About 5,000 feet below the ocean surface, important work is taking place.
A futuristic, robotic piece of machinery is scouring the ocean floor, searching for debris, sea-floor undulations and whatever else might be present in the abyss.
Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel? Nope, just another job for Alaskan-ownedTerraSond.
TerraSond Limited is an underwater surveying firm based in Palmer and owned by Tom Newman, Bob Kohut and their employees. Since 1994, Terrasond has been in the business of mapping the ocean floor, along Alaska’s coastline and throughout the world.
“It’s really specialized work that we are doing,” said Newman in his Palmer office. “There are not a lot of companies that do what we do, and most of them are multi-billion dollar operations.”
Terrasond is the only Alaska-based firm that provides a full suite of underwater surveying work and only one of five worldwide that has a contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The company can map the undulations in the ocean floor to an accuracy of a few centimeters, all from the water’s surface. Terrasond also has worked with submergible vehicles that recently made a 7,000-foot dive to get readings of the ocean floor.
The technology is used to make an accurate map of sea depths for charts, measure what changes have occurred around underwater structures such as pipelines, accurately map the seafloor for new construction such as bridges and underwater fiber optic lines and much more.
As of July, Terrasond teams were working on a pipeline installation off the coast of Israel, surveying in the Gulf of Mexico assessing ocean-floor changes since Hurricane Katrina struck the area, surveying in Anchorage in support of dredging operations, surveying in Nome in support of harbor and breakwater construction and surveying in Cook Inlet on a underwater pipeline burial project.
“One thing we found in the Gulf of Mexico was a 190-foot boat that no one knows where it came from,” said Vice President Butch Hallford.
With about 40 employees based in both Alaska and Texas and government and private sector clients as close as Cook Inlet and as far away as New Guinea, Terrasond faces a myriad of challenges in day to day business.
One advantage Newman says his firm enjoys is the ability to make fast-paced decisions.
“Because we are so much smaller than many of our competitors, we can make a decision and proposal in a day that it takes the other guys weeks to do,” he said.
It’s a quality that he finds valuable in his bank.
Newman said he uses First National for all of TerraSond’s banking needs. One recent transaction specifically stood out.
First National in June launched a new equipment-leasing program, and Terrasond was one of the first customers to take advantage of it.
After submitting a proposal to lease a new piece of surveying equipment called a Coda - Octopus F185, Newman said the company expected to have to wait before a decision could be made.
“We got a call the same day and Joe (Gelione) said it was a go,” said Hallford. “You couldn’t believe how easy it all was.”
As a loan officer for First National, Gelione has been working with TerraSond for about three years.
In a field as technical and complicated as underwater surveying, anything that is easy is a welcome change.
“Really, what we do is a combination of disciplines,” said Newman, noting some of his employees experience ranging from surveying to geology to marine science to coastal engineering. “Basically they all come together to build a really successful business that is a lot different than about anything else.”
Besides using the leasing program, TerraSond has secured a real estate loan, equipment loans and a line of credit from First National.
“They are great customers because they not only know their business, but they understand finances too,” said Gelione. “They run a real solid operation.”
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