How Houston aggregate producers are faring after Hurricane Harvey

By |  March 26, 2018

Following the AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo in Houston, it’s hard to fathom that America’s fourth-largest city was sheltering itself from Hurricane Harvey merely six months ago.

The Category 4 storm dumped more than 60 in. of rain on the greater Houston area, inflicting more than $100 billion in damage, displacing millions of people and creating a unique set of issues for businesses in the area.

For aggregate operations, Harvey brought production to a grinding halt for days and presented a series of challenges for producers in the weeks that followed.

“Our industry learned a lot about natural disasters – preparing for them, personnel management for them,” says Rich Szecsy, the former president of the Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association (TACA) who is currently the COO of Charley’s Concrete. “They [producers] had some flooding before, but they hadn’t seen this. I think operationally some positives came, and that was due to planning.”

People first

Hurricane Harvey ultimately provided producers the opportunity to reevaluate the safety and management procedures in place at their operations.

“Everyone’s first and primary concern was on the safety of their employees and families,” Szecsy says. “Once everyone kind of established where everyone was and if they were safe, then it was ‘now let’s get to our businesses.’”

According to Rob Van Til, a managing partner at River Aggregates who is also vice chair of TACA, the state association gave about 140 families $100 gift cards around the holidays, helping those at member companies whose homes sustained significant damage from the storm.

“It’s not a huge gift,” Van Til says. “But it was something that was not expected and maybe it is something that makes someone’s Christmas a little better.”

Getting back to work

A River Aggregates electrician measures the water depth in a plant shortly after Hurricane Harvey, revealing that waters rose about four feet. Photo courtesy oF Rob Van Til

According to Szecsy, most of the affected operations weren’t accessible for three to four weeks once Harvey dissipated. Even when producers had the opportunity to access their plants, they were often only accessible by boat.

Van Til’s operation was down for three weeks, which was pretty typical for the area.

“We had about 10 ft. of water throughout the plant,” Van Til says. “For example, our scale house had water all the way to the ceiling.”

Van Til was already in the process of shutting down one plant and starting construction on a new one, so Harvey helped River Aggregates to expedite the process.

Conducting a thorough evaluation of an aggregate site was among the first steps producers like Van Til took to get their operations back online. When Van Til returned to his plant, he paid special attention to the many electric motors used there. Van Til thoroughly checked all motors, and if he foresaw any issues he changed them out.
The state of equipment was just one area of concern for Houston operations. The state of stockpiles and production schedules were also on the minds of producers.
Making sure operations got back up and running safely was a first step in getting back to work, Szecsy says. A second step was taking inventory of product and managing materials that were produced before the storm.

Ensuring stockpiles were at the correct specifications after being exposed to high levels of water was yet another step producers took. This was especially a concern for operations early on because, according to Szecsy, concrete plants were up and running about 10 days after Harvey.
Return to normalcy

A few weeks after Harvey passed, production was up and running at River Aggregates. And a sense of normalcy was re-established for the business.

In the days after the storm, Rob Van Til and his son, Jack, pitched in to help neighbors assess damage and clean out their homes. Photo courtesy oF Rob Van Til

“Once we kind of got into the end of September to the start of October, we had a pretty nice kind of reboot,” Van Til says. “It was work that started prior to Harvey that kind of got kicked back off again, so there was nice momentum.”

Van Til admits that around Thanksgiving there was a lull in the market. This was largely due to the typical “fourth-quarter blues” producers seems go through, according to Szecsy.

Unfortunately, not every Houston-area producer has returned to normal. There are still some operations that have not returned to their offices. The Houston market may still be in “recovery mode” Van Til adds.

Still, most plants around Houston are back to the way things were in terms of production.

“Most plants are back to normal,” Van Til says. “They are up and running, and people are back to work.”

Looking ahead, both Szecsy and Van Til expect aggregate demand to return to normal levels later in the year when a rebuilding transition takes place in Houston. The two expect demand to rise in the late second quarter.

“By this spring, if you compare it year-to-date back to the prior mark in 2017, you may not be able to distinguish between the two of them,” Szecsy says.

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About the Author:

Joe McCarthy is a former Associate Editor of Pit and Quarry Magazine.

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