane in 1990 to open the Dames & Moore office, one of 115 worldwide.
The publicly traded company performs engineering and environmental work, with side ventures in areas like trial consulting.
Working overseas comes naturally to Marcus, who was raised in Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela. His 80-year-old father, who still travels widely, was an executive for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in the Caribbean region, he said.
Marcus, 44, received his bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of California, his master’s at Western Washington University.
He has worked as a geologist for 22 years, mostly in environmental remediation and similar services.
Marcus said geologists can solve environmental problems because they understand soils and water movement underground.
For example, Marcus said, he helped negotiate a pioneering agreement under Oregon’s superfund law for a site where solvents had contaminated the groundwater.
A geologist - not an engineer - is Dames & Moore’s chief executive officer, he noted.
In 1993, Dames & Moore bought Bovay Northwest Inc. Bovay has remained separate, but the companies share quarters at 808 E. Sprague.
Marcus is in charge of the Dames & Moore office in Spokane, as well as the company’s geoscience work in Portland and Fairbanks.
Often, he’s at none of those places.
Although the Spokane office initiates few international projects, its 10 employees are frequently called on to assist other branches, Marcus said.
Some of the recent work in Asia, for example, originated in the firm’s Vancouver, British Columbia, outpost.
“The Spokane office gets involved because people get involved,” Marcus said, estimating that foreign projects take 15 percent of the staff’s time.
Some of the work requires getting on an airplane, but much is done by e-mail, with an engineer in one office posting an inquiry about a particular problem, for example.
“We can bring the thought process back here,” Marcus said.
During his visit to China last year, Marcus discussed water treatment, wastewater treatment and landfills. A delegation from Liaoning Province followed up with a visit to Spokane in February.
Marcus said members were impressed by the city wastewater treatment plant because it can be enlarged in stages as the community grows. With limited resources, the Chinese cannot start with full-scale plants despite the pollution they are spilling into their waterways, he said.
The concept of user fees to pay for public projects is foreign to people who expect the government to supply what is necessary, Marcus added.
“They don’t have a clue how the U.S. government works,” he said. “I don’t have a clue how the Chinese government works.
“We had a nice little dialog.”
Closer to home, Dames & Moore did some of the engineering for a new fuel tank farm at Spokane International Airport, and for the Spokane Arena.
He said about 70 percent of the work done locally involves environmental remediation or compliance, 20 percent is construction-oriented, the rest miscellaneous.
“We work with quite a diversity of projects,” said Marcus, who also sits on the Spokane Regional International Trade Alliance committee.
He said he likes geology in part because it is as portable as his laptop computer.
“Geology is something that tells you a story,” he said. “Why did this happen? Or why did that happen?
“Geology is where you are.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo