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Got a Dirty Job? Win Blodgett and Holland Pump can engineer a solution

On October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma slammed into Florida’s southwest coast. The third hurricane of the 2005 season to reach category 5 status, Wilma remains the most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic, with wind speeds topping 175 miles per hour. Although the storm passed over the state in a short but intense four hours, rainfall exceeded 9 inches in some places. By the time it tore through Florida’s most heavily populated area of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more than 25 people were dead and the storm surge had submerged much of South Florida.

When flooding like this occurs, all that water doesn’t just magically drain away. Within days of Wilma’s landfall, Holland Pump and the company’s president, Win Blodgett ’86, were on the scene, helping farmers pump millions of gallons of water away from their fields, and cities deal with water and sewer systems overwhelmed by the storm.

Whether creating the storm water and sewer systems for a development or trying to pull millions of gallons of oil out of the ocean, most people don’t give much thought to the critical piece of equipment that makes these feats possible. Through his first 13 years in the construction industry, Blodgett didn’t think about pumps much either. He used them, of course—dewatering is a key step in many construction projects. But in 1999, when he and his father purchased Holland Pump, he had no idea that today they’d be involved in projects from hurricane cleanup to restoring the Everglades.

He actually had no idea that he’d end up in business at all. Blodgett started out as a music major at Ohio State University. He transferred to Evergreen as a junior, where he continued to study music, but also found a deep interest in social anthropology. He studied the work of seminal anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner, who had lived with and studied the Ndembu tribe of Zambia in the early 1950s. In 1985, after Victor’s death, Edith returned to Zambia, and Blodgett went along as her assistant, studying the tribe’s healing rituals and completing his thesis on the topic. Their book, Experiencing Ritual, was published in 1992. “That was my first real exposure to being in an area with no electricity, no stores, nothing we’re used to, and experiencing traditional culture,” he says. “It was a complete change. I gained a lot of self-confidence from that, knowing that whatever you do, you can be successful at it.”

And even though it was unexpected, Blodgett has been very successful with Holland Pump. Holland manufactures, sells, rents and services pumps with capacities up to 150,000 gallons per minute. These aren’t your average basement pumps. All sorts of industries—from construction and utilities to mining and marine—have needs for dewatering or managing water. “In Florida and lots of coastal areas, the water table is quite high, so any time you are doing work underground you need to manage the groundwater,” Blodgett explains. “Storm water is also a big concern, and pumps are a critical component of the infrastructure.”

Much of Blodgett’s work managing water is not clean and sparkling. “Lots of our projects look like an episode of ‘Dirty Jobs,’” he jokes. But he’s serious when he explains the number of different remediation projects where their pumps have made the difference between habitable land and untainted water or contamination that can render an area unlivable for decades. Holland has provided pumps for oil spills worldwide, cleaned up leaking underground fuel tanks at gas stations, and kept sewer systems going when the lines break. Its subsidiary, LobePro, makes pumps that tackle harsher sludges and slurries, chemicals and corrosive liquids for heavy industry.

Blodgett’s pumps are removing arsenic contamination at the Fort Lauderdale airport, and remediating lead-tainted soil in a residential development built on a former gun range. They clean up wastewater from millions of acres of farms in Florida, the Gulf Coast and Texas, and work with sugar processors who are using sugarcane byproducts to manufacture fuel. The variety of problems that need pumps leads to a lot of innovation. Holland’s engineers and pump consultants use their experience in the field to design pumps and create plans to solve those problems.

“I definitely have carried the can-do attitude I learned from Evergreen,” says Blodgett. “Evergreen teaches students how to learn, discover their learning style and have a spectrum of skills to be able to research and obtain answers to questions and solve problems.”

Only 10 companies in the U.S. do what Holland Pump does, and several are much larger multinational corporations. Holland’s 70 employees are divided between rental and service operations in Florida and a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Georgia. Blodgett says Holland offers customers something different than the bigger companies—a commitment to service and customized solutions. “We don’t have all their resources, but we can respond quickly and customize engineering solutions more quickly than large companies.” In fact, Holland guarantees that any client with a pump problem, anywhere in the U.S., will have someone on call to fix it within two hours.

For municipal engineers in cities and small towns with eroding infrastructure, that kind of service can mean the difference between water and no water for millions of customers, and sewage flowing to treatment facilities instead of overflowing into local streams. Holland’s pumps are used all over as backups for sewer lift stations, or to bypass sewer lines when they need emergency repairs.

Pumps are also a key component in the nation’s largest environmental restoration project—the repair of Florida’s Everglades. This “River of Grass,” a collection of sawgrass marshes, freshwater ponds, prairies and forests, covered almost 11,000 square miles of South Florida just a century ago. Today it is half that size, drained by agriculture, development and flood control.

Holland Pump is working with the federal Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) on a number of projects to pump more water back into the Everglades. In 2011, they were selected as the pump supplier and dewatering contractor for the Faka Union Canal Pump Station, part of a $79 million restoration project in south Florida’s Collier County. “Building pump stations in the Everglades might seem counterintuitive to preserving a natural area, but it’s a critical part of restoring water levels in the region,” says Blodgett.

Building pumps allows Holland not only to help customers but also to manage equipment better and do things better environmentally. “We have a number of safety mechanisms to protect the environment in all kinds of industries,” Blodgett says. “Around some mines, nuclear power plants, sewage systems—when there is heavy rain, the fluid that would leach into the environment can be very toxic. It can even destroy the pump itself. So it has to be made of the right material, and when the pump is called on, it has to pump flawlessly.

”Lately, Holland has been reaching out to international markets. “There is a widespread perception that American-made products are still the best made,” Blodgett explains. “Many of the largest multi-national engineering firms specify American-made pumps because the engineering and reliability is there. We should be able to do well as long as we innovate and change with the times.”

Some of Holland Pump’s innovations include using vegetable and other biodegradable non-toxic oils in its hydraulic systems to mitigate the environmental impact of leaks, and using telemetry and GPS technology to monitor, start and stop equipment from a distance, and respond proactively to keep equipment running.

While Holland’s staff is planning major projects, they must be constantly ready for emergencies. “Projects involving water can get exponentially worse very quickly,” Blodgett explains. “When a pump fails, it can translate to days of delay. Our biggest challenge and asset is our service—the logistical ability to quickly deliver and set up pumps and keep them running 24/7. It’s an adrenaline rush.”

This article was originally published in the Evergreen Magazine Spring 2012 issue

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