When disaster strikes or a booming oil industry comes calling, Louisiana’s Chad Boudreaux answers the call with portable sanitation solutions.
Unexpected life circumstances and major natural and man-made disasters shaped the early career of Chad Boudreaux, leading him to build on the successes of a small family pumping business in the bayou country in his native Cut Off, La.
At one time, Boudreaux had his mind set on being a football player in college and then moving on to coach football. But about 20 years ago, his father, Joe, was stricken with a heart attack, so he came home to help run a one-truck outfit, Joe’s Septic. Boudreaux never looked back, building a diverse and thriving enterprise that was well-positioned to serve the Gulf Coast when it was hit first by Hurricane Katrina and then the BP oil spill.
Now 40 years old and full owner of the company, Boudreaux is excited to learn the latest wastewater technologies and find new challenges in the wastewater industry. And he’s happy to share what he’s learned while providing disaster relief and being part of the current boom in oilfield services.
“I started having different ideas, seeing new ways, different technologies,” says Boudreaux.
Boudreaux recalls how his father, now 82, started the company in 1965 by digging cesspools by hand, using only a shovel and an old wheelbarrow he found at a trash dump. Eventually he bought a vacuum truck, and Joe’s Septic grew from there – thanks to Joe’s hard work and his son’s interest in joining him.
Today, Joe’s Septic Contractors has branched out with a vital portable sanitation focus. The diversified business also installs wastewater systems and has taken on a second corporate identity, Joe’s Environmental, to provide a variety of services to the burgeoning energy sector.
The company’s first expansion came when Boudreaux convinced his father to purchase a few portable restrooms. “I was seeing an opportunity to make money,” Boudreaux says. “I was seeing units from out of town,” and he thought a local restroom contractor would fill an important need.
Boudreaux’s inventory quickly grew to 1,500 restrooms (from Five Peaks, Armal and PolyPortables), 38 PolyPortables ADA units, 120 PolyPortables hand-wash stations, 37 Bradley Corporation eye-wash stations, 74 210-gallon holding tanks from Kentucky Tank and eight restroom trailers, ranging from two to 18 stalls (manufacturers include Wells Cargo, Comforts of Home Services, Rich Specialty Trailers, Advanced Containment Systems and Forest River).
Having increased inventory became critical when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005. In its wake, flooding ensued and almost 2,000 people were killed.
Fortunately, the offices of Joe’s Septic, located in LaFourche Parish, suffered only minor damage – the roof was missing and the company temporarily moved into Boudreaux’s home. The crew was called to swift action, working 24 hours a day, serving the area with portable restrooms and pumping services.
RESPONDING TO DISASTER
“We probably had about 250 total units out for Katrina,” says Boudreaux. “We worked probably about a year nonstop … six months was real hardcore.”
His team serviced tent cities and had to keep up with other pumping in nearby St. Bernard Parish, where only one area lift station was working.
Tent cities were erected for the workers assisting with cleanup on the Gulf Coast. Boudreaux says there might have been 1,000 or so people in a tent city; his company brought 150 restrooms to such a site, for example.
“We had four trucks working day and night,” Boudreaux recalls. In addition, he bought four new trucks after Katrina, an investment of about $100,000 each.
While Katrina cleanup kept the company busy for months, another disaster would soon challenge the Joe’s Septic employees – the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
“I had to call some companies from Texas to bring me units just to meet demands from the oil spill,” says Boudreaux. “It was crazy. We were doing regular business, and we just started to get calls to send 50, 100 units. They had so many workers on the beach.’’
Joe’s Septic had restrooms stretching 14 miles along the Gulf Coast. BP rented all of the company’s restroom trailers.
“I had rigged up some tractors and we pulled some tanks behind them; we had to service these restrooms every day,” recalls Boudreaux. “We had crews working day and night to keep up.
“They made these big living quarters on barges. We were pumping off of this one particular living quarters; it had a big holding tank. We were hauling about 50,000 gallons of wastewater a day.”
A FIT FLEET
By circumstance, the company maintains a large and diverse fleet. “When Katrina hit, everybody was buying trucks,” Boudreaux says. So he bought whatever he could.
He currently owns 21 vehicles, including 13 vacuum trucks with tank sizes ranging from 300-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater, to 1,500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater for portable sanitation, to his largest, a 4,000-gallon Freightliner septic service rig. Most tanks are aluminum; a few are steel. Builders include V & H Inc., Vacutrux Limited, Satellite Industries, Dyna-Vac Equipment, KeeVac Industries and Progress VacTruck. They carry pumps from Masport, Moro USA, Fruitland Manufacturing, Jurop/Chandler, Conde (Westmoor Ltd.) and National Vacuum Equipment (NVE).
Additional equipment includes two Fassi knuckleboom cranes (mounted on Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks), excavators by Takeuchi U.S. and Link-Belt, two John Deere utility tractors, a Caterpillar backhoe and four Explorer portable restroom haulers from McKee Technologies Inc.
Whether or not the company is responding to a disaster, the oil and energy sector has helped Joe’s Septic thrive on increasing portable sanitation business. “When we started, the residential [pumping work] was way more than the oilfield; now the oilfield is probably 90 percent of our revenue,” says Boudreaux. “The oil companies are vital for our livelihood.’’
Joe’s Septic is not far from Port Fourchon, an oil fuel port at the Gulf. Offshore, BP, Shell, Chevron and other oil companies operate rigs. The oil business really started picking up in the late 1990s, Boudreaux says, when more companies began doing deep-water drilling. Boudreaux is now the exclusive supplier of portable restrooms for the port.
Buying out a competitor has helped him better serve the port. He added about 400 restrooms and assumed new business. “The contracts I didn’t have in the port, I was able to get,” says Boudreaux, whose company now has about 100 to 150 restroom units (as well as some holding tanks) offshore and 100 units in port.
Joe’s Septic has a system in place to service offshore clients, particularly because they are servicing port clients daily. His company delivers restroom units to the dock; each unit is housed in hand-forged aluminum cages with four-point slings (handmade by a welder Boudreaux hires).
“They always have to be updated each year,” he says of the cages. He owns about 150 to 200 cage/sling combinations, which each cost him about $1,800 to make.
The oil company client picks up the cages/units with a crane, sets them on the supply boat, which then delivers them to the oil rig. “It’s their liability once they grab it with the crane,” says Boudreaux.
Boudreaux’s company does not service the units offshore. When the restrooms are full, the client brings them back to the dock. The drilling companies generally order more units than they need so they always have clean ones available. Since it’s tough duty for the restrooms, Boudreaux tries to use older units for offshore use. And with the added costs of the cages and slings, Boudreaux charges a premium for these units.
Boudreaux has launched a separate business, Joe’s Environmental, to cater to the growing oil industry in the region – pumping and hauling drilling mud and completion fluids from exploration sites. That company’s fleet includes two cargo trailers (by C & W Trailers and General Cargo Trailers; three Dragon 130-barrel steel tanker trucks; and three 2012 Peterbilt 386 semi tractors with Challenger vacuum pumps from NVE).
To process 50,000 to 100,000 gallons of wastewater collected daily, Boudreaux built a disposal facility on his 40-acre property. With the closest municipal plant 50 miles away, Boudreaux estimates he saves a lot of money in gas and time in travel by having his own plant. While it is primarily for his use, he has a few out-of-town pumpers who pay him to dump their waste.
Boudreaux’s oxidation pond and treatment plant cost $80,000 to install and it’s regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality. The oxidation pond has three cells: The first is aerated and the second and third are for settling. Effluent then moves through a chlorinator and is discharged as clear water into a canal/marsh.
The Sutorbilt model Gardner Denver aerators, purchased from Delta Environmental Products, were a large investment, but “they brought my efficiency up 50 to 60 percent. I like to stay ahead of the game. If I can do anything to minimize problems in the future, I’m going to do it.”
HAPPY TO SERVE
Joe’s Septic remains a family business. Boudreaux’s wife, Trixy, formerly worked as office manager before their son, Colt, 7, was born, and she remains an important consultant for him. “Every decision I make I run by her,” he says. And Boudreaux’s 18-year-old son, Mason, is majoring in business at Nicholls State University and hopes to take over the business someday.
Boudreaux’s business has come a long way since his father’s hand shovel and wheelbarrow. He’s pleased to have served his community over the years, especially during some really hard times.
“What I really like is when we can help people out,” he says. “My community has been so good to me. I really believe in giving back. The business has gotten me to a point in my life where I can help out. I’ve been blessed to where I can give back.”