Clear Water

Tennessee Business Helps Reduce Waterway Pollution

Every time a construction project removes vegetation and exposes top soil, it sets up a scenario that can end with sediment clogging local rivers, creeks and lakes.

“Back in the ‘90s, it became a big deal that sediment was considered pollution and communities started trying to keep it under control and out of waterways,” explains Robbie Toole, president of Volunteer Erosion Control in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The emphasis on reducing sediment pollution is how Toole’s business was born. He had his first hands-on experience with erosion and sediment control when he interned with the Tennessee Department of Transportation in college. He later started working for a conservation group after he graduated from The University of Tennessee. During his tenure there, he saw just how necessary it was to keep sediment out of East Tennessee’s waterways.

“When you clear and grub an area, you’re taking all the vegetation cover off of the soil, and once that soil is exposed to rain impact, it becomes susceptible to runoff, and the sediment becomes suspended in the water,” Toole says. “Everything drains to our rivers, creeks and lakes, and sediment pollutes them and makes it harder for aquatic species to survive.”

Sediment can clog fish gills and make it difficult for aquatic animals to see their food, and the nutrients in the sediment can cause algal blooms. When the latter happens, the algae takes the oxygen out of the water, suffocating the inhabitants.

When topsoil is removed from the ground and dumped into waterways, it also means there are fewer nutrients remaining in the soil. Farmers today have to add more and more nutrients to the soil in order to have fertile ground, in part because of sediment run-off. Toole points out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends millions every year dredging water ways to remove sediment in order to mitigate the effects.

“It’s a huge cost to the public.”

A better approach to minimizing sediment pollution is a proactive one, and that’s where Volunteer Erosion Control comes into the picture. Toole’s company goes onto a jobsite and restores the removed vegetation and fixes any other erosion and sediment issues that may have been caused by construction.

“Any time a construction project digs something up, we restore it back to the way it was,” he says.

Most of Volunteer Erosion’s customers are utility companies, though Toole has also worked with homeowners who have property by lakes, stabilizing the eroding shores. He has also partnered with Knox County’s Environmental Stewardship program to aid homeowners experiencing issues with sediment runoff.

Toole partnered with Mike Barto in 2012 to form Erosion Supply. While Volunteer Erosion provides services for sediment and erosion control, Erosion Supply provides the materials. These materials include new, more porous surfaces to be used for sidewalks, driveways and other paved areas. Porous paving materials allow water to seep down into the ground, rather than run off into waterways—the materials also filter the water so that it no longer contains sediment if it flows into a body of water, Barto said.

When Toole talks about new ways to reduce sediment pollution, and why preventing the pollution is so vital to the environment, his passion is obvious. His enthusiasm for owning a company that uses construction equipment was also a little obvious—his family has been in the construction business for five decades.

“I grew up around heavy equipment my whole life. Even at 10 years old, I was operating dozers.”

But it was the day that his family bought a D6 high-track dozer that he became loyal to Cat® machines.

“That D6 was the nicest thing I’d ever seen and I’ve wanted Cat machines ever since. When I started my business, the first place I went, naturally, was to (Cat dealer) Stowers (Machinery Corporation),” Toole says.

He bought a 287 multi terrain loader in 2005, and continues to buy Cat machines for his business, including a 305E2 CR mini hydraulic excavator that he purchased this summer.

Toole also has bought several other products from Stowers Machinery to aid with sediment and erosion control jobs. While he can buy these products elsewhere, Toole said he appreciates the relationship he has with Stowers.

“Stowers works on establishing relationships with customers so it’s not always about product and price, but the relationship. It makes it really easy to call the guys up and know that it’s taken care of.”

Robbie Toole, president of Volunteer Erosion Control in Knoxville, Tennessee, purchased this 305E2 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator in 2005 for his erosion control business.
Robbie Toole, president of Volunteer Erosion Control in Knoxville, Tennessee, purchased this 305E2 CR Mini Hydraulic Excavator in 2005 for his erosion control business.

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