Case Studies

Inland Marine Services LLC: Coastal Restoration and Maintenance Dredging, Building trust

  • Written by: Inland Marine Services LLC: Coastal Restoration and Maintenance Dredging, Building trust
  • Produced by: Inland Marine Services LLC: Coastal Restoration and Maintenance Dredging, Building trust
  • Estimated reading time: 6 mins

Stephen Loupe has been in the construction industry for over 30 years, primarily executing contracts in the land-based heavy industrial and governmental sectors. Loupe founded Inland Marine Services LLC (IMS) in 2005 to lend a hand in the aftermath of that year’s historic hurricane season, which brought unprecedented devastation to the Gulf region and saw two more category-five hurricanes: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In 2009 Loupe and Micheal Johnson, who previously initiated a hydraulic dredging division for Wilco Industrial Services, merged talents and became equal partners of IMS. With a similar vision and work ethic, the duo became a force to reckon with. What started as a small marine construction and oil field support operation has grown into one of the most active transportable hydraulic dredge companies in the region. Despite its growth, IMS takes pride in being a small business and provides a balance between sophisticated technology and a personal touch to guarantee complete customer satisfaction.

IMS is domiciled in Louisiana, maintaining its headquarters in Baton Rouge, with an office in Mandeville and equipment yards in both Covington and Harvey. However, the company has remained nimble enough to work anywhere accessible to a Lowboy Tractor Trailer.

“We have purchased four new hydraulic dredges since 2010 that have all been built for portability and a range of applications,” says Loupe. “Our 8-inch auger dredge is primarily utilized for pond dredging and dewatering operations. We have two 12-inch Barracuda-style cutter head dredges with a walking spud, which spend most of their time on projects requiring maintenance dredging, coastal restoration and marsh creation. Finally, there is an 18-inch shark-style cutter head dredge and matching dredge tender. This unit is currently mining sand in South Florida, but at 112-feet long and 30-feet wide, drafting only 27 inches, it is capable of dredging depths of 56 feet, while remaining transportable. The unit can also move high volumes of material anywhere, even landlocked locations.”

“As long as there is ground transportation access to the designated body of water, we can get the job done,” boasts Loupe.

IMS works for both public- and private-sector clients; many of its contracts require around the clock operation, seven days a week. Although some IMS contracts come on short notice, the company’s rapid response and urgency has always been a part of its recipe for growth. Prior to 2005’s hurricane devastation, Loupe’s career centered on industrial land-based heavy civil contracting, but the desperate need for qualified assistance propelled Loupe to take a shot at marine contracting operations.

Lending a Hand

In late 2005 Loupe was contacted by an acquaintance and resident of Cut Off, La., who introduced him to a local oil field contractor needing assistance immediately following Hurricane Katrina. In lieu of the widespread devastation, and being a lifelong resident of Louisiana, Loupe took a chance and jumped at the opportunity to lend a helping hand to some of the hardest-hit coastal areas’ recovery.

“The closest I had come to marine contracting prior to this was building the Slip ‘F’ bulkhead for Port Fourchon in 1992, and a similar bulkhead for Chevron Pipeline nearby,” says Loupe. “But since I had access to a 100-ton lattice boom crane with a 120-foot boom – which was mounted on a walking spud barge complete with living quarters, pile driving equipment, clam buckets, fuel and water storage – we were contracted to head to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

“We ended up staying for almost two years assisting a contractor to a large oil company,” continues Loupe. “Subsequently, we contracted directly to oil companies, cleaning up and restoring their operating facilities; every day was filled with unknowns and adventure. Living on location and working seven days per week in such remote areas proved to be a challenge. It was hard to maintain a smooth flow of fuel, supplies and food. This is when I made the call to make a career move to focus on working on the water.”

Moving Quickly

It was also at this time that IMS was first summoned to locate and provide a hydraulic dredge to aerially discharge spray dredge material from well head service canals to enable vessel access for monitoring, service and maintenance. With no prior exposure to this type of work, Loupe quickly turned to a civil engineer for the New Orleans District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers working in dredging operations for guidance, who also happened to be a good friend. Loupe obtained the requisite insurance coverage, traveled to independent inshore oil and gas exploration companies for exposure and executed many Master Service Agreements across the Gulf region.

“We purchased our first two 12-inch Barracuda-style cutter head dredges in early 2010,” says Loupe. By late 2011 IMS had all three dredges working and the fourth in production with a contract pending delivery. Likewise, IMS became a Certified Small Business and a qualified contractor for Multiple Award Task Order Contracts with the Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

More recently, the new IMS 18-inch dredge is continuing to mine sand in South Florida, where the material will be relocated as beach renourishment along the Atlantic coast. One of the 12-inch dredges is in Bradenton, Fla., preparing to maintenance dredge one of the city’s major drainage canals to prevent future flooding.

“This is a very high-profile project with the staging area in downtown Bradenton, actually on the site of the old Court House, where the dredge material will be pumped up to a couple of thousand feet,” says Loupe. “It will then be filtered through a series of hydro cyclone units, separating most of the granular solids from the slurry, where it will be discharged onto horizontal conveyors, then to a stacking conveyor to be loaded onto trucks and disposed of at a landfill. The remaining slurry will be injected with a special polymer that is charged for the smaller particulate matter to flock and settle to the bottom of the next series of open top frac tanks with a baffle system serving as a clarifier. The clear water off the top will flow back into the drainage canal and the flocked material will be pumped into geotubes, which will allow the water to weep out of the mixture over time.

“The remaining solids will be transported to the off-site disposal area,” continues Loupe. “Our other 12-inch dredge is being serviced in preparation to return to the mouth of the Mississippi River, about 20 miles south of Venice, La. There, it will continue dredging operations for an oil exploration company preparing the access channel for a drilling rig to set up at the designated location. And lastly, our 8-inch dredge is about to start a sludge pond clean-out for a manufacturing plant in Arkansas.”

Reliable and Responsive

Many companies have felt the pinch of a slowed economy, but IMS has been able to grow because of the region’s long-term hurricane recovery efforts and because many of the services it provides are crucial to maintaining established marine access routes, with Mother Nature’s propensity to deposit silt material inhibiting necessary access and ongoing man-made manufacturing operations. In fact, IMS dredges are equipped with sophisticated technology systems that enable operators to view the area and depth each dredge has covered and monitor its progress, which is somewhat unusual for smaller-sized equipment.

“We’re in a very specialized niche and our biggest challenge is to discipline ourselves,” says Loupe. “It is not to attempt to capitalize on every available opportunity, but maintain our standards of safety, quality and performance that put us here begin start with. Looking out over the horizon, we see a continuous stream of prospective projects that would involve our equipment and expertise, but we never bid anything unless we have total confidence that it’s something we can staff, manage and do well, without compromising our relationships with long-standing clients.”

IMS follows up every project with a client performance questionnaire, and although the response has been overwhelmingly positive the surveys provide crucial insight into the team’s performance beyond the company’s financials.

The next few years will bring more opportunity for the company, but the IMS team has no plans to change its priorities. By controlling the company’s growth and upholding the level of responsive service its customers have come to expect, Inland Marine Services LLC is poised to become a key contributor to the growth of the Gulf region’s economy. •

Published on: May 7, 2013

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