Every year when we do our Benchmark Survey of aggregates producers, permitting is one of the issues that concerns survey recipients, and with good reason. There are some companies that have complained that it takes 10 to 20 years to get a permit to open a greenfield operation, a plant expansion or even to get an adjacent ready mix or asphalt plant installed.
Rock Products is the only industry magazine that includes a permitting update in every issue, so I have had the opportunity to watch activity in this area closely. It seems that almost every permitting battle is not as much aggregates producers bumping heads with government entities as it is bumping heads with organized community groups, with local governments caught in the middle.
The Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) groups trot out the same reasons, no matter which part of the county. The main culprits are noise, dust, truck traffic, blasting that cracks the foundation of homes and the devastation of the environment.
Aggregates producers can do something about several of these. A good operation makes an effort to alleviate noise and dust as much as possible using the best technology at their disposal. Truck traffic can be mitigated to a certain extent through proper routing, but it also takes some PR work to convince people that trucks are not tearing up the roads, running cars into the ditch and leaving pebbles bouncing across the pavement that are going to shatter a windshield or two.
The blasting complaints that producers face are largely a case of black being white. House foundations crack. It’s a fact of life. Heck, I don’t live within 10 miles of a quarry and my foundation is cracked. This is mostly an attempt to scapegoat quarries.
Fears of environmental devastation can be difficult to combat, especially if a quarry is located near state or national park land, in mountainous regions or parts of the county where hunting, fishing, boating, biking and hiking are especially prevalent.
When it comes to greenfield operations, one of the NIMBY tactics is to ask why the quarry can’t be located elsewhere. Well, it’s about geology. I received a phone call not that long ago from a now-retired quarry operator, Michael Nelson. He quoted me the words of Judge Lee Town Adams, who stated while granting a quarry permit and overruling a NIMBY Group: “Minerals have not minds of their own and do not seek zoned areas in which to establish themselves.”
The judge said a mouthful there. Good luck with your permitting battles.