ncreased government regulation can be a dubious proposition for small business owners. Some regulations wind up costing thousands of dollars, and can even force the small guy out of business. But sometimes a new government rule can translate into a golden opportunity for the business with the right tools and skills. This just might be the case for landscape contractors who are up to snuff on Phase II of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which went into effect in March, 2003. Chris Estes, registered landscape architect, president and owner of Estes Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, confirms, Phase II can definitely mean additional business for the landscape contractor. Mike Chase, water quality specialist for Rain for Rent, says This is a perfect time for landscape contractors. Phase II could be a win-win situation for them and their customers.

Right now, the Phase II market is wide open and ready for the taking. There are plenty of potential customers: construction companies, general contractors and municipalities need help meeting Phase II requirements. Whats more, there are a variety of ways that landscape contractors can help them. Marc Bowers, vice president of marketing for Finn Corporation, says, There are a ton of angles to Phase II. These include opportunities for contractors with an interest in native or aquatic plants, and new markets for contractors willing to expand into hydroseeding and erosion control. There are even Phase II angles for landscape contractors who want to explore techniques to prevent storm water runoff and sedimentation. The trick is in understanding the implications and requirements of Phase II, and knowing how to market your business in the Phase II world. Alphabet soup explained Right now, there is a fair amount of confusion about Phase II. Many landscape contractors, smaller municipalities and construction companies, who can be fined for failing to comply with Phase II, dont understand the regulation. Chase says, The biggest issue with Phase II is confusion [among smaller municipalities and general contractors affected by the regulation.] General contractors dont want to worry about stormwater control. Its a thorn in their side. They would rather turn the problem over to someone else. That someone else just might be the landscape professional who understands Phase II, and can meet its requirements. For the acronym-challenged, Phase II NPDES is the second installment of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Phase II, and its precursor Phase I, are part of the Clean Water Act. In a nutshell, Phase II says that any project of one acre or more cannot discharge sediment or pollutants into waterways. Phase II aims to prevent polluted stormwater runoff and sedimentation, which can harm or kill fish and wildlife, destroy aquatic habitat and cause stream bank erosion. Phase II requires a full stormwater prevention plan for every site of disturbance greater than one acre. Phase I affected only large construction activities that disturbed five acres or more, but Phase II applies to any construction activity that disturbs an acre or more hence the tremendous potential for landscape contractors. Construction or disturbance activities affected by Phase II include road building, construction of residential houses, office buildings and industrial sites and demolition. The means of avoiding sediment discharge (and the landscape professionals golden ticket into the Phase II market) is Best Management Practices, or BMPs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined scores of BMPs targeted to effective stormwater management. The sheer volume of BMPs should not discourage contractors. In fact, it can be taken as an indication of the scope of the market. Some contractors may shy away from stormwater prevention planning, but landscape design and stormwater management are not that far removed. In fact, Estes says, Most landscape architects have the stormwater management toolbox, but dont focus on it. This just might be the right time for contractors to either revisit and rebuild stormwater management skills, or find out just what stormwater management entails. Estes continues, Even if a contractor does not have specialized stormwater knowledge, Phase II can open the door to additional business particularly for landscapers involved in or who desire to be involved in aquatic landscaping. Contractors interested in either aquatic plants or native vegetation could find themselves in high demand. Thats because a lot of BMPs rely on phytoremediation using plants to mitigate runoff. Stormwater runoff control can be achieved through wet ponds, dry extended ponds, stormwater wetlands, grassed swales and grassed filter strips. For some sites, a BMP may be as simple as preserving natural vegetation. The trick is determining the appropriate solution. How does a contractor develop Phase II solutions? He needs to familiarize himself with a menu of BMPs, and design or install BMPs appropriate for the local environment. BMPs also need to be maintained throughout the construction process. Consequently, the BMP business can be a long-term or ongoing proposition. One attraction of Phase II for landscape contractors ready to make the leap is lack of upfront cost to enter the market. Estes says contractors dont necessarily need to buy new equipment to serve the Phase II market, they just need to invest their time to come up to speed on BMPs. How much time a contractor needs to invest depends on previous experience with aquatic and native vegetation, and designing or installing ponds and wetlands. Wetland plants not your cup of tea? Not to worry, says Finns Bowers. Phase II provides other means to grow a landscape business. He suggests that contractors interested in this market consider investing in a straw blower or hydroseeder. Both pieces of equipment provide a means to cover ground and reach Phase II compliance, as they are universally accepted for BMPs. Erosion control measures that fit into the BMP menu include mulching, sodding and permanent seeding. Other relevant erosion and sediment control measures are filter berms, wind and sand fences and dust control measures. No matter which type of BMPs fit best in your businesss toolbox, the next step is establishing yourself as a Phase II guru in the local community. Coming up to speed on
Phase II Understanding the regulations and the scope of the Phase II market is the first step in growing your business. The next step is brushing up on your skills. Hendriqus Schraven, president of Hendriqus Schraven Landscape Construction and Soil Dynamics in Seattle, Washington, says, How Phase II fits into the landscape contractors business depends on two things: the specs put out in the local community, and how much the contractor educates himself about Phase II and BMPs. Fortunately, there are dozens of sources of information about Phase II. The International Erosion Control Association (IECA of Steamboat Springs, Colorado) offers training courses and workshops. Another option is the local university extension program, which may cover aquatic and native plant topics. Developing a working knowledge of local erosion control and water quality ordinances is also a good idea. Finally, counties, states and the feds are great sources of information. Estes says, Each state should have a pallet of BMPs for reference. Familiarization with that document should help contractors a lot. If your state has not yet established BMPs, check out the BMPs in neighboring states. The EPAs Phase II newsletter, Stormwater Month, is another handy way to keep up to speed on BMPs and other requirements of Phase II. As with any state or federal regulation, there are a few other hoops to jump through as well. Fortunately, Phase II paperwork is relatively straightforward. Contractors who want to design, install or monitor BMPs need to apply for permit coverage. The EPA is the permitting authority in five states, and issues a broad umbrella coverage permit to contractors, rather than assign permits on an individual project by project basis, so once a contractor demonstrates his qualifications and secures permit coverage, he can begin marketing himself, and installing BMPs. The other 45 states have some flexibility in issuing permits, but most follow the broad coverage example set by the EPA. Permit in hand, the next step is finding customers. Most contractors will not have to look far. Landscape contractors preferring to sub-contract as BMP installers can market their services to local general contractors, who need a stormwater prevention plan for each site disturbance over one acre and lack the expertise to design or install BMPs. Contractors can also tout their skills to the local NPDES regulator and the city, county and state. These entities may need to contract for Phase II services, and general contractors may turn to them for suggestions when they need assistance with Phase II.

The potential rewards for establishing yourself as a company able to handle Phase II BMPs are significant. In the short term, there will be less competition with other contractors because the market is relatively new and uncrowded. Best yet, the services to be sold BMPs are required by law, so the demand should be fairly steady.

more...PHASE II: The Prevention Angle...

February 2004