Site Seers

Working to keep Vermont green

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

verterre0112Rod Lindsay II (left), principal and senior field technician; Steven Chase, principal and CFO; and Martha Roy, principal, project manager, and senior scientist, bought The Verterre Group from their employer, R.L. Vallee, in 2006.

One day last year, Andy Duling, the field technician at The Verterre Group in Colchester, took a call from a person wanting to buy the company’s services.

“This family had buried an urn of ashes of a father or grandfather about 20 years ago in a coffee can,” says Rod Lindsay II, field services supervisor, staff scientist, and one of the company’s three principals. “They wondered if we could try and find it.”

The folks at the company were intrigued. They had recently purchased ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment and were eager to put it to the test. “We knew we probably couldn’t find it — and we didn’t — but they wanted us to come out and try anyway,” says Lindsay.

The Verterre Group provides environmental testing and field services, consulting, and field support to a wide range of clients. Services include underground storage tank cleaning and removal, spill response and remediation, and soil and groundwater testing.

“GPR is our newest toy,” says Martha Roy, principal, project manager, and senior scientist. “We bought it to locate underground utilities and abandoned underground storage tanks. It works like a charm on those. You can also use it to find bedrock and locate graves — it finds disturbed earth, even if the earth was disturbed 50 years ago.”

Contrary to what the public sees when GPR is used in TV police procedurals, Roy says, it does not show perfectly formed body images. “It’s sort of like an ultrasound, where the doctor says, ‘That’s the head,’ and you look and squint and say, ‘Oh, yeah!’”

The company has a spill contract with the state, which requires the partners to be available 24/7. “If somebody has a petroleum release, whether it’s a homeowner with a fuel oil tank or a gas station or another entity, we respond to those spills and clean them up,” says Roy.

“In fact, we worked on several spills in Waterbury that were directly related to Irene. When Irene flooded people’s homes and basements, their fuel oil tanks ended up tipping over. Unfortunately, those folks, who already had enough to contend with, now had to deal with contamination.”

The Verterre Group doesn’t have one boss, it has three, and they like it that way. “A lot of people say, ‘Wouldn’t you be better off if you had just one boss?’” says Steven Chase, the third principal and project manager. “I say, ‘No, it’s great to spread out when the pressure’s on.’”

Although each of them has special areas of concentration, everything overlaps. “We all have our various strengths,” says Roy, “so we don’t step on each other’s toes. If it’s field-related, I give that to Rod; if it’s, ‘Contact this client,’ ‘Give a cost estimate,’ ‘Set this up,’ I do a lot of the project management pieces. And Steve does all the other stuff,” she says with a laugh.

The company was founded in 1993 as Twin State Environmental, doing much the same work it does today for clients in Vermont and New Hampshire. As the work expanded into other states, it changed its name to The Verterre Group (Verterre is French for “green earth”) in 2002.

Roy, Chase, and Lindsay were employees when, in 2006, the general manager accepted an opportunity for another job and took several employees with him. “That left everybody scrambling,” says Lindsay.

It also left the three of them wondering about their jobs. “We decided to take charge of our own destiny,” says Roy. To that end, they approached the owner, R.L. Vallee, about buying the company. Vallee was open to it.

It took six to eight months for them to decide if they really wanted to buy it, “going over numbers and trying to calm that fear factor down,” Lindsay says. During those months, they operated the company and turned it around, “from losing money to making money.” They closed the deal on Dec. 29, 2006.

Roy believes the reason they work so well together is that they’re really good problem-solvers. “We’re a small company and have to wear a lot of hats,” she says.

“It’s a good mix. Rod has a lot of field experience, so does a lot of our field work and drilling, and Steve also has a lot of field experience. Besides an environmental degree. he has a business degree, so he’s our money guy. And, of course, I’m the chemist.”

For engineering help, the company uses Phelps Engineering in Middlebury. John Ashley, a vice president at Phelps, once worked at Verterre; he joined the company in 2000, before its name change.

In 2004, he left to join Phelps. “Part of why we like doing business with Verterre is that we get great customer service,” he says.

Working together is a two-way street, says Ashley. Verterre hires Phelps to help on projects such as Phase I environmental assessments on sites about to undergo real estate transactions. Phelps hires Verterre for services like soil or water sampling and use of the GPR or the Geoprobe to, say, locate ledge, useful when planning for underground piping for municipal water and wastewater projects.

Roy, a Winooski native, pursued her interest in science at St. Michael’s College with a degree in biology, followed by a master’s degree in natural resources from the University of Vermont. Her first job — as chemist and later quality assurance manager — with Aquatec Laboratories (now part of TestAmerica in Williston) lasted 15 years, through various corporate name changes.

Toward the end, having made trips to Dallas, Texas, for 18 months and tired of traveling, she took a job with the telecom company Vertek Corp. in Colchester as quality assurance manager. After five years, wishing to return to environmental work, she applied to The Verterre Group. It was 2004.

Chase, also a native Vermonter, was born in Morrisville and grew up in Hyde Park. He comes from a large family whose roots go back generations.

After earning a business degree in accounting from UVM in 1992, he spent a short time doing accounting work until he “figured out I’m not a sit-behind-the-desk-all-day person,” he says. He headed west to Colorado about a month after meeting Bonnie Rand on a blind date. He landed a summer job doing landscaping.

“She was supposed to go to Johnson State that fall,” says Chase, “but she had to have shoulder surgery, so she took a semester off and came out to see me. We drove all over the country and came back here in the fall. The second summer, she went with me.”

They married in 1996. He started working for a mason while attending Johnson State toward a degree in natural resources, which he earned in ’98. In ’97, with his father-in-law, Bob Fletcher, and formed a company making high-end custom furniture.

“Then 9/11 pretty much destroyed the furniture business,” he says. “It was really tourist-driven. So in 2002, I went back to masonry work while I looked for an environmental job.” Fortunately, the mason he worked for knew the manager at Verterre and made a phone call. Chase joined the team in November 2002.

Lindsay grew up in Linneus, Maine, near Houlton on the New Brunswick border. Verterre (then called Twin State) was his first job after earning an associate’s degree in environmental science at Southern Maine Tech in 1995.

Hired as a field technician, a key part of his responsibility was to operate the Geoprobe drilling rig the company was about to buy.

“I did that for an awful long time — a lot of field service work, anywhere from site investigations, taking core samples, soil samples, putting in monitoring wells,” he says. “That allows us to find where the plume of, say, gasoline is underground, find out the direction it’s flowing, take samples, and send it to the lab.”

Eventually, he was sent on his own to large excavating jobs and later on, he began quoting jobs.

All three have active lives away from work. Roy and her husband, Steve, an engineer for the city of Burlington, live in Colchester. They have two sons, Chris, 21, and Adam, 19.

“I’m a big flower garden person,” she says, “and a yoga enthusiast.” A couple of years ago, she and her cousins began digging into family history and now find themselves taking a lot of day trips “prancing around cemeteries and old records.”

Chase contends with a 38-mile one-way commute from Waterville, where he, Bonnie, and their children (Melissa, 13, and Fletcher, 11) live. “I just finished deer hunting — everything gets shoved aside for that,” he says, adding that he tries to go fishing with Bonnie’s father in the summer.

He confesses that most of his off-hours have been spent coaching, “everything my kids play for sports,” he says. “Everything” includes soccer, basketball, and baseball — even coaching two teams at once for a couple of seasons.

Lindsay lives in Westford with his wife, Jenna, whom he married a year and a half ago, and their son, Kohen. They met four years ago in Burlington, where Jenna was “the girl next door.”

He does a lot of hunting and fishing and grows vegetables. “I put up jellies, jams, pickles — I’m always harvesting wild tea and stuff like that,” he says.v

He has done wildcrafting for a long time, even making a business of it in his spare time for several years. “I’d take a week off in the spring every year; had quite a few clients — a lot of restaurants. I’d collect fiddleheads, wild ramps, mushrooms — all those.”

Keeping the company small was an oath the partners took when they bought the company, pledging to treat their employees well, says Lindsay. Their two employees, Duling and Kelly Jo Julian, operations manager, round out the team.

The future might involve taking on asbestos and lead work, but, for now, the partners continue to concentrate on faster response time — and the challenge of being three bosses. •