Project Profile: ESA Clears the Way for Stapleton Redevelopment Completion

Nov. 3, 2016

The more-than-$200-million Stapleton Redevelopment project near Denver is still underway of its transformation from an international airport, to a thriving residential and mixed-use community. While many local organizations and businesses have come together over the ongoing, 16-year project, Earth Services & Abatement (ESA) of Commerce City, CO, has maintained its working presence in Stapleton, completing multiple phases since the project’s early years. Final phases of asbestos abatement, demolition, and soil remediation are in progress, with a finish date slated for June 2017.

The 4,700-acre site was home to the Stapleton International Airport in 1919, and then Denver International Airport in 1929. However, as the city began to grow, Denver officials decided to close down the airport in Stapleton and move it to its present-day location, about 15 miles east of the former site.

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In 1990, the Stapleton Foundation was created, and then in 1995 after the [Stapleton] airport officially closed, the foundation published the Stapleton Redevelopment Plan, commonly referred to as the “Green Book.” The plan called for the establishment of jobs and open rec spaces in a new mixed-use neighborhood. Approved by the Denver City Council in 1995, the Green Book was the foundation for the work that is still taking place in the Stapleton community.

Greg Holt, who serves as the director of transportation systems at Denver International Airport and the program manager for Stapleton Redevelopment, has worked on the project since its inception. Holt has worked with the City and County of Denver for over 35 years and was the chief airport operations manager at the Stapleton Airport before its closure in 1995.

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Holt has been involved with multiple stakeholders and agencies to make sure the redevelopment meets all of the goals and regulations set in place. He also worked closely with ESA to see that all the demolition, remediation, and asbestos abatement work was on schedule.

“The Stapleton Redevelopment Program is fortunate to have engaged numerous consultants, general contractors for both demolition and environmental remediation; and federal, state, and city agencies to achieve our goal,” explains Holt.

ESA is currently completing the last major landfill remediation on the Highline Canal, Phase II portion of the project. This area is approximately 45,000 cubic yards of landfill material from a 1960s-era landfill site. ESA is working concurrently on the former control tower abatement to make way for one of the new highlights of the redevelopment project, Punch Bowl Social—a popular bar, restaurant, and bowling alley. ESA has been responsible for much of the abatement, demolition, and remediation throughout the life of the project and is one of the few abatement firms in the US, capable of performing all of its work in-house without having to contract to outside firms. The company has performed the abatement and demolition of the Sand Creek Bridges, multiple hangars, and the abatement of the control tower; in addition, they are responsible for over 1 million yards of landfill and soil remediation.


When ESA first went under contract at Stapleton in the ’90s, no one knew how much contamination would be encountered, according to Kory Mitchell, president of ESA. Then, because of the landfill cleanups and soil remediation work, the contract work ended up topping out at more than $30 million. The work was not only fiscally rewarding, but gave the company a new avenue of work as well.

“At the beginning of our work with Stapleton Redevelopment, we started as an interior asbestos abatement company. Through the process of working on this project we have become a full turn-key environmental cleanup, demolition, and soil remediation contractor,” says Mitchell. “So in a lot of ways our growth and transformation was driven by our work in Stapleton.”

Although the work is not yet fully completed, the transformation of the former airport site is already home to 20,000-plus residents living in that area. “This was a significant demolition project and really helped to transform the community of Stapleton,” says Mitchell. “ESA’s operational model mirrored that transformation.”

ESA emerged from its reputation as a leading demolition and abatement company, to a prominent soil remediation firm. The firm has technically not left the Stapleton site (between multiple phases of the project) from 2006 to the present, and in those 10 years on the ground the project has helped shape the company, especially in the state of Colorado. ESA operates as an asbestos abatement firm in 33 states, but Colorado is the only state where the firm currently performs large-scale soil remediation work.

“Now—because of the work done at Stapleton—ESA does more contaminated soil work than any other firm in Colorado,” said Mitchell. “We still do plenty of interior abatement and demolition in the state, but I would say contaminated soil work is now between 40 to 50% of our revenue, and of course Stapleton was a major part of this shift.”

During its time onsite, ESA evolved from primarily an asbestos abatement company—using labor—to a company that earns more than half of its revenue from heavy equipment work, which is “unusual” for the abatement industry, according to Mitchell.

Breakdown of ESA’s Work at Stapleton

Abatement & Demolition

  • Sand Creek Bridges
  • Multiple Hangars
  • Interior Abatement of Control Tower
  • The Stone House FarmsDemolition and Asbestos Removal
  • Forest City Control Tower Abatement

Landfill & Soil Remediation

  • Fillings 7, 16, 18, 19, 32
  • Entire Site Remediation of 32nd and Syracuse
  • Northwesterly Creek Remediation
  • Highline Canal

Setting the Standard

To date, the Stapleton project has included the demolition of over 120 buildings, remediation of 50 site projects, and recycling of more than 200 million tons of concrete and asphalt. ESA has performed a significant portion of this work.

“Initially [the project] began with an environmental standard that would be used on the site throughout the program duration. The standard, called the

Licensed and certified in 35 states, ESA is recognized as one of the top turnkey environmental remediation and demolition firms in the country.

Stapleton Numeric Criteria [SNC], was approved by Environmental Protection Agency, State of Colorado, the city—and later, the insurance company,” says Holt.

Holt adds that setting the SNC standard was important in the remediation efforts because it set the bar for the projects. “We have remediated numerous old landfills including sections of an old High Line Canal lateral that crisscrossed the Stapleton site,” says Holt. “The program remediated the airport-type of contaminated soil, which was due to jet fuel and deicing fluid. We have disposed of over a million yards of contaminated soil from these projects.”

Holt explains that the project is still ongoing, requiring two to three years before all of the land is transferred and six to ten years before the site is fully developed.

“It has been a great project overall,” says Holt. “After all, how many projects give you the opportunity to demolish over 120 buildings, not to mention the demolition of major bridge structures for runways and taxiways, over creeks and over a main line railroad?”

“We were fortunate to be one of the first cleanup contractors on the Stapleton site in the late ’90s,” says Mitchell, “and now we are likely to be the last to leave. Over nearly 20 years, the project has shaped our small family owned firm into one of the most significant environmental firms in the Rocky Mountains.”