What is pot-holing?

It sounds like a good prank.

That was the first question I asked when Kimber Nelson and her partners came in to the Small Business Development Center. Kimber and her husband, Shane, partnered with Kirsten and JP Culligan to start Pocatello-based Utility Vac-n-Fill in March of this year. Pot holing is one of several services this niche company offers to our region.

So who would pay to put a pothole in the ground? Anyone who needs to know the exact location of underground utility lines. Pot-holing is a method of vacuuming out small holes in an area in order to map the gas, sewer, water or power lines under the ground. This is vital for any large-scale digging operation such as expanding a road or preparing new residential lots. Before Utility Vac-n-Fill opened, many local contractors had to hire a company to come in from outside the state.

When Nelson next mentioned vault cleaning, I immediately envisioned someone scrubbing an empty safe after the money and diamonds were gone. I was happy when she solved a local mystery as she described the vaults she cleans.

In our neighborhoods around the city are green metal boxes sticking up here and there from people’s lawns. When I was little, “the green box” was a meeting point for the local kids. As Nelson explained, these are called “vaults,” and inside are waterproof wires and machinery that control those underground utility lines she maps pot holing.

What we see sticking out of the ground are the tips of the icebergs. Many of these green vaults extend up to 10 feet underground. When the vaults need service, there is often a collection of mud and water inside. Utility Vac-n-Fill removes this debris, so workers can make repairs or changes.

Utility Vac-n-Fill’s additional services have come from client suggestions.

“Our equipment has applications we didn’t think about until customers called us,” Nelson said.

The equipment is a two-part machine that vacuums water, dirt or other matter out of a space. The two-phase process uses high-pressure water to break up the dirt and debris and a high-pressure vacuum to remove the debris from the area. Vac-n-Fill quickly became the right company to clean out grain silos and potato cellar ventilation systems.

“We keep learning about new applications for our services from our customers — it’s exciting to expand in these directions,” said Nelson.

With their skid steer and backhoe, Utility Vac-n-Fill offers full excavation services as well. Their most recent project is a “soft excavation.”

“Instead of moving dirt with a sharp shovel or heavy equipment, we remove it with water and suction,” Nelson said.

The Teton historical society in Driggs hired Utility to carefully remove dirt around the historical Rockefeller cabin just outside Teton National Park. The cabin will have a new cement foundation to support a remodel and museum.

Nelson and her partners initially called on the SBDC to help with business plan and partnership agreements.

“The (SBDC) service was invaluable to us. Without Claudia (Allen) and Ann (Swanson), we wouldn’t have been able to start our business,” Nelson said.

Since then, the SBDC has advised her team on marketing and bookkeeping.

When the Nelsons are not working on potholes, vaults or excavations, they enjoy hunting, fishing and hiking.

To contact Utility Vac-n-Fil, visit utilityvacnfill.com or call 208-417-8558.

Ann Swanson is the regional director of the Small Business Development Center at the ISU College of Business. She can be reached at 208-282-4402 or swanann@isu.edu. The SBDC is taxpayer funded to provide no cost consulting and low-cost training to any small business.