Top Operations: Summit Materials’ Nehemiah Pit
Summit Materials’ recently acquired crushed stone quarry in central Texas has raised the bar on working with and for the community and the environment.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Aggregates Manager.
Deep in the heart of Texas, a crushed-stone quarry is making every effort to do the right thing for both the surrounding community and the environment. The quarry, formerly KBDJ, was acquired by Summit Materials last year, and the two fit together like a hand in glove, according to Jill Shackelford, president of Industrial Asphalt, LLC and KBDJ.
“KBDJ was the company we formed to permit the land in 2002,” Shackelford says. “We started mining in 2004 under a permit by rule (PBR). A PBR allows limited production and limited hours of operation, if you’re on a big enough piece of property. It was a small 210-tons-per-hour permit. We mined under that permit for a year until we got our air permit.”
The quarry, Nehemiah Pit, is located on Ruby Ranch in Hays County, just south of Austin near the small town of Buda. The Ruby family has owned the ranch for a long time and still lives there, and they possess 100 percent of the mineral rights. The quarry occupies approximately 450 acres of the ranch.
“This was a working cattle ranch,” Shackelford says. “We came in and built a road. We paved it as part of our air permit for dust control.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing in the beginning, but Shackelford and Jeff Coyle, who handles public relations for the quarry, were committed to making things work with the community.
“It really is, so often, a fear thing,” Coyle says of early resistance from the surrounding community. “People have impressions that are not necessarily rooted in fact. They’re scared, and they fight back. Our process has been to share information with the community and help them understand how the quarry works. When they do understand, they cease to worry about it. Now, the neighbors literally love Jill.”
“We took the loudest voices of opposition in the community and invited them all to participate in a quarry advisory committee,” Shackelford says. “There were maybe half a dozen of them. Two or three said ‘no thanks’ and went on their way, but the other three or four participated. It has made all the difference, because the conversations are frank and to the point. There are no more rumors. We don’t want any secrets from these people. It went well, and they appreciate our honesty.”
One man in the community started a group called NOPE (Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment) that fought the quarry for years. But with the open communication, he became a friend and is now one of the quarry’s biggest advocates.
“The neighbors know they can call us if they need anything, if they have questions, or if they want to come out,” Shackelford says. “We have a very open-door policy with the community, and I think that’s our biggest asset.”
When the company was sold to Summit Materials in 2011, the neighbors were concerned that the open-door policy might change and that the new owners wouldn’t do what KBDJ had been doing to protect the environment, so an open house was held. The whole community was invited to the quarry to meet the new owners.
“Summit is about the exact same things we believe in,” Shackelford says. “They’re completely onboard with what we’ve done here and are promoting it nationwide. They’re a bigger company, so there are more resources available.”
Resistance didn’t just come from the community, however. “I actually caught a lot of flak in my own industry because I was so proactive in being environmentally aware in dealing with the public and plugging the public into our operation,” Shackelford says. “There were old-school people in the industry who thought I was nuts. But the old days of thinking ‘it’s my property and it’s my water and I can do what I want to with it’ are gone.”
Before Summit bought the quarry, it was approached by other companies. “Most of them were all about the money,” Shackelford says. “They thought we were crazy for doing things the way we were doing them. But when Summit approached us, it was all about what we were doing. Most good companies are now. It will soon be regulated in, if it isn’t done voluntarily.”
Dry dust suppression
The quarry’s location in the central hill country of Texas brings with it the problem of a water supply. The Edwards Aquifer is located underneath the quarry and much of that part of the country, but the aquifer supplies drinking water for most of central Texas. In a typical year, a limited amount of rain falls in the area, and during drought years, especially years like 2011 when Texas experienced one of the worst droughts on record, that water supply must be protected. Knowing this, Shackelford searched for a dry dust-suppression system for the processing plant that would keep dust at a minimum while using little water.
“We started looking for dry technology in 2008,” Shackelford explains, “and it was implemented in 2010. That was a big point with the neighbors. The rock we’re producing dry is cleaner than the rock we’ve purchased washed from a third-party quarry in San Antonio. It was a challenge to get the technology in place and still meet the permit, but we did it and actually exceeded the permit.”
The Transpar dry dust suppression system used at the quarry was developed by R. Brunone, Inc. of France. It consists of a system of sealed conveyors and dust collectors. The sealed dust collectors are mounted on top of the conveyors and create negative pressure in the system. The dust is then captured and filtered.
The system required a significant investment by KBDJ at the time, but Shackelford believes “dry dust suppression helps protect two natural resources of great value to our neighbors — fresh water and clean air. It’s a better way to do it. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for the drinking water supply. There’s nothing negative about it.”
The primary crusher is enclosed in a building, which helps to eliminate noise and dust, and improves the cleanliness of the quarry. All the conveyors in the processing plant are covered, which also helps eliminate dust and noise. The water used in the quarry is mainly for dust control on roadways.
Many unconventional ideas have been implemented at the quarry — ideas that have made a huge impact on community relations. But the community isn’t the only beneficiary, the quarry and aggregates industry, as a whole, are reaping the rewards as well.
When the quarry was designed, a large buffer zone was worked into the set up. “Reserves are important, we want as many as we can get,” Shackelford says, “but out of respect for the neighbors, you don’t have to go right up to the property line. At one of our committee meetings, we decided that we’d be no closer than 1,000 feet to any property line. So we swapped 18 acres on the South end for 18 acres on the North end and moved further back on the property. As it turned out, the rock quality in the 18 acres on the North end is better and deeper. So it was a win-win for both parties.”
There’s a school right down the road from the quarry that gets a lot of traffic before school starts in the morning and after school lets out in the afternoon. During those times, the quarry locks its gates for about 30 minutes to keep trucks from driving through the school zone. It’s a small thing, but the community appreciates it.
After receiving several complaints from neighbors about backup alarms one Christmas, quarry personnel went on a mission to find backup alarms that wouldn’t beep, but would still meet Mine Safety and Health Administration standards. “We purchased a few at $3,000 apiece, and the complaints stopped,” Shackelford says, “but we knew we couldn’t afford to put them on all of our equipment, so we kept researching. We finally found some for $300 apiece that quacked like a duck instead of beeping. If you’re behind the vehicle, you hear it, but if you walk around to the front of the vehicle, you can’t hear it. The noise dissipates quickly. That was a huge thing for the community.”
Loaders at the quarry were replaced with low-emissions vehicles through the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan. The quarry applied for a grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to replace all of its older units with new low-emissions equipment to further eliminate off-site impact.
“We keep blasting to a minimum, if we can,” Shackelford says. “We cancel blasts due to the weather or temperature, and when we do blast, we seismograph the whole area to make sure the community isn’t affected. If a neighbor has a concern, we’ll seismograph in his front yard. Then we show him the results. We call people ahead of blasting and put our blasting schedule on the internet, so it’s transparent.”
There’s no noise ordinance in the area, so the quarry adopted Austin’s ordinance and monitors for noise. The processing plant sits in the bottom of the pit, so the steep walls help reduce noise levels.
The quarry is also considered to be an outdoor classroom. Fourth graders from the nearby elementary school come to the quarry to learn about mining. “We take them down in the hole in a bus,” Shackelford says. “They have hard hats on, and they get to do the whole mining thing. We reach out to the TCEQ to teach them about the Edwards Aquifer. They also learn about conservation, agriculture, and wildlife. We show a slide show called Rocks for Breakfast that helps them understand that they deal with rocks every day, but don’t realize it. We provide them with rock kits, and local vendors come out and give them t-shirts. That’s the best part of my job, by far,” she adds.
Before beginning any environmental initiatives, the quarry contacted the Hill Country Conservancy for environmental advice. “I knew how to make the rock, and they knew how to take care of the environment,” Shackelford says, “so they provide guidance on habitat.”
“The Wildlife Habitat Council recognizes that most native habitat is privately owned,” Coyle says, “so their mission is to find large land holders and work with them to protect and maintain habitat. They sent a scientist out for a two-day tour and put together a 120-page report that said ‘you have this kind of plant life that needs to be protected, and you’ve got this kind of wildlife.’ They worked up a plan for everything around and in the mine, and we got certified as a wildlife habitat conservation site. Every two years, we submit a detailed report of all our wildlife activities for recertification.”
A stock pond on the property provides the perfect setting for many environmental projects. Quarry personnel formed a team that included some neighbors. “We built bat boxes and put boulders in the pond for the turtles,” Coyle says. “We also collect Christmas trees after Christmas. The neighbors drop them off at the gate. We submerge some of them in the pond, because they make a great habitat for fish. Others are turned into mulch. The first year, we only got two trees, but last year we got more than 40.”
Protecting the Edwards Aquifer is very important to quarry personnel. There are areas on the property that have been identified during geological assessment as potential recharge features for the aquifer. Recharge zones are holes and small caves where water seeps back into the underground aquifer. These are very important to the entire aquifer system. “Development over recharge zones is always a sensitive issue,” Shackelford says. “We buffer those areas.”
Summit Materials plans to consult with an arborist to discuss the possibility of relocating trees on the property, rather than taking them down. “We can’t do that for every tree, but maybe for trees of a certain size,” Shackelford says. “I just want a better way.”
Shackelford says, if she could do it all over again, she would have started up the quarry advisory committee before ever applying for a permit. “You get interested in the community, and they get interested in you,” she adds. “It may not be the most fun conversation in the beginning, but in the end, the committee works. It has been a wild ride, but it has been really good. Summit is an incredible company, and they are focused on today’s environment.”
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