Paul Chetlain isn’t one to stand in the spotlight, but the fruits of his labor are certainly under great public scrutiny.
As the new maintenance manager for the Inter-District Authority, Chetlain is responsible for making sure Lakewood Ranch’s retention ponds and landscaping are up to community standards.
And under the guidance of Lakewood Ranch Town Hall’s Director of Operations Ryan Heise, Chetlain is implementing some innovative strategies for tackling Lakewood Ranch’s pond maintenance and landscaping issues, such as combating algae blooms with increased pond oxygen levels rather than with more chemical treatments.
The precedent he helps set here may one day trickle over to other planned communities.
Born and raised in Bradenton, Chetlain graduated from Manatee High School in 1982. He immediately entered the agricultural industry, taking a job at Geraldson Farms in Bradenton. He later joined the U.S. Navy in 1987, serving a total of six years, before getting out and using the GI to attend Manatee Community College to earn a degree in electronics engineering technology.
Chetlain used his agricultural experience to secure a job at Yoder Bros., a horticultural supplier of plant materials, while he was in school.
“I was doing full-time work and full-time class,” he says.
At the time, Chetlain thought the job would be short-term, but his newfound skills proved important as the company consolidated operations and became more automated. Chetlain ended up spending 16 years with Yoders, progressing to facilities manager before leaving in 2005.
While there, Chetlain got practical experience dealing with surface water issues and using recycled water, among other concerns.
Chetlain’s next business venture led him to QCom Corp., a company that sold PC-based environmental and irrigation control systems.
“I had in the trenches, firsthand knowledge with the software,” Chetlain says, noting he had implemented the software at Yoders. “I thought the opportunity and travel would be good.”
The experience broadened his understanding of how technology could be applied and understood in agriculture. And it also was during his time at QCom that Chetlain familiarized himself with a Dutch product he introduced to the Ranch several months before coming on staff there.
Chetlain says his experiences in the agricultural industry — but especially at Yoder Bros. — provided a wealth of experience he is applying at the Ranch.
At Yoder, for example, the quality of the water was critical for creating a good product. And in Lakewood, it’s equally the same. Ponds that are not well oxygenated or get too much fertilizer runoff, for example, become a breeding ground for algae blooms and therefore an eyesore for residents. Several retention ponds cannot even support fish life adequately because oxygen levels are so low.
“It’s the same thing on a smaller scale of what this community has,” Chetlain says of his work at Yoder Bros. “The quality of the water source was so crucial. It came back to the better the natural environment was, the more efficient the irrigation delivery system was. It boils down to pond maintenance.
“There’s a very expansive irrigation system in Lakewood Ranch that has evolved and is quite a challenge to maintain,” he says. “All these aesthetics and landscape — that doesn’t happen by itself.”
Chetlain knows his work is cut out for him. Residents dislike the algae blooms that burst across lakes as well as the lawn trimmings that litter the water after grass cutting days. But he is working hard to come up with some creative solutions to the community’s problems and exploring alternative technologies to adding more chemicals to lakes, which make it more difficult for healthy plant life to grow.
One pivotal tool has been the Oloid, a tear-shaped device that makes a paddling motion under water. Through a friend, Chetlain was able to introduce Heise to the Oloid as a potential way to solve some of Lakewood Ranch’s algae problems. He lent his equipment to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Operations, and a longtime problem lake was cleared of algae in about three months. Chetlain was hired soon after that.
With the Oloid, the results aren’t as immediate as spraying chemicals, but the aeration and water movement the Oloid provide are a more long-term fix than treating ponds with chemicals.
“This technology is expensive, but it’s very effective,” Chetlain says. “You get this really efficient transfer of energy to work.”
Chetlain also has developed a solar pump, which Town Hall Operations is using to water remote pond bank plantings.
And last April, Lakewood Ranch began a partnership with the University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology and the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program to improve the water quality at Lake Uihlein through an alternative landscape design.
Through native plantings around the lake, Heise and Chetlain are hoping the lake will see improved water quality while also being more pleasing aesthetically. Homeowner’s associations or other governing units could choose to plant similar vegetation around retention ponds in their communities. Doing so would help improve water quality by adding a natural filtration system for chemical runoff and other wastes and would ultimately reduce lawn services required and solve the problem of having grass clippings fall in the water.
In addition to overseeing those plantings, Chetlain also is working to help choose how Lakewood Ranch can improve its irrigation control system, which is out of date and not fully in service.
“I really admire the commitment and the interest in championing innovation and looking at more sustainable ways to maintain (facilities),” Chetlain says.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].