September 1, 2008
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
During a two-week period in early July, a wilderness area on the north side of Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s 14-square-mile port district was transformed into a large gravel mine, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The site being run by Quality Asphalt and Paving has been touted by the local port director as an asset to Mat-Su Borough. The director told the newspaper that the mine is not only bringing revenue to the port but is also enhancing its image as a natural resource shipping spot. Gravel is being transported across the inlet to the Anchorage port where it will be used to lay the foundation for the 2008 marine terminal redevelopment north expansion. In a month’s time, the gravel shipping operation is expected to generate $637,000 based on royalties, wharf fees, and dockage fees.
A report in the Contra Costa Times notes that aggregate imports are helping the Port of Redwood City rebound from two years of decreasing activity. The port, which typically handles construction materials, processed nearly 1.5 million metric tons during its last fiscal year – a 4-percent increase compared to the previous year. Significant gains in sand and construction aggregates more than offset a 205,885-ton decrease in cement imports. Crushed stone and gravel imports were up 423 percent while sand imports increased 177 percent. Much of the sand and aggregates came from a quarry in North Vancouver Island.
More than 100 opponents attended a July meeting of the Yuba County Planning Commission when a draft environmental impact report (EIR) on a proposed quarry was discussed. According to the Appeal-Democrat, DeSilva Gates Construction has proposed a 315-acre quarry and asphalt plant near a local landfill. The company requested a conditional use permit in 2005. The draft EIR requests an average annual production rate of 350,000 tons of aggregate and up to 200,000 tons of asphalt. Opponents voiced concerns about the impact of mining on agricultural land, water quality, and noise.
Leon County Commissioners passed an ordinance that requires sand mines to be surrounded by 4-foot fencing and marked with “no trespassing” signs. The Tallahassee Democrat reports that approximately 60 county sand mines are impacted by the new regulation. It stems from the drowning of 8-year-old Kyle Jones at a sand mine earlier this year. Commissioners discussed a 6-foot fencing requirement, but dropped the height requirement based on concerns about the additional cost.
As part of a two-year project, Titan America’s Center Sand Mine relocated 56 gopher tortoises to a 35-acre, L-shaped habitat on Center Sand property that will never be mined. Center Sand had two options for protecting the tortoises: they could either request the state of Florida move them to another part of the state, or Center Sand could create a safe-zone habitat for them on existing mine property. Titan America chose the latter option. “Our goal is to do the right thing for these creatures,” said Terry Lancaster, Titan American environmental manager. “This is their natural habitat. We believe it’s far better for them to stay within a couple acres of home than move many miles away.”
Lafarge North America acquired three Dolese Brothers plants in Wichita, The Wichita Eagle reports. Lafarge told the newspaper that it will operate the ready-mixed concrete plant on West MacArthur, but will dismantle those on East Central and 53rd and 119th and sell the real estate. The company hired 15 of Dolese’s 32 Wichita employees. Ron Cornejo, president of Wichita’s Cornejo & Sons, said his company looked at the properties, but decided against acquisition given the current market conditions. He did say the employees who lost their jobs were likely to find work quickly, noting, “Those people are valuable employees to us or someone else.”
Ash Grove Cement bought Holliday Sand & Gravel Co. for an undisclosed price in early August. The Kansas City Business Journal reports that Ash Grove called its purchase a strategic deal to expand its Midwest market presence. It also touted the additional “significant long-term” sand and gravel reserves gained through the acquisition. “This acquisition complements Ash Grove’s existing operations and will strengthen our market position as the leading supplier of cement and construction materials in the Midwest,” CEO Charlie Sunderland said in a release. “We anticipate that Ash Grove will begin realizing synergies almost immediately.”
Rob Scrivener, president of BBSS Inc. and manager of Reliable Contracting Co., assured residents near his Gambrills sand and gravel operation that he had no plans to fill the pit with fly ash. The Capital reports that Scrivener is seeking permits to mine dirt from nearly 20 acres of the property to generate alternative fill material. Based on a request from a grassroots activist group, he changed language in his permit request to avoid dumping further fly ash at the site.
Plans for a gravel pit in Dalton were presented at a public meeting held in mid-July. According to The Berkshire Eagle, PBN Realty LLC is requesting a special permit for the removal of sand and gravel from a former gravel pit. A homeowner near the property collected more than 260 signatures on a petition opposing the plan, claiming that only the developer and landowner would benefit from the operation. If approved, the site would be operated from 2008 to 2013 and would be reclaimed upon completion of mining. The landowner noted that large pine trees on the property provide a natural noise buffer and the road was built to accommodate truck traffic.
A tax change may ease tensions between Douglas Township and Kraemer Mining and Materials, www.pioneerpress.com reports. In an article posted on its Web site, the newspaper notes that the producer is currently suing the township for the right to open a 900-acre quarry site. A new state law, which takes effect in January, gives cities and townships greater incentive to host mining operations through a major increase in its tax revenue. The “production tax” rate is currently 7 cents a ton, but will increase to 15 cents. Traditionally, 70 percent of that revenue was awarded to the county, with the remaining funds divided among all its cities and townships as the county deemed. The state law, however, will direct 42.5 percent of the tax to the city or township where aggregate operations are located. A Dakota County commissioner told the newspaper that he believes the new law “provides an incentive…to allow these types of mining operations to happen, because they’re not necessarily the most wanted things in the community.”
At Aggregates Manager press time, Magruder Limestone Co. had nearly cleared the remaining hurdle in its year-long permitting endeavor. According to The Ozarks This Morning, Department of Natural Resources Hearing Officer W.B. Tichenor recommended approval of a permit for it to mine 205 acres near the Osage River. He noted that the Joint Sewer Board of Osage Beach and Lake Ozark and the Concerned Citizens of Camden and Miller failed to establish scientific evidence that the quarry would have a negative impact on health, safety, and livelihood of area residents. Tichenor also recommended five stipulations with the permit including restrictions on hours of operation, boundaries, blasting plans, seismograph readings, and blasting holes.
Neighbors of two gravel sites in the Gallatin Valley want a judge to reverse court orders that required the state environmental agency to issue permits for gravel mining although environmental reviews had not been conducted. The Associated Press reports that neighbors are trying to stop mines planned by Cameron Springs LLC and Spanish Peaks Sand & Gravel LLC. Orders for the agency to issue the permits came after it failed to act on permit requests within a 60-day time limit. DEQ has said that it lacks the personnel necessary to promptly process permit applications. An attorney for the gravel operators noted that one of the companies volunteered to pay for an environmental assessment because DEQ was not prepared to launch one. A DEQ lawyer told Judge Jeffrey Sherlock that the agency said it lacked the resources to review an assessment done at company expense. “You can’t say that the mine operator has to be held hostage to the backlog at the DEQ, can you?” Sherlock told the DEQ lawyer. He then inquired about the possibility of environmental assessments being done after permits are issued and using findings from those assessments to place conditions on permits. At Aggregates Manager press time, a decision had not been reached.
The Bitterroot National Forest approved a controversial plant to allow Ravalli County to mine aggregate in an existing, but unused quarry in Lost Horse Canyon, according to a report at www.missoulian.com. A county ranger said the forest approved a one-time use that would allow the county to remove approximately 1,000 cubic yards of rock from an old quarry. A coalition of homeowners, climbers, and recreationists told the newspaper that the forest violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving gravel extraction without significant review. It plans to file suit.
A judge threw out nearly half of the 44 felony counts against a town highway superintendent accused of purchasing gravel from an illegal mine and submitting forged documents to cover it up. The Times Union reports that Stephentown Highway Superintendent Neil Gardner was indicted Feb. 15 on 22 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, 10 counts of first-degree falsifying business records, and 12 counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. He is also charged with one misdemeanor count of operating a mine without a permit. Rensselaer County Judge Robert Jacon ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support 20 of the 44 felony counts. He eliminated 10 counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and 10 counts of first-degree falsifying business records. Gardner’s trial is scheduled for this month.
In November, Eugene voters will decide the fate of a $35.9 million, five-year bond issue to pay for street repairs. According to The Register Guard, the city council voted to put the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot. Councilors noted that the bond measure would not come close to solving the city’s $173 million backlog of street work, but the majority thought the measure was more likely to pass than an originally proposed $81.5 million, 10-year spending request. If passed, the measure would fund 32 street projects covering 70 miles, as well as 3 miles of bike and pedestrian path repair work. Strategy Research Institute was hired to poll 400 likely voters on the measure and concluded that 66 percent of voters would support paying higher taxes for street repairs.
Missing documents are at the heart of an expansion dispute between Hanson Aggregates and Nockamixon Township, The Intelligencer reports. Hanson seeks to expand its operation onto 20 acres adjacent to its current site, but township ordinances prevent that use. The company has challenged the validity of laws restricting its expansion and subpoenaed hundreds of documents. An attorney for Hanson told the newspaper that he believes township ordinances and meeting minutes dating back 40 years were not properly filed, organized, and advertised. Last year, the township planning commission voted against expanding the quarry, citing concerns about groundwater and the possibility of closing a local road during blasting.
Officials with the city of South Weber are eying two town gravel pits as a future solution to their water needs. According to the Deseret Morning News, the city has organized a reclamation committee to discuss options for the Staker-Parsons pit near U.S. 89. It has approximately a 15-year life span remaining and its proximity to the canyon mouth makes its location ideal. “We certainly understand these gravel pits are in operation,” City Manager Matthew Dixon told the newspaper. “We’re not trying to stop their operations prematurely.” A Weber State University study has shown that the area’s underground water storage is being depleted by about one foot per year. The city hopes to engage the support of cities downstream to facilitate its goal of creating additional water storage capabilities.
The Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance (VTCA), in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy – Division of Mineral Mining, sponsors the annual Mineral Mining Reclamation Awards to reward companies who apply innovative techniques beyond standard post-mining reclamation requirements. The 2008 Best Reclamation Awards went to Boxley Materials Co.’s Rich Patch Quarry (quarry) and Iluka Resources, Inc.’s Old Hickory Operation (non-quarry). Iluka Resources was picked as the overall winner and will be submitted to the Interstate Mining Compact Commission for national competition. Honorable mention winners include Boxley Materials Co.’s Fieldale Quarry; Luck Stone Corp.’s Massaponax and Mattaponi/King William Plants; Salem Stone Corp.’s Acco Stone and Sylvatus Quarries; and Vulcan Construction Materials, LP’s Curles Neck Sand and Gravel.
Although a proposed concrete plant was rejected by Stevens Point City Council, it may yet move forward if the property owner can reach an accord with neighbors. The Stevens Point Journal reports that the council denied Ed Rusin’s request for a zoning change following neighbor concerns about dust, noise, and traffic. The report noted that some neighbors would be satisfied with conditions such as a concrete fence around the plant and gating to its entrance. One neighbor told the newspaper that he was unaware of plans for the plant, but noted that it would bring jobs to the community.
An anti-mining group, FORCE, has complained that the Ontario Environment Ministry tried to deny the public the right to appeal a permit issued in July. According to The Spectator, the group planned to appeal St. Marys Cement’s permit for water pumping tests at its operation near Flamborough, but learned that it could not dispute the 356-day permit because permits for less than a year are not subject to appeal. FORCE chair Graham Flint told the newspaper that he believed that the ministry was applying a technicality in a deliberate attempt to remove its rights to environmental protection and the democratic process. A spokesperson for the ministry’s local office told the newspaper that pumping-test permits are typically granted for less than a year.