Time for plan B

Features - Profile

Kutter's Grounds Maintenance adapts to life after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

August 13, 2010
Bo Gemmell

Like many in the industry, Ron Kutter starts his morning checking the weather. But Kutter, president of Kutter’s Grounds Maintenance in Gulf Shores, Ala., has more to worry about than rain or snow: He has oil on his mind.

The oil spill that began in April about 100 miles from Kutter’s market area has since devastated the coast with tarballs and patched the gulf with oil sheens.

“We had the pristine white beaches, but now when the water breaks on shore, it looks like coffee stains,” he says.

Kutter realized that he would need to deal with the oil spill’s aftermath. He saw the opportunity to get certified to handle oil and opted for the heightened HAZWOPER certificate over the standard HAZMAT certificate to be extra prepared.

“It’s just something I wanted to get for my business that I’m going to need one way or another. You’ve got an oil disaster that’s the biggest our country’s ever seen, and we got hurricane season,” he says. The 2010 hurricane season, which runs from June through November, is predicted to be rough and could threaten the already fragile region.

Adding a Service
Kutter’s Grounds Maintenance provides condos, hotels, corporate businesses and residencies with full service lawn care, but the oil spill redefined what “full service” means for the company. Kutter’s entire workforce took the 40-hour HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard) class and is now certified to properly handle oil. The course taught him and his employees about “Louisiana Sweet Crude” – the name of the type of oil polluting the Gulf – as well as protective guidelines for handling all sorts of hazardous materials.

In addition to safe handling, Kutter and his crew also learned how to properly dispose of the oil.

“You’re not just going to throw it in a landfill,” he says. “It’s coming onto our shore and polluting our environment, but we don’t want to pollute another environment.” He says the crew has to store and transport the oil in hazardous material bags.

“I never thought that next to my city services license and landscape license and chemical applicator’s license that I’d have to have a hazardous materials license to do business,” he says. “That’s just a fact of life down here on the Alabama Gulf Coast.”

Plan B
The series of beatings his region has received in recent years – starting with Hurricane Katrina, followed by Hurricane Ida and then the oil disaster – has taught Kutter to “always have a Plan B.”

Kutter’s business was strictly lawn care prior to the storms. He didn’t want to get into installation, but the devastation the storms brought by ripping through landscapes made it a necessity for Kutter to change his direction and add installation to his services.

As of now, Kutter says he just wants to keep providing services for his current clients. The ocean brings oil onto the beaches, and guests at the hotels and condos Kutter serves track it onto the properties. The amount of labor his crews will have to invest in safely disposing oil depends on the amount of foot traffic going through the properties, but Kutter expects that the company will probably have to invest a few man hours at each property doing retention or cleanup.

“I just want to provide my customers another service,” he says. “I don’t know what that service is going to entail, but I’m ready for it.”

Competition is the last thing on Kutter’s mind. Kutter said in June that the effects of the spill were spread from Louisiana to Florida, so there’s plenty of work on more than 300 miles of coastline to go around.

“You got an oil disaster that’s the biggest our country’s ever seen, and then you got hurricane season,” he says. “I never thought I’d have to think about cleaning up oil, but it’s a fact of life here.”

The author is an intern at Lawn & Landscape. E-mail him at bgemmell@gie.net.