June 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
Alaska Railroad officials say they are gearing up for a busy gravel-hauling season. According to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, the railroad expects to haul 2.5 million tons of gravel from three different locations in the Mat-Su Valley to the yard at Alaska Sand and Gravel. The railroad hauls for three clients — Eklutna Inc., Quality Asphalt Paving, and Wilder Construction — but also uses gravel for its purposes, such as using ballast to balance loads and car configurations. In 2008, the railroad hauled 2.8 million tons of gravel, but has averaged as much as 4 million tons in previous years with busy construction seasons.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will spend $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars on water infrastructure projects, The Arizona Republic reports. The goal of the investment is to upgrade outdated water-delivery systems and improve wildlife habitat on rivers. According to the newspaper, $108 million will be spent on the lower Colorado River with funds going toward irrigation projects, repair and replacement of water-delivery components such as a storage reservoir, drainage systems, and riparian and marsh conservation areas.
California has committed more than $234 million to Bay Area transportation projects, according to the San Francisco Business Times. The funds, part of the first wave of stimulus monies to impact area infrastructure projects, will go toward a range of local projects that are designed to renovate existing thoroughfares. The vast majority, however, will go toward boring the fourth passageway in the Caldecott Tunnel, which connects Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The funds are part of more than $1 billion in stimulus cash earmarked for 80 transportation infrastructure projects around the state. The state expects to net nearly $2.6 billion to fix highways and streets and another $1 billion for transit projects.
To expedite construction projects in the state’s notoriously short construction season, the Connecticut Department of Transportation announced a three-day evaluation process for the review of approximately 80 local projects funded via federal stimulus dollars. “If this work can be concentrated during this season, then you will see significant job creation,” Donald Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association told The Hartford Courant. “If we’re talking October, November, then you will still see high unemployment.” For each project, local communities must hire inspectors, meet affirmative-action and disadvantaged-business requirements, satisfy state and federal design specifications, solicit public input, and pass an environmental review. The state received $302 million in stimulus money for highway, street, and bridge projects. Approximately $90 million of that is expected to be distributed to the local projects.
Approximately $246 million in state stimulus dollars are budgeted for two dozen highway, airport, and transit projects that are expected to support as many as 3,200 jobs, Pacific Business News reports. “The stimulus money is giving everyone some optimism for more work,” said Bill Wilson, president of Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. “We’re doing okay — we’re fortunate to have a variety of work. But the economy is very challenging for everybody and there’s a great deal of uncertainty. [The stimulus] gives us opportunity.” Construction is the third largest industry in the state.
As Plymouth County Commissioners recommend slashing budgets by 20 percent and cutting salaries for other officials, the county found one positive piece of economic news — a signed contract for sand and gravel removal far exceeded commissioner estimates. According to The Patriot Ledger, the bid is valued at approximately $750,000. In the meantime, the county budget is expected to drop from $3.2 million in this fiscal year to $2.5 million in fiscal 2010 if the advisory board accepts commissioner recommendations.
In early May, Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed into law House Bill 678 to revise state laws on gravel pits. Although he signed the legislation, the Associated Press reports that he said he objects to a provision that appears to restrict the public’s right to receive notice and participate in the permitting process of open cut mines — most of which are gravel operations. Schweitzer ordered the state Department of Environmental Quality to implement the bill in a manner that “treats the public notice and public participation requirements of the bill as floors, not ceilings.”
As the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) studies the environmental effects of proposed aggregate operations on its land, nearly 400 residents attended a forum on the matter hosted by public officials. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Cemex and Service Rock Products would like to lease land from the BLM and begin operations in 2011. First, however, the environmental impact reports must be completed, the companies must outbid any competitors for the leases, and the project must survive public resistance. About 5,500 residents signed a petition opposing the quarries, and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) told forum attendees that she would try to put a stop to the proposal. If the site proves unsuitable for mining, the BLM will foot the bill for the $350,000 environmental study. If not, the highest bidder will pay the cost and pay the federal government a royalty for mined materials.
Calling the improvement of New Jersey roads and rails “part of our strategic future,” Gov. Jon Corzine proposed a $3.6 billion capital construction program for 2010. According to NJ.com, that figure represents a 9-percent increase over current funding levels and does not include an additional $1 billion in federal stimulus funding for the state that is also designated for transportation projects. Funds will be used toward “interim” repairs to the Pulaski Skyway in Kearney, Newark, and Jersey City; construction of a second commuter rail tunnel to Manhattan and an expanded Penn Station in New York; resurfacing of Route 287 in Somerset County and other highways; and $419 million for infrastructure improvements aimed at relieving congestion.
After a three-year battle, the Skaneateles Town Board voted 3-2 to approve Cemento LLC’s application for a special use permit to develop a 77-acre sand and gravel mine. The Post-Standard reports that the company applied for the permit in January 2006, but the application was placed on hold as the town evaluated its mining laws. The vote followed party lines, with Republicans getting the permit through. The group reviewed testimony that lasted about 10 hours over the course of four nights. One of the dissenting board members asked for his comments to be entered into the record. A future neighbor of the site said those comments may form the basis for a lawsuit from the neighboring homeowner’s association.
Approximately 200 Grove City residents gathered to hear Olen Corp’s proposal that would provide Columbus with a free reservoir — worth more than $130 million — to feed the rapidly growing city. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Olen Corp. would like to pump out an old pit, sending water into Columbus well fields and a local river, and then mine limestone for area construction projects. When the mining is complete, Olen would let the pit fill with rain and groundwater and repeat the process in three neighboring pits. In all, the project would span 70 years. While the proposed reservoir could hold 10 billion to 20 billion gallons, an administrator of the Columbus Division of Water acknowledged residents concerns that it could impact their water supply.
A backlog of big projects now underway is drawing attention from contractors throughout the state. Jack Ramage, executive director of the Master Builders Association of Western Pennsylvania told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the number of bids for private projects has risen about 30 to 40 percent in the past six months. A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services said he has seen the number of bids double during the past six months, even on small projects.
Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) officials said federal stimulus dollars are contributing to what’s shaping up to be a record year for highway construction in sheer number of projects in play. The Deseret News reports that Utah obligated more than half its allocated $215 million by late April. “This is the very largest construction program that we’ve ever reported,” said Jim McMinimee, UDOT’s project development director. “We have 169 projects currently under construction…over $2 billion worth of work out there.” He reported that as he reviewed bids on the state’s last 30 projects, contractor bids came in at 30 percent under engineer valuations.
At press time, the fight over Columbia Ready Mix’s mine expansion was set to be heard in court. According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, a resident who lives 900 feet from the mining operation appealed the county commissioners’ approval of the expansion to the Yakima County Superior Court. The dispute began in 2005 when Columbia Ready Mix got approval to open its 78-acre mine. The county limited operations to nine months a year and prohibited crushing. Last year, the company requested that the county lift those restrictions, and the county agreed to allow crushing nine months a year, with operations year-round.
Larry Bochurka, owner of a Gimli-area quarry, was killed May 4 when he was thrown from a vehicle at his quarry. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that Bochurka, 57, was riding through the quarry in a jeep and apparently driving over a scale when the jeep tipped over and he was thrown. A contractor working at the site saw the abandoned vehicle and searched for Bochurka. Authorities say the accident doesn’t appear to be work-related, but staff members from Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health are investigating the incident.