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Turning the corner on aggregate supply shortages

By |  May 11, 2020
Photo: Zach Mentz

Manmade shortages threaten the future of aggregate producers across the United States. Photo: P&Q Staff

Among the topics discussed Jan. 15 at the 2020 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference was aggregate supply, which is becoming a growing concern for the industry across the United States. The discussion was edited for brevity and clarity.

P&Q: Geologically, the United States is far from a shortage of crushed stone, sand and gravel. Aggregate reserves are available just about everywhere, but manmade shortages in a growing number of markets are threatening the future supply of those construction materials.

A December 2019 Pit & Quarry article shed light on a southwest Washington state county that has just 20 years of aggregate reserves remaining. Denying access to those reserves has a number of negative consequences for a market, including increased aggregate costs and increased carbon footprint due to materials traveling longer distances. Yet, decision-makers across the nation are largely not being swayed to budge.

Producers: What workarounds are there to ensure construction materials are easily accessible within your markets? And from a supplier side, do you ultimately see this issue as a short-term or a long-term threat to your business? Do you see any creative ways (i.e., manufacturing sand, making use of waste material) to work around these supply shortages?

Headshot: Karen Hubacz-Kiley, COO at Massachusetts-based Bond Construction

Hubacz-Kiley

Karen Hubacz-Kiley (Bond Construction Corp.): We do sand and gravel. We’re not a big quarry where all of our reserves are at one site. There are deposits all over central Massachusetts. For me, our biggest deal is having reserves.

I do permitting for the company, among other things, but it’s the most difficult thing that I have to do. A lot of times at these meetings, it’s not even the direct [opponents] who are there. It’s somebody who could be at the other end of the town who’s there because they don’t like construction projects. So you need to be diligent.

I think being a female presenting to boards that I have a better chance of getting permits. I don’t get yelled at as much as what my father used to get yelled at. Maybe I’m more trustworthy.

I can bring out that emotionally mother side and say, ‘I feel for you; I understand why you feel that way.’ So, I think I can probably put the fires out a little bit better.

But they still don’t care. They don’t understand. They do not want to be educated. If they want sandbox sand, they just want to have it delivered. They don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s not directly bothering them in any way, shape or form.

A truck can go build their house and bring all kinds of material in, but they’re very upset if the truck is going by to go somewhere else. It’s a big problem we have. There is no direct answer, other than I think you just need to be exceptionally diligent.

Start early. Go to the [opponents]. Put the fire out and meet them before you even start your permitting process. There are different things that I’ve learned over the years, but securing aggregates is exceptionally difficult.

Photo: Evan Clarke

Clarke

Evan Clarke (Kleemann): Coming from the European side of the market, we need to embrace more recycling here. We sure are never going to get away from that. It certainly has grown since I have been here. In the last 12 years it has grown, but there’s still a lot of potential for improvement.

And just like the permits, more percentages than can be ignored, we need to be putting back into that. And also recycled concrete. We need to be able to use it. Not just as excess material, but using it for other products as well.

I think North America is rewarded more, because as long as you have a cost of that material, whereas against virgin material, that’s something all producers – whether large or small – can get involved in and be involved in it, keep it local, and keep that carbon footprint down. This is something where, at the end, we just have to invest in it. We just have to accept it and figure out how to be part of it.

Photo: Pat Jacomet

Jacomet

Pat Jacomet (Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association): In Ohio, zoning is one of our biggest challenges right now, whether it be expanding an existing operation.

In particular, a greenfield site is almost impossible to start at this point in time, so we’ve taken a broad approach. We need to better educate the public [and] teachers. Teachers impact so many lives. Educate the teachers and they can educate the kids. That’s a long-term – not so much a solution, but a way to get past some of these rough spots.

The thing we’re doing is trying to gather our stakeholders and let them know that we’re looking down the road, and, in some areas of the state, we’re going to run short on products.

We’ve been talking about that [for] a couple of years. Just last year in some areas of the state, you couldn’t get 57s to make concrete. And [in] some areas of the state, we couldn’t get concrete sand. It wasn’t because it’s not there. It’s just because, due to zoning, the operations could not access that material. It’s a challenge.

We’re working really hard in Ohio to come up with innovative ways to overcome those. Some of it is looking at the specifications. Some of the specifications we’re operating under have been in place since 1971.

We’re working with the DOT (Department of Transportation) to see if we can maybe look at innovative ways to use these products. Maybe take another look at the specs, look at end-use specifications as opposed to recipe specifications.

Does the cake taste good? Well, then I don’t really care what they put in it as long as it doesn’t poison us. But let’s get away from the recipe-type mix designs and look at end use. Those are some of the things we are looking at. That’s a big issue for us.

Photo:

Johnson

Michael Johnson (National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association): This is the biggest issue all over the country. Last year, we heard an increasing volume of reports from literally every corner of this country where there were media stories about neighbors – sometimes not even direct [opponents] as Karen mentioned, but people in the community getting up in arms when they learned there was a quarry in their neighborhood or town. They had no idea it was even there.

When [producers] went to get a permit renewal, they came out in force. What we’re seeing is the end user getting much more sophisticated. With social media, it is easy to go online and find posts that are anti-our business. What’s not really easy to do – and what we traditionally have not been very good at – is to find things online that are pro-our business and what we do.

Seven years ago when I started in this industry, I’ll never forget talking to a producer member who was having some trouble with permit renewal. He said: ‘I just don’t get it. Why can’t I just stay behind my berm and everybody just leave me alone?’ I said those days are over, because your berms don’t matter anymore. People are going to see you in ways and find you in ways they never have before. You need to get out there and introduce yourself to them first.

I will tell you that I never, ever get complaints about renewal troubles from most active members on social media and community reactions. Where I hear it [is] from the guys who are still hiding behind the berms.

So, No. 1, we’re going to be doing a lot this year to try to help our producer members get better as part of our new strategic plan and talking about who they are and what they want to do.

Evan, [on] your point about recycling: That’s got to be part of [the] message and part of the things we start to think about in a more serious way. Or we [will] find ourselves up against what is being called innovative materials.

There’s a company now out of India that is producing synthetic aggregate, and he bills himself as being able to take nonrecyclable plastic out of landfills worldwide and turn that into synthetic rock.

It’s still too expensive today to compete with virgin material or recycled concrete or recycled asphalt. But if he can get to the federal government and get assistance in R&D from the feds to do that, it drops his price considerably and we have a problem. We have to get in front of that, and we’re working hard on it today. But it all comes together around where I’ll go back and start.

You’ve got to get outside your berms. You’ve got to talk about what you do loudly and proudly – whether it’s hosting rocking races in the quarry or community days at schools. You need to know those planning and zoning committee members. We can’t wait until we have a problem or it’s too late.


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