Going the Extra Mile
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Every year during the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) annual convention, the association presents awards to aggregate operations that have gone the extra mile, whether improving relations with the surrounding community or reducing the size of the footprint left on the environment. In addition to these awards, the NSSGA presents operations that have won awards in two or more categories within a five-year period with a National Stars of Excellence award. The number of stars signifies the number of awards the operation received during the five-year period.
This year, Vulcan’s Huntsville Quarry became a two-star recipient. The quarry received the National Stars of Excellence award for having received the 2010 Environmental Excellence Gold Award, in addition to the 2008 Excellence in Community Relations Gold Award. This, in itself, is quite an accomplishment, but the awards didn’t stop there.
Being a good neighbor
Huntsville Quarry was opened by Madison Limestone Co. in the early 1950s and was bought by Vulcan Materials Co. in 1973. The stone processed at the quarry is a high-quality limestone and is primarily used in roadbuilding for asphalt, concrete, and base materials, as well as in residential and commercial construction.
The quarry is located within Huntsville city limits. Eli Christopher, area operations manager – North Alabama, Vulcan Materials Co., says, “We continue to be mindful of the appearance of our facilities and of the way we impact our community. There are some things that we won’t sacrifice, even in this down economy. Our position with the city has improved greatly in the last 15 years.”
Maintaining and improving the appearance of the entrance has helped the quarry continue its favorable relationship with the city. In fact, the quarry has been recognized by the city for its beautification and environmental improvement efforts. “For the last eight years in a row, the city of Huntsville’s Beautification Board has awarded our efforts with their annual beautification award,” Christopher says. “And, after having won this award for five consecutive years, they’ve now placed us on their ‘Honor Roll.’ We’ve also been awarded air pollution control achievement awards from the city for the last three years for various improvements we’ve made in our plant.”
Thinking of the environment
Huntsville Quarry participates in an air pollution control improvement program offered by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the city of Huntsville. The DNR enforces the same air pollution control regulations as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“They (DNR) visit and inspect our plant, annually,” Christopher says, “conducting dust emission readings along with visual inspections of our storm water treatment facilities.”
Four years ago, the director of DNR informed Christopher that the department had a program that could help tout the quarry’s air-pollution-control improvement efforts to the public. The program would explain what the quarry was doing now and what it could do in the future to control any air pollutants that might be produced at the facility.
“We submitted our ideas to the Department of Natural Resources and said, ‘here’s what we’re doing,’” Christopher says. “We use an organic surfactant in our water truck for controlling the dust from truck traffic on our site. Instead of the typical water-only treatment, which can rapidly evaporate, the surfactant adheres to the ground so you don’t have to make as many trips in the water truck. We control the dust on the roads and reduce the number of hours on the water truck, so there’s less dust and less diesel exhaust.”
After seeing the results of the surfactant’s use on the quarry’s roads, a system was installed in the finishing plant area that adds an organic surfactant foaming agent to the water used in the plant’s dust suppression system to control dust emissions from the various plant processes. This system utilizes compressed air, water, and the surfactant to create a foam that adheres to the limestone and virtually eliminates dust emissions. Unlike water-only systems, the effects of the foam continue into the process, into the stockpiles, and help control dust generated by wind.
These improvements helped Huntsville Quarry earn air pollution control achievement awards from the city for the past three years. “It’s all about trying to improve air pollution control, and the city feels that our efforts deserve recognition,” Christopher says.
The quarry helps keep the environment clean by recirculating all the water that comes through the facility. “We’re very conscious of controlling any surface and process water that tries to leave our property,” Christopher says. “We capture it all in a settling pond system. The solids settle out, and then we pump the water back to the plant for use in dust control, to use in the water truck, and to wash the rock for concrete and asphalt use. It all recirculates. With the implementation of our water management program, the quarry has reduced its consumption of purchased water by over 40 million gallons per year. We have Rain Bird sprinklers along the plant entrance to water the grass and keep the asphalt pavement wet for traffic dust control.”
All screening towers in the finishing plant are enclosed. This, by design, helps reduce wind-blown dust and noise generated in the screening process.
Along with weekly sweeping of the paved areas of the facility, Huntsville Quarry has two wheel wash systems that help prevent tracking into the community.
The first system is located at the truck scales. An electronic eye is tripped by each truck as it approaches the scales. The sprayers activate and clean the wheels and the chassis. This helps prevent tracking onto the scales, as well as tracking out of the quarry.
A second wheel wash system is located at the front gate where it washes the tires of every vehicle that leaves the quarry. This system is quite different from the other. It doesn’t use as much water as the first, as the water is pumped up through pipes beneath the pavement rather than being sprayed. An electronic eye senses the approach of each vehicle and increases the flow of the water, so every vehicle leaves the quarry with clean tires.
Both wheel wash systems have drains that collect the used water to return it to the settling pond system, where it is recycled and reused.
Another environmentally friendly program the quarry participates in involves electricity usage. “Our electric power is supplied through distributors of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority),” Christopher says. “TVA has offered a seasonal time-of-use power rate. If we operate our facility during hours that are more friendly to their generation needs, the distributor offers us a lower cost rate.”
In the summer, those hours begin at 4:45 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. “If we go beyond 1 o’clock, our electricity becomes dramatically more expensive,” Christopher says. “TVA encourages people who can do it to consume the majority of their electricity in off-peak power times, due to seasonal generation issues. We’ve been participating in the cost-saving program for six years now. This effort speaks to the environmental issue of additional fossil fuel burn required to increase power generation in the Tennessee Valley.”
Even though the processing plant shuts down at 1 p.m. during the summer months, the scales stay open until 5 p.m, allowing customer trucks to haul all day. The quarry has seen as many as 55 to 60 trucks per hour cross the scales.
Involving the community
Huntsville Quarry takes advantage of every opportunity to communicate with and educate the community about the aggregate industry by inviting them out to the quarry, giving tours, and explaining what the quarry does. “One of the most popular events is our annual Open House,” Christopher says. “This year, we had almost 600 attendees. Lunch is catered for local leaders, neighbors, and customers to come and enjoy. This has been a great opportunity for us to inform our local leaders and community members about our industry.
“We also partner with our neighborhood elementary school,” Christopher adds. “Being actively involved with the school allows us to communicate with the students, teachers, and parents about earth sciences, as well as what our industry does and the methods used to minimize our impact on the environment. Our annual field trip to the quarry is always a big hit with the students and teachers alike.”
Huntsville Quarry also gains access to the community by being involved with area civic groups and county and city organized service groups. “We participate in a locally sponsored ‘Meals-on-Wheels’ program, helping deliver meals to the elderly and home bound in our community, and ‘Adopt-a-Mile’ as well,” Christopher says. “Our company website is also accessible to anyone with internet access. The website has been a wonderful tool to help inform the community about our accomplishments and the industry in general.”
“We’re a somewhat unique plant because of our location in the city,” says David Wheeler, assistant plant manager. “From the stripping walls up at the top, the quarry is about 500 to 550 feet deep. We’re mined out on one side of the pit, so we’re actually putting our spoil and waste rock back into the pit and filling it back in — reclaiming it.” The quarry has also been accepting an average of about 30,000 tons of ‘green concrete’ annually onto the property. This gives customers a place to put their concrete waste and keep it out of local landfills.
“We have an excellent crew at this plant with a lot of experience,” Wheeler says. “Some of these people have been here 40 years. One of our shipping loader operators has been loading on this yard for 35 years. He’s seen a lot of different equipment come and go — from a loader that didn’t have a cab on it to the one he’s got now. He’s also seen a lot of changes made in the way we run our business, and in the importance shown with respect to the neighborhoods we work and live in.” AM
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