When their neighbor had a sinkhole a few years ago, Nicholas Longo and his wife, Barbara, watched from their yard in Spring Hill as LRE Ground Services stabilized the house and put things back in order.
The company even put its equipment away at night. The Longos were impressed.
Not long after that, the Longos' own kitchen floor began to pop up like a pyramid, and the garage floor began to rise. They had heard the sounds of their home shifting, but now it was clear that they had a problem, too.
"The house was talking to us," Nicholas Longo said. "Snap, crackle and pop! The slab was shifting. We wanted LRE to fix it."
Hernando, Pasco and other counties north of Interstate 4 are particularly vulnerable to sinkholes because of the amount of limestone in the ground and a limited clay buffer, said Tony Gilboy, a geologist with the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
As limestone dissolves — which is accelerated by periods of drought followed by rainy weather — sinkhole activity becomes more prevalent, Gilboy said.
And LRE has capitalized on that phenomenon. For more than 20 years, owners Raymond D. and Susan Larke Woolever have helped homeowners and businesses manage everything from sinkhole repairs to soil stabilization. The company has completed nearly 3,000 large and small projects across the state.
When the Woolevers founded the business in 1989, initially calling it Lar-Ray's Excavating Inc., they never imagined they would eventually have more than 100 employees and be one of the largest sinkhole remediation companies in Florida.
"We started out with a pickup truck, a dump truck and a rented pump," Susan Woolever said one recent afternoon from LRE's headquarters on Powell Road south of Brooksville.
She had worked in human resources and finance for a technical engineering firm. Her husband had worked in quality control for a steel foundry.
"We were ready for a change," she said. "We decided to try something on our own."
Woolever's work at the engineering firm taught her about the growing prevalence of sinkholes, and the couple saw both a need and an opportunity. They moved to Brooksville from Palm Harbor and set up shop in a barn in the middle of the woods.
In 1992, the Woolevers changed the company's name to LRE Ground Services, to better reflect its growing range of services.
From the beginning, LRE has focused on quality and a clean workplace. The company does everything possible to preserve landscaping and homeowners' yards, including covering driveways to prevent damage from large concrete trucks.
"We've gone the extra mile to ensure quality," said Raymond Woolever. "We get tons and tons of recommendations after we are finished."
The Better Business Bureau of West Florida has awarded the company its highest rating, A plus. In the past 36 months, the bureau fielded just one complaint about the company, and it was resolved to the customer's satisfaction.
It was that orderly and neat example that prompted the Longos to request LRE's help when their home began to shift.
Once an engineering company evaluated the Longos' lot and provided a detailed report about the sands shifting beneath their home, LRE was hired to do the work.
LRE came and put pipes in all around the house, Nicholas Longo said. Then concrete trucks began coming one after the other to pump concrete into the ground.
Stabilizing the soil beneath a house can be tricky, complex work. When issues arise for homeowners, they generally first contact their homeowner's insurance company, which in turn sends an adjuster to visually inspect the property.
If the adjuster sees problems, a geographical technical firm is hired to conduct an evaluation to determine whether there's sinkhole activity. The engineer also makes repair recommendations, and the adjuster requests sinkhole remediation bids from companies.
While sinkhole remediation can range from $40,000 to $300,000, the normal range is from $50,000 to $150,000, said Paul Grey, marketing director for LRE. Approximately 80 percent of LRE's work is contracted through insurance companies. The remainder is done directly through the owners of homes or businesses.
Depending on the specific needs of the structure, the company provides a variety of services, such as compaction grouting, in which high pressure forces grouting material into the limestone layer. In addition, the company can install underpins to stabilize a structure's foundation.
The company also does shallow-surface compaction, a process in which an epoxy grout and polyurethane resin are placed around and beneath a structure to prevent further soil loss and erosion-related shifting.
To help standardize the process of sinkhole remediation, the Woolevers helped found the Florida Association of Sinkhole Stabilization Specialists, with the purpose of defining standards — including conduct, workmanship and business practices — for repairing sinkholes.
Members of the association include engineers, geologists and contractors involved in repairing damage caused by sinkholes and other ground anomalies.
"We try to set ethical and practical guidelines," said Raymond Woolever. "We're trying to educate people on how sinkholes should be tested and how they should be fixed."
After 20 years in the business, the company has learned that every job has its own challenges.
"You can't assume that a certain type of damage is sinkhole-related," said Grey, the marketing director. "We've learned not to assume anything. We take each job on its own merit."
For the Longos their home is quiet now.
They are satisfied customers.
"No more snap, crackle and pop," said Longo.
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at [email protected]