Baking Soda Blasting Firm Finds a Niche at Local Marinas

(Originally printed in The Capital, Annapolis, Md. 3/13/07)

By KATIE ARCIERI, Staff Writer

Stacey Stone, a retired Montgomery County firefighter, was searching for a second career in the boat business.

After hearing about the use of baking soda to strip flaking paint from boat hulls, he hit on an idea.

“The non-toxic baking soda is used to remove paint from boats in a more environmentally friendly way than sand and other harsh materials. It’s an idea catching on with those worried about the health of the Chesapeake Bay,” Mr. Stone said.

Since launching the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Soda Clean in 2004, he has seen business grow with “soda blasting” jobs at local marinas embracing more environmentally friendly policies.

“The marinas want to be clean. They don’t want a mess,” said Mr. Stone. “We base our process on cleanliness and worker safety.”

Baking soda, he said, has many advantages because it’s biodegradable and is not considered a hazard. Sand, however, contains silica and can be very harmful to the people who are blasting it. Baking soda also doesn’t leave a mark on a boat’s surface, whereas sand can leave cracks, he said.

Chesapeake Soda Clean is one of several businesses popping up to help facilities satisfy stricter environmental regulations and clean marina initiatives across the country, said Donna Morrow, coordinator of the state’s Clean Marina Initiative, a voluntary program encouraging marina facilities to adopt pollution-prevention practices.

Locally, she’s seen new technologies from wash-water recycling systems and vacuum sanders.

“It’s nice to see so many creative people to try to fill a niche, fill a need with an environmentally safe method,” she said.

Garry Williams, president of Osprey Marine Composites at Herrington Harbour North, a marina in Tracys Landing, is one of those people. He said his company was the first to offer soda-blasting services on the Chesapeake Bay 12 years ago.

Back then, he only did two or three jobs “because nobody knew” about it, he said.

Today, sales are thriving.

“Now we do anywhere from 30 to 50 (jobs) easily in the wintertime,” said Mr. Williams, whose company also provides fiberglass blister repair and collision repair. “It’s big time about environment.”

Mr. Stone is the eastern regional sales director for the Soda Works, a soda blast equipment manufacturer. In December his company opened a 1,500-square-foot service warehouse at 2116 Renard Court, where he’ll sell soda blasting machines and baking soda bags. He said he expects to make $60,000 this year from boat soda-blasting jobs and other marine-related work, nearly double the $35,000 his company made for those services in 2006.

Blasting four or five days a week, Mr. Stone and his employees travel across central Maryland to marinas. They create airtight plastic tents around boat hulls to prevent particles from entering the Chesapeake Bay.

Patrick Houchins, a blast technician, and Mike Morgan, service manager, wear suits and respirators when shooting baking soda through a 50-foot hose to blow paint chunks off boat hulls.

It’s a very labor-intensive process, Mr. Stone said. The tents take about two hours to put up and, depending on how large a boat is and how many coats of paint it has, blasting can take up to six hours, he said.

Last fall, Chesapeake Soda Clean blasted a 64-foot sailboat in Talbot County for $3,500, Mr. Stone said. For $1,400, his company blasted the paint off a 33-foot boat at Ventnor Marine Service in Pasadena.

Don Reimers, general manager for Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, a state-certified clean marina, said Chesapeake Soda Clean has performed a few soda-blasting jobs for boat owners at his marina, adding that he has a couple more jobs lined up for Mr. Stone.

“I think Chesapeake Soda (Clean) has the best technique,” said Mr. Reimers. “It’s the most environmentally friendly.”

Robin Brashears, marina manager for Ventnor Marine Service, another state-certified clean marina, said she found Mr. Stone’s soda-blasting process to be “nice, neat and clean.”

“We have had other people come in and sand-blast but it makes such a mess,” said Ms. Brashears.

Ms. Brashears said her business has embraced more environmentally friendly policies to become a state-certified clean marina.

She added that a many customers “like to know” that the marina is considered a clean one.

“It does make sense because it’s how we make our living,” she said.

Published 03/13/07, Copyright © 2007 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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