May 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
Vulcan Materials Co. announced that it is organizing its operations into two regional business units. The West Region will include the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. The region will continue to be led by Ron McAbee, senior vice president, West. The East Region will include the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, as well as Canada and Mexico. The region will be headed by Danny Sheperd, senior vice president, East. Mac Badgett, senior vice president, construction materials, announced his intention to retire, effective July 1. “There may not be another person at Vulcan today who has contributed as much to the long-term success and culture of Vulcan as has Mac Badgett,” said Vulcan CEO Don James in a press release. “Mac has been a great coach and mentor to a generation of Vulcan leaders and, at various times over the years, has had management responsibility for most of Vulcan’s operations.”
In late March, the Maricopa County Mining District Recommendation Committee – comprised of five residents and five aggregate industry members – discussed the feasibility of giving county planners a role in regulating mining operations. The Arizona Republic reports that a citizen member, Richard Wehbe, said he believes that county involvement could create a buffer zone between mining operations and developments. County counsel Wayne Peck explained that the state prohibits counties from regulating land uses for some operations, including mining and agriculture. “Every county must provide places for certain uses, and mining is one of them,” Peck said. “The Legislature made the decision that mining is such an important industry to the state that it was not going to let individual counties (regulate) it.” Wehbe claimed that producers could get permits rubber stamped, but producer-member Frank Mendola noted, “I’ve done several permits… and they are not rubber stamps.”
The governor’s office announced that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) opened contractor bids on the first five transportation projects to be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). “It was very positive to see such competitive bidding on our first round of ARRA projects,” said CDOT Executive Director Russ George. “The project bids came in an average of 12 percent lower than expected. If this trend continues, we may be able to accumulate enough funding to add more construction projects to our list.” Winning bids were submitted by Brannan Sand and Gravel Co., New Design Construction, Aggregate Industries, and Asphalt Paving Co. The state will receive more than $400 million for transportation projects and $103 million for transit projects through the ARRA.
House and Senate negotiators appear to have reached an agreement on a bill that will make it easier for sand and gravel companies to obtain operating permits. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the legislation creates a special mining exemption to a zoning law that currently requires a super majority vote by a city or county commission to overcome a protest petition filed by irate citizens or a local zoning board’s recommendation against approval of an aggregate operation. If signed by the governor, a simple majority will allow a city or county to grant mining permits. Woody Moses, managing director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Association, told the newspaper that the reform was necessary to counter intense opposition to development of new operations throughout the state. Rep. Rocky Fund said he believed a simple majority is sufficient. “The bottom line is we need sand and gravel,” he told the newspaper. “I support it because it is so hard to get these permits.”
Shaw Brothers Construction Co. has begun work on a Gorham quarry and asphalt plant that could provide up to 25 jobs, the Portland Press Herald reports. Blasting has begun and access roads are being built at the site, which generated strong opposition from local residents during three years of planning and permit applications. Although greenfield development has proceeded smoothly, progress has been slow due to economic conditions that have reduced the demand for crushed stone. The site is expected to be ready for asphalt plant operations by the fall, depending on market conditions.
Aggregate Industries has proposed to fill in its quarry near Route 99 in Saugus after reserves are depleted. According to the Saugus Advertiser, Scott Colby, Aggregate Industries environmental and estates manager, recently unveiled its draft quarry-closure plan before the town board of selectmen. Although an agreement has not been finalized, Colby said the company has determined the most beneficial closure option is to fill the quarry with acceptable material. Based on present site conditions, a minimum of 5 million cubic yards of material would be required to restore the quarry to its volume. The company’s draft report indicates it will take 15 years to remove existing reserves if mining proceeds at the site, however the quarry is currently inactive, making it difficult to pinpoint when the reclamation phase will begin. When reclaimed, the site is likely to be used for commercial activities.
More than 60 new construction, paving, bridge, and safety projects will begin in greater Minnesota throughout the next 12 months, and contractor bids have been announced for the first 11 projects, Finance & Commerce reports. Minnesota’s appropriations include approximately $502 million in highway construction, $92 million for transit capital investment, $1.8 million for transit modernization, and $72 million for clean water projects. Minneapolis attorney John Trout told the publication that while contractors expect to get busier, ancillary businesses such as asphalt producers and gravel operations expect to also see growth in their businesses.
In mid-April, the Ash Grove Cement Co. was slated to bring employees back to work after test results on hundreds of samples showed little or no sign of tremolite asbestos fibers. According to billingsgazette.com, company officials said they would restart the maintenance operations that were abruptly shut down in mid-March after a company geologist found a rock suspected of being tremolite in the Clark Gulch quarry. Production won’t resume until maintenance is completed. Richard Opper, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), told the newspaper that, out of more than 200 samples taken by Ash Grove, DEQ, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, only one came back at a level greater than the federal action limit of 1 percent. “That sample triggered a lot more sampling, including one from the same area that came back at non-detectable levels,” he said. “So there’s some speculation that the protocol may have been wrong… The company was very, very responsible. They never tried to deny access to any parts of the quarry or the plant and voluntarily did a lot of testing.”
According to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. violated federal law by subjecting a class of women to sexual harassment and firing one woman for complaining about it. The EEOC said that a Fisher supervisor engaged in sexual harassment, including a barrage of comments and innuendo that created a hostile work environment. It also alleges that a woman who complained about the behavior suffered retaliation and was forced to resign because of the harassment, retaliation, and the employer’s failure to provide appropriate preventive or remedial relief. “Our investigation revealed that Fisher’s supervisor was permitted to use the workplace as his playground, and if you did not play, you paid,” said Chester V. Bailey, EEOC Phoenix district director.
Despite objections from a neighboring business, the Minnehaha County Commission’s decision to allow a gravel pit in Sioux Falls was upheld by the South Dakota Supreme Court. The Associate Press reports that the high court’s unanimous ruling said that county officials properly reviewed all factors necessary under zoning ordinances prior to granting the permit. Myrl & Roy’s Paving Co. will be allowed to mine gravel per its agreement with Benson Farms. Permit conditions include the construction of a 6-foot-high berm that will be planted with trees and other vegetations between the business and the mine, as well as a haul road for gravel. The permit also addressed dust suppression, noise restrictions, and other issues.
South Dakota has a $115 million list of shovel-ready highway projects to finance with ARRA funds and could be in a position to collect money other states can’t spend, a state transportation official told the Associated Press. Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist told a legislative committee that the state’s share of the stimulus package is $189 for highway construction, and half that total must be committed to projects within 120 days. He noted that states that can’t meet the deadline could lose funds, with the money being redistributed among states that did meet the deadline. “Call me greedy, I’ll take the money, and I’ll find a use for it,” he said. The Senate committee is working on a funding package that provides money for state road projects that aren’t eligible for the federal funds.
Polaris Minerals said that, despite a net loss of $9.8 million during the first full year of operation for its Orca Quarry, it still hopes to build a granite quarry in Alberni Inlet. According to Mike Westerlund, director for corporate development, 80 percent of its material is shipped to California where bad weather and a 100-day period during which the state had no operating budget adversely impacted its business. “We’re happy to see that they have a state budget (now), and a lot of projects that were stalled are now starting back up,” he told the Alberni Valley Times.
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