What Happens in Vegas…
Las Vegas Paving continues to pave the way with high hopes for a better, busier tomorrow.
By Kerry Clines, Contributing Editor
Everyone knows the saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Well, that could very well be used to describe Las Vegas Paving’s Blue Diamond Pit. While this pit is cranking out sand, gravel, and rock by the ton, most of what it produces stays right in Las Vegas. As a matter of fact, most people who live there or visit the town are driving on it. And many who recently bought new homes in the area are actually living on and in it.
“We bought this place in 2001,” says Rondo Nielson, purchasing agent for Las Vegas Paving. The operation was purchased from Rinker Materials, which had bought it from the original owners, Blue Diamond Materials. Hence, the operation’s name: Blue Diamond Pit.
When Las Vegas Paving purchased the operation, there was a large washing system and a clarifier with settling ponds. Rinker also left a batch plant on site. “It was too costly for them to pull it out, so we just took ownership,” Nielson says. Since the batch plant isn’t being used anymore, the company has started dismantling it.
Las Vegas Paving spent quite a bit of time and energy cleaning up the pit after it was acquired. One major problem was the clay that was left behind in piles. This is slowly being removed.
“We really take pride in this place,” Nielson adds. “It’s a nice plant. The entire plant is automated, and there are cameras everywhere. We can see everything on the screens in the control tower. I was the manager of this plant when we first bought it. We made a few changes when we took ownership. We took out the wash system, added on a few different circuits, and put in a couple more plants.”
The aggregate material produced at Blue Diamond Pit is mostly sand and gravel, with some rock. “There’s not a big rock in this pit, 5 inches is about the largest,” Nielson explains, “It’s not like a rock quarry, so we don’t have to blast at all. It’s all manageable with a wheel loader and a dozer.”
In the pit, material is pushed down by dozers, scooped up by wheel loaders, and dumped into a feed bin that, in turn, places it on a conveyor that runs across the bottom and up the side of the pit to the primary processing plant. “While we’re conveying it up, we’re pulling out 90 percent of the fines right off the bat,” Nielson says.
Once the material reaches the processing plant, it is screened, sized, and sorted. Any oversize material is routed to the crusher and run back through the processing plant.
“We have a pretty neat system,” Nielson says. “Once the material comes off the processing plant, it goes to a stockpile. Our stockpiles are right over a big tunnel. Conveyors running through the tunnel pull aggregate from the product piles and take it right to the asphalt plant. So we don’t have to handle the material again.”
The material is used mainly for road base and to supply the asphalt plant on site. “We can diversify, make different products, move things around,” Nielson adds.
A benching method is used in the 165-foot-deep pit. The dozer operators cut benches 10 feet out and 20 feet down. “We benched it for safety reasons, because we’re right next to the railroad track,” Nielson explains. “MSHA has given us high regards on our benches.”
Las Vegas Paving not only processes aggregate from the pit, it also recycles asphalt. Most of the asphalt being recycled is from the company’s repaving jobs, such as the Interstate 15 project it was working on in 2012. Rotomilling machines go in and grind out about a mile or so of highway, and that section is repaved the same night.
“We haul all the millings up here and dump them into our pit,” Nielson says. “From there, we can feed them into the system and rework them. We bring them up the line, crush them down, and make them reusable material for the hot-mix plant.”
An automated unloading system allows asphalt millings unloading without the presence of any personnel. When a truck comes up, it triggers a sensor that starts up the system. This allows trucks to dump any time, day or night. Since quite a bit of road work is done at night during lighter traffic times, this comes in quite handy.
“Some jobs allow 30-percent recycled asphalt in the mix,” Nielson says. “We recycle asphalt in many of the mix designs. RAP has better rut-resistant properties than virgin oil mixes.”
Like most aggregate operations, Blue Diamond Pit was in the middle of nowhere when it began operation. “When this plant was built in the early ’90s, there was nothing across the street but desert,” Nielson says. “The houses were a mile or so away. Now, there are houses right across the street and a huge housing development is down the road.”
This encroachment has affected the operation in several ways. The road trucks use to come and go from the plant, which was once only used by Las Vegas Paving and its customers, is now being used by people in the surrounding community to get to and from their homes. Needless to say, the roadway gets busy at times.
In addition to traffic issues, having homes so close to the operation brings the challenge of doing whatever is possible to control dust, noise, and other impacts. Being in the middle of a desert doesn’t help with the dust management. The prevailing south wind can stir up dust anytime, anywhere, whether it comes from the operation or not. But Las Vegas Paving uses extraordinary means to control any potential dust emanating from its plant.
“We’ve got 168 acres here, and we use our best efforts,” Nielson says. “We’ve got a zero dust policy, but dust comes from the desert to the southwest of the plant.”
A full-time street sweeper runs constantly in and out of the plant entrance, cleaning the curbs and gutters of the main street to make sure there is no track out. The plant even moved its main entrance to make it better for the homeowners.
“We also use bag houses and have suppression misters — water suppression,” Nielson adds. “Bag houses are a must. They’re in our permit, so we’ve got to have them, and they have to be working. We have a pretty diligent air quality program here, and they come out to check to make sure we’re doing everything possible to control dust.”
Las Vegas Paving is a big company in the area with pits all over town, and Nielson says it is doing everything it can to work with the surrounding communities as they move closer to the pits. “We are not a company to turn a blind eye when we have a complaint,” Nielson says. “We do what we have to do. If there’s a problem, we’ll take care of it.”
Then and now
“I’ve been with Las Vegas Paving for nearly 20 years,” Nielson says. “This plant has been good for Las Vegas. Back when this town was booming, we were running double shifts. The hot plant would be running day and night. You couldn’t get trucks in and out of here fast enough.”
The past couple years have been slow, however. “At one time, we had six paving crews. We’re down to three now,” he adds. “We don’t pave every day. There’s only maintenance on streets, no new construction except on houses. There’s just no funding.”
Metso HP-400 Cone Crusher
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JCI 820338C5 (8- x 20-foot) Screen (2)
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Caterpillar 980-G Wheel Loader
Kawasaki 115-Z Wheel Loader
Caterpillar D-11R Dozer
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Kerry Clines is a freelance editor located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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