Managing the Storm (Water)
Blade Cutters II protects construction interests and the environment
There’s no cape or superhero title, but Gayle Van Sessen protects public waters to ensure they remain clean and free of pollutants. She also watches the bottom line for construction companies.
Gayle serves as President of Blade Cutters II, based in Crown Point, Indiana, and serving a broad area across Indiana and Illinois. Blade Cutters II is a stormwater management and erosion control company that focuses on the containment of surface runoff. Construction of impervious surfaces, such as roofs, parking lots and roadways, can lead to stormwater runoff, which is a leading cause of impairment to shared water resources.
The phrase “shared water resources” refers to all waterways—such as creeks, ponds, rivers and lakes—into which stormwater flows. These are “shared” because stormwater knows no boundaries, it just goes to the lowest point, which then ends up literally off the original footprint of the construction site and into any waterways nearby.
Stormwater is water from precipitation such as rain, sleet or melting snow. In a natural setting, only a small percentage becomes surface runoff. However, as development occurs, this percentage increases and usually flows into the nearest stream, creek, river, lake or wetland. Management is the control of that runoff, and it is important to maintain the ecological integrity, quality and quantity of water resources.
Blade Cutters II is an extension of Blade Cutters LLC, a company that provides a variety of landscaping services and is led by Gayle’s oldest son, Kevin Van Sessen.
“Blade Cutters has been doing everything in landscaping for the past 18 years,” Gayle says. “From patios to retaining walls, the firm does new construction and everything in a landscape except for irrigation. We’ve worked with commercial and development companies that build strip malls, office spaces and everything in between. That’s where the idea for dealing with erosion control was born.”
Gayle started Blade Cutters II to focus on stormwater management a little more than five years ago.
“While working in the landscaping business, we worked with many commercial development companies on their construction sites,” Gayle says. “They have a lot of rules that they don’t always follow. We saw that many struggled with managing their runoff from anything they’re constructing.”
The federal government passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 to regulate pollution in water in the United States. The law has evolved, and for the past decade, smaller communities have developed regulations to prevent the pollution of freshwater.
The state of Indiana has implemented Rule 5, which requires the development of a construction plan to reduce pollutants in water. That plan must include a Water Pollution Prevention Plan to address several issues, including: how erosion and sedimentation will be controlled on the project site to minimize the release of sediment off-site or into water sources; disposal of other pollutants from construction; and pollutants that will be related to post-construction land use.
Local governments issue construction permits that require proof of stormwater maintenance, with regular inspections and documentation of the processes to prevent runoff. Blade Cutters II assists construction firms by installing and maintaining fencing, stormwater inlet protectors and silt socks. It also completes other “best management practices” (BMP) tasks, such as performing required inspections and documenting the process with photography and paperwork.
An important first step is to immediately install fences (either silt or cyclone). These fences must be maintained as long as the construction is active, Gayle says. Once a construction project is complete, Blade Cutters II assists the construction company in filing for the request for the permit to expire.
“This is so important for people in the construction business because if you do something wrong and you’re in violation, the inspectors can shut down your site,” Gayle says. “That happens a lot in northern Indiana because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, where there are even stricter communities because of all of the water drainage that flows that way.”
While federal and state policies drive stormwater management, the ultimate responsibility lies with municipal officials, Gayle says. “It is all about preserving the environment, and we are only one of three companies that I know of that are certified to inspect the water sources,” she says. “It is really simple; the government wants the construction industry to follow the rules.”
Gayle says that she can help contractors find ways to save money and still meet regulations by drawing upon the knowledge she’s gathered from years of working in the construction industry and from training with national organizations, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
“I work for the construction company, which requires me to have more knowledge than the local government inspector,” Gayle says. “I’m a liaison between the two parties, and I’m willing to work with the government agency and keep the cost down for my employer. I’ve studied a lot of the stormwater quality manuals, which can get very detailed the bigger the construction site is.”
Working the Middle
Her company manages a range of sites, requiring a variety of approaches. One current client is managing three different construction sites simultaneously. Another client has one active construction site with 136 acres for a housing development. Yet another has a 10-acre strip mall with a variety of retail stores as well as two one-acre projects.
“The housing development I’m working for is being developed on a rolling prairie in a lovely area. The developer sells the lots, which are smaller than an acre, but the permit and the rule applies to him; even if he sells a lot to a builder who doesn’t follow the rules, he is the one to face the consequences,” Gayle explains. “So, I work with the developer and oversee the builders on his behalf to ensure they abide by the rules.”
On some projects, she deals directly with builders, acting as a negotiator to maintain peace and to help contractors understand that following regulations isn’t an adversarial process.
“I can’t get mad at the builders, but they have to understand that they can’t leave junk lying around,” she says. “I understand that they’re trying, but they need to know that trash can’t be blowing around the site. So, I explain it in a way that they know they have to comply and keep our waters clean. If we all do our little bit, we are all working toward the same goal. I do have to be a salesman of sorts.”
The Product that Paved the Way
Gayle and Kevin understood the potential of starting a stormwater management business after working on projects with multiple clients. However, this idea came to fruition after Bladecutters had completed a fortuitous landscaping project for a client whose uncle developed a product for this purpose called Siltworm.
Siltworm is a rolled filter sock filled with hardwood. Siltworm can be placed along the perimeter of worksites, in place of traditional fencing, waddles or compost socks. As water drains from a site, sediments and pollutants are collected in the Siltworm. The product is ecologically friendly, produces very little construction waste and is reusable.
The product is approved by most municipalities and is biodegradable. At the end of a project, contractors can cut it up and rake it into the lawn, Gayle says. Traditional fencing is typically thrown away.
Blade Cutters II is certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) with the Indiana Department of Transportation. This allows the firm to serve as a consultant for inspections as well as a wholesaler of the Siltworm for contractors who would like to—or are required by their contracts—to use DBEs in their projects.
After five years of operation, Gayle says the company’s next step is to pursue bigger contracts for larger projects. To reach that goal, she’ll have to temporarily slow down business to make time for a marketing push. The good news, she says, is there’s no apparent slowdown in the construction industry.