Sales are hot--so is asphalt

Aug. 19, 2002

When development comes to the neighborhood of a hot-mix asphalt (HMA) plant, things can get interesting. Just ask the folks at Rochester Asphalt Materials Inc., Victor, N.Y., a division of Oldcastle Materials Group.

The Victor facility of Rochester Asphalt Materials recently earned the Diamond Achievement Commendation for Excellence in Hot Mix Asphalt Plant/Site Operations from the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA). The Diamond Achievement is a signal to a community that a company’s operations measure up nationally.

When development comes to the neighborhood of a hot-mix asphalt (HMA) plant, things can get interesting. Just ask the folks at Rochester Asphalt Materials Inc., Victor, N.Y., a division of Oldcastle Materials Group.

The Victor facility of Rochester Asphalt Materials recently earned the Diamond Achievement Commendation for Excellence in Hot Mix Asphalt Plant/Site Operations from the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA). The Diamond Achievement is a signal to a community that a company’s operations measure up nationally.

The plant in Victor had been doing business in the same location since 1963, but in 1996 a developer came to the company with the idea of putting in a shopping mall that would house stores like Target and Home Depot. Rather than go through the permitting process at a new location, Rochester Asphalt Materials worked out an arrangement with the mall that allowed them to move the plant to one side of the property. Because they remained at their old location, the existing permits covered them.

“We did have a hearing at the town board, and some of the comments were, ‘They have been part of our community since 1963, they are good neighbors, we don’t have any problem with them staying on the site.’ The town highway superintendent testified that we provide a valuable service to the community,” said Tom Johnson, vice president-operations at Rochester Asphalt.

Moving the plant was not without its challenges, however. The major power lines that run from Niagara Falls to New York City go right over the site. Rochester Asphalt put the stockpiles under the power lines. Because of height restrictions—it is not permitted to have any sort of equipment within 25 ft of the lines—the company uses pup trailers to dump on the stockpiles.

The town of Victor asked the company to use berms to screen the plant from the adjacent mall. In addition, the company maintains 31% of the land as green space and observes a 60-ft height restriction. Because of the height restriction, the plant has a horizontal screen instead of an incline screen, and the motor of the hot elevator was dropped down onto a catwalk.

In addition, the company takes great care to keep noise and dust to a minimum. “We have a low-noise burner, the latest style. We put a sound suppression filter on it to take out more noise. We just try to be a good, quiet neighbor,” according to Johnson.

Apparently the company is succeeding in this aim. In Johnson’s words, “We put in a hotline [for neighbors’ complaints], but no one is using it.”

The gathering place

It’s a fact of life for the roadbuilding industry: HMA plants need to be near where roads are being constructed. Just a few years ago, many HMA plants were located in rural areas with few neighbors but still were close enough to developed areas to be effective.

These days, however, more and more plants are being surrounded by commercial and/or residential development. Patterns of growth all over the country make it imperative that HMA plants demonstrate good corporate citizenship and neighbor-friendly operations.

Various NAPA initiatives over the years have addressed aspects of continuous improvement, but the Diamond Achievement is the crown jewel of NAPA’s efforts to recognize and encourage excellence in operations at asphalt plants. More than 250 plants/sites earned the Diamond Achievement in 2001.

This comprehensive process begins with a self-assessment of six aspects of plant/site operations—appearance, operations, environmental practices, safety, permitting and regulatory compliance and community relations. It also includes verification by an outside third party who is not associated with the company.

A Diamond discovery

“Going through the Diamond process was a cooperative effort that brought together people from our operations, marketing, safety and environmental and permitting sides,” said John Burggraf, division manager of Construction Products Co., Salt Lake City, a division of Granite Construction Co. “Bringing all those different disciplines to it was certainly helpful.” There are two asphalt plants on the company’s Little Cottonwood site, and both earned the Diamond for the first time in 2001.

Burggraf also revealed a hidden benefit for his company. “During the self-assessment, we discovered something that had slipped through the cracks during previous inspections. We were able to get back into working order. In other words, the Diamond process helped us find some things that we had overlooked and gave us an opportunity to fix them.

“Another benefit that we had not anticipated was that the self-assessment has aspects that are applicable to our aggregate operations as well. Thanks to the Diamond, our operations run better today.”

Public viewing

The Little Cottonwood site has high visibility. In 1982, it was 10 miles outside Salt Lake City. Over the past 10 years, however, upscale business parks and residential areas have moved into the area. The location, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and at the mouth of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, is the gateway to four of Utah’s ski resorts—Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton. “With all that visibility, it drove our decision to pursue the Diamond,” said Burggraf.

Another company with high-visibility Diamond Achievement sites is Payne & Dolan Inc., Waukesha, Wis. “Our Waukesha plant is set back from the highway, but if you’re above it there are a couple of roads in adjacent subdivisions that can look right down into it,” according to James Rosenmerkel, manager of business development for Payne & Dolan.

Another location, the Franklin plant, is “particularly unusual because it is in a very high-profile city which prides itself on having industrial good neighbors,” said Rosenmerkel. “We are on a very high-volume arterial city street. Landscaping is important for making the site appealing from the street.

“Another concern is traffic. We do a lot of coordination with the city so we can tailor our operating hours to harmonize with the neighborhood. We prohibit all truck traffic in and out of the plant at times when the public officials think it’s not appropriate, such as the supper and breakfast hours and during after-school programs.

“The Waukesha plant is visible not only to the public but also to management, so it always has to look and operate really well. It’s our headquarters area and is visible from the president’s office as well as from a busy north-south highway,” added Rosenmerkel.

The relationship between city and plant has strengthened over the years, so much that Waukesha now turns to Payne & Dolan Inc. for direction.

“Our reputation with the community is so high that now the city comes to us for help,” he added. “For example, some of our engineering staff work with the engineers to set the standards for developers—for pavement specifications, traffic control, scheduling of events, recycling and other areas where we have expertise. Particularly for me as a professional engineer, it means a lot that they have so much respect for our skills and our integrity that they would invite us to be part of the process as they rewrite their specifications.

“We are going to do all we can do to be good neighbors and to be a quality industry in a neighborhood,” added Rosenmerkel. “We do a lot of things that you really don’t have to do, but we’re going to do them anyway. Everybody’s got the feeling of pride in having achieved the Diamond Achievement.”

Drive-by nomination

Recognition from the community can come in unexpected ways for companies that earn the Diamond Achievement. In Cleburne, Texas, “Some guy driving by the plant recommended the plant for the Community Improvement Award, and we won,” said Joe Sutton, plant superintendent, APAC-Texas Inc., Texas Bitulithic Division.

APAC-Texas acquired the plant a few years ago and “gradually started cleaning it up and putting it to APAC standards. A lot of the work was just basic stuff—we planted shrubbery, picked up that paintbrush, built a pretty fence. It was a real team effort. Everybody was involved—plant people, foremen, superintendents and estimators. It starts with the shovel hand and goes on up,” commented Sutton.

The community’s response has been outstanding. Since the plant is located along the main road going through town and is very visible to the locals, the changes have been welcomed.

“The plant’s employees live in that community. They are delighted with what we have done. It makes them feel good that we accomplished it,” according to Sutton.

The employees’ pride in the Cleburne plant has had another effect—other plants owned by APAC-Texas now have aspirations of earning the Diamond. “When the foremen talk to each other on the telephone, they spur each other on,” Sutton said.

Prior approval

Companies that operate in an exemplary fashion find their policies can pay dividends in a very practical way. For Construction Products Co., “We opened a new HMA plant in Heber City, Utah. As part of the permitting process, we brought a group of concerned citizens, county staff and elected leaders to our plants for a tour,” said Burggraf.

“They surveyed our neighbors and got very positive responses. The permits went through nicely. The new plant went into operation in August 2001,” he concluded.

Plaudits from neighbors

Participation in the Diamond program is something to celebrate. One company that earned the Diamond held an open house on the occasion. One of the attendees, a neighbor who had previously been a critic of the company, “came with an attitude and left with a smile on her face. She found out that we’re just people after all, and what we do at an asphalt plant is pretty benign,” said a manager.

Construction Products Co. also has plans to celebrate the Diamond. “Our marketing campaign will make use of this national recognition, and we will make it public, talk about what we received. Also, we are going to have a party for employees at the site, a barbecue, and the Diamond will be part of that. It will be a way of thanking all the employees for their efforts and communicating what it means to us,” said Burggraf.

“Our employees—supervisory staff, plant superintendents, the permitting and environmental manager—are very excited, very pleased,” according to Burggraf. “We also have a sense from the operators that they are glad we did it. They are proud of the recognition and achievement. While we were in crunch time, finishing up the submission, we were also finishing up jobs. Our paving season here in Salt Lake is pretty short. To add the requirements of the Diamond on top of that added some frustration. But what we got out of it is a sense of achievement and pride.

“Yes, we are proud.”

About The Author: Cervarich is vice president, marketing and public affairs, for the National Asphalt Pavement Association, Lanham, Md.

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