December 1, 2008
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Another economic stimulus package?
The rumors are flying about another economic stimulus package, but there is some debate about what type of stimulus package it should be.
According to the National Concrete Masonry Association’s weekly newsletter, e-news brief, economists believe that spending on infrastructure projects such as new roads, bridges, and other public works projects, would create jobs and provide more of a lasting boost to the economy than another round of rebate checks.
This would be great news for aggregates producers.
The stimulus package is a top issue under consideration by Congress. According to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) eDigest & Washington Watch newsletter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with a group of Democratic economists on Oct. 13 to discuss potential stimulus ideas. At a press conference following the meeting, Pelosi made it clear that her priority was to spend more money on infrastructure construction projects, increase aid to states, and support programs to aid the poor.
“In terms of building the infrastructure of America, that is something that we all know we have to do,” Pelosi told reporters at the press conference. “The opportunity is there. In fact, we’ll lose some opportunities if we don’t act soon.”
The size of the stimulus package is yet to be determined. Pelosi reportedly supports a $150 billion package while the economists favor a larger $300 billion plan.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a boost to stimulus package efforts on Oct. 27. According to an Associated Press article, he said an economic stimulus package “seems appropriate” as the economy is “likely to be weak for several quarters” and there is “some risk of a protracted slowdown.”
Following Bernanke’s remarks, the White House said it would be open to additional action.
The House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on Oct. 29 to discuss the economic stimulus that could be provided by an investment in transportation infrastructure. Brian Burgett, president and CEO of the Kokosing Construction Co., testified at the hearing on the behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). According to an AGC news release, Burgett told the committee that AGC strongly supports increased investment for America’s transportation, federal and water infrastructure, and other public works programs. He told the committee that “an infusion of federal infrastructure funding would have a direct stimulus effect by putting more contractors and their employees back to work.”
Dr. William Buechner, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) vice president of economics and research, also testified at the committee meeting. According to an ARTBA news release, Buechner outlined a program of quick-start projects that he believes, with new federal investment, could immediately help spur job creation and economic recovery. “With a properly structured program…thousands of transportation construction projects across the nation are ready to go,” he said.
But Buechner was quick to add that recovery would be short-lived without increasing the revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund after FY 2010. “While it is important to enact economic recovery and job creation legislation right now,” said Buechner, “I cannot stress strongly enough how it is also critically important that the Congress enact long-term legislation reauthorizing the federal surface transportation and aviation programs as soon as possible next year.”
Modern dance performed among the rocks
Thousands of people gathered in central Minnesota for a unique modern dance performance set among the rocks in St. Cloud Quarry, a granite quarry operated by Martin Marietta Materials Co.
Twenty-two dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Co. performed “Ocean” on a specially built stage at the bottom of the quarry, 150 feet below ground level. The program is rarely performed because of its need for a large venue in which the audience is surrounded with 150 musicians. The quarry provided a perfect setting for the performance, providing a beautiful backdrop and great acoustics.
“Placing art in natural, spectacular settings opens people up to new experiences,” said Philip Bither, performing arts curator at the Walker Art Center, in an interview with the Star Tribune. “It’s part of what contemporary art has tried to do through the last century – getting people to look at their everyday lives as magical and intriguing art. That setting takes your breath away.”
For three nights, spectators were ferried on buses down a specially constructed road to the bottom of the quarry. All three performances were sold out weeks in advance and received rave reviews from critics who came from as far away as New York and Los Angeles.
In an interview with the newspaper, Mark Johnson, Martin Marietta’s regional vice president, said, “We’re supposed to be breaking rock this time of year, so this is a new step for us, but the industry is trying to be more open about showing people what we do.”
MSHA emphasizes safety
The Mining Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) posted a new safety alert on its Web site. The alert reminds bulldozer operators and employers about the hazards involved in operating a dozer and the need for training, adequate illumination, seat belts, and proper maintenance. A bulldozer operator’s death on Oct. 22 after the machine rolled sideways down an 80-foot slope was the fourth accident in five weeks where an operator was either fatally injured or suffered serious life-threatening injuries, the agency said.
The other three accidents included falls over embankments and a rollover down a slope. Earlier accidents in 2008 included a couple of mechanics who were killed while performing maintenance work. All employees should be trained in proper procedures and hazard recognition, according to the alert. The dozer’s blade should be kept between the operator and the edge when operating close to highwalls, and pre-operational equipment checks are essential.
MSHA also posted a Metal/Nonmetal Fatal Accident Update, stressing that 20 fatal accidents had occurred as of Oct. 17, 2008. Ten of the fatalities occurred during maintenance and repair tasks; four were contractors; five could have been prevented by wearing personal protective equipment; and two were electrical. Five of the fatal accidents occurred during the first 17 days of October. MSHA stressed the use of best practices:
* Examine work areas;
* Identify, eliminate, isolate, and control all hazards in the workplace;
* Conduct pre-operational inspections;
* Use fall protection when required;
* Report “near misses” or close calls; and
* Use lockout/tagout procedures.
Stormwater enforcement is coming
On Oct. 9, members of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s Environmental Committee were told to get their houses in order and be prepared for federal stormwater inspectors to be looking for violations. According to a report in the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers newsletter, Update, Ken Gigliello, acting director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Compliance Assessment and Media Programs Division of the Office of Compliance, told the audience they needed to have stormwater permits in place, be sampling according to their permit, have best management practices in place, have a current stormwater pollution prevention plan for the site, and have a current spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plan. The USEPA plans to inspect both aggregate and ready-mixed concrete facilities as part of its 2008-09 enforcement initiative.
Holcim recognizes sustainable construction projects
The Holcim Foundation announced nine winners of the second North American Holcim Awards competition for sustainable construction projects at a ceremony in Montreal. The nine projects showcase the latest approaches to address critical topics that include affordable housing, employment, renewable energy, and water efficiency. This year’s winners are:
* Gold Award – New York City’s first carbon-neutral building, the Solar 2 Green Energy, Arts, and Education Center. The project, led by Christopher J. Collins, will be constructed on a “brownfield” waterfront site in downtown Manhattan.
* Silver Award – a self-contained day labor station in San Francisco, designed by Liz Obgu of the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization Public Architecture.
* Bronze Award – the Living with Lakes Center, a freshwater lake restoration and research facility in Ontario. The project will be overseen by Laurentian University scientist John Gunn.
*Acknowledgement prizes – three submissions received acknowledgement for innovative approaches to sustainable construction: an urban sustainability education center on the site of an old brickworks facility; a minimal-impact North Vancouver Outdoor School; and a strategy to augment the honeybee population in Detroit by transforming open urban spaces into green parks.
* Next Generation prizes – this first-time category recognizes the visions of young architects and designers. First prize went to research on building skin using carbon nanotubes to develop materials for specific structural, functional, and environmental properties; second prize went to an urban residential densification project for a series of unusual housing designs that used small gaps in urban areas; and third prize went to an urban fitness, cultural, and housing center that uses energy from kinetics, such as running on a treadmill, to power the structure.
AGC to award education excellence
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) launched the AGC Education Excellence Awards (EEA) at its 2nd Annual Training & Development Conference, according to an AGC news release. The new program will recognize the most innovative and collaborative training and development programs sponsored by AGC Chapters and contractor members during the 2008 and 2009 calendar years.
Eight EEAs will be awarded to an AGC Chapter and contractor member firm in each of three categories – craft, supervisory, and project and executive management. One award will be given to the outstanding instructor of the year, and a grand award will be presented to a firm or chapter that demonstrates learning and performance as a top concern.
The awards are open to all AGC general and specialty contractor members in good standing, all AGC Chapters, and any individuals employed by the organizations.
Nokomis Quarry in Montgomery County, Ill., received the National Association of State Land Reclamationists’ Reclamation Award for 2008. An article in the Illinois Association of Aggregates Producers newsletter, Update, stated that the quarry received the award for going beyond typical pasture reclamation by designing and infusing wildlife habitat into a largely flat, agricultural area. The quarry worked and cooperated with two local groups, Pheasants Forever and Quail Unlimited, to turn the area into an ecologically stable and self-sustained multi-species sanctuary.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association elected Charles Potts as its 2008-09 chairman. Potts is a 40-year transportation industry executive and one of the nation’s foremost experts on hot-mix asphalt pavement and materials and is currently chief executive officer of Heritage Construction and Materials in Indianapolis.
Mack Trucks has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout its operations. According to a company news release, as a part of the Climate Leaders program, Mack focused on improving energy efficiency at its manufacturing operations by undertaking a variety of energy related projects – installing more efficient lighting; upgrading boilers to natural gas, biodiesel, and vegetable-based oils; installing building automation systems to control lighting and HVAC systems; installing heat-recovery systems on paint booth ovens; and replacing old equipment and tools with more energy efficient versions.