It's all about the green

March 12, 2007

This season’s “it” color must be green because it’s all we seem to hear about these days. Everything from cars to businesses is becoming green. Green buildings and roofs have been sprouting up everywhere, and runway models have even been sporting denim made from organic cotton, which is safer for the environment. More and more individuals and organizations are starting to take better care of our ecosystems, as we should.

This season’s “it” color must be green because it’s all we seem to hear about these days. Everything from cars to businesses is becoming green. Green buildings and roofs have been sprouting up everywhere, and runway models have even been sporting denim made from organic cotton, which is safer for the environment. More and more individuals and organizations are starting to take better care of our ecosystems, as we should.

But long before green became a buzzword, the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) has been recognizing the environmentally conscious with its annual Ecological Award. Since 1971, NAPA has been honoring the most environmentally friendly hot-mix asphalt (HMA) plants using meticulous evaluation criteria. A company must be a Diamond Achievement Award recipient in order to be eligible for the Ecological Award. The company is then judged on the design, layout and appearance of their facility, clean operations, maintenance performance practices and community involvement.

Finalists for this year’s Ecological Award were Granite Construction Co., Cottonwood Heights, Utah, and Vulcan Materials Co.’s Santa Ana, Calif., plant. The winner of this year’s award was Vulcan Materials Co.’s Fresno, Calif., plant. These facilities were presented their awards at NAPA’s 52nd annual convention in San Francisco last month.

Just doing their job

When asked what makes Vulcan Materials’ Frenso plant stand out ecologically from others, Frank Costa, district operations manager, told Roads & Bridges that it’s probably not just one thing. “We recycle, we have our yards paved, we have community involvement and we have involvement with agencies,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there’s just one thing that sets us apart, I think it’s basically how we conduct business.”

The Fresno plant has been at its current site for 18 years and produces up to 600 tons of asphalt an hour. The plant begins with six cold-feed bins, where the materials are fed to supply the plant. Aggregates then go through a series of conveyors before they are discharged into the 9- x 48-ft parallel-flow drum. There also are five 300-ton silos, two 120-ft scales, a baghouse, three 30,000-gal liquid asphalt cement tanks and a 30,000-gal propane tank.

The plant operates year-round, weather permitting, five days a week for 11 hours a day and about six hours on Saturdays. The facility’s primary dust-control unit is a drop box that is followed by a baghouse, which removes approximately 99% of the particulate entrained in the exhaust stream. A blue-smoke filter and an enclosed truck-loading system also were installed to prevent blue smoke and odors from leaving the property. “We recapture, or either filter or burn, all our blue emissions from the asphalt itself,” Costa said.

The enclosed truck-loading system is about 150 ft in length. “Now, where you load out in the enclosure, you’re not affected by winds,” Costa said. “It’s in a confined area so you’re not trying to fight Mother Nature when you’re extracting the fumes.”

Vulcan’s Western Division Fresno facility sits in a river bottom surrounded by 90-ft-tall bluffs. The Friant Road Expressway sits above the bluffs, with a middle-to-upper-class housing development on the other side of the expressway.

However, with Vulcan’s aesthetically pleasing appearance—a painted plant, paved yard and landscaped entrance—many neighbors don’t even know Vulcan exists. Vulcan works closely with local schools and conducts tours for students and parents. “The kids are pretty awestruck by the big equipment and everything, but it’s the parents who say, ‘Oh, my God, I live right above here and didn’t even know you guys were down here,’” Costa said. “When parents tell us that, that’s when I think we’re doing our job.”

In addition to working closely with local schools, Vulcan recently accomplished the adoption of local Copper Hills Elementary School to improve and support the education for children. Vulcan also works closely with the San Joaquin River Trust and the American Lung Association. Vulcan maintains several hundred acres of wildlife habitat that has been certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council, maintains a permit to operate with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and maintains a current and accurate State Storm Water Permit with a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.

As the Fresno plant looks ahead to the future, Costa said they plan to invest in technology to reduce air emissions in the next year or two.

In the running

While Vulcan Materials’ Fresno plant sits in a river bottom hidden from many of its neighbors, Granite Construction Co.’s Cottonwood facility, a finalist for this year’s Ecological Award, is located among the Cottonwood Heights community, right at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Neighbors and tourists heading to popular ski resorts view this HMA facility on a regular basis.

Located in a residential area, the environment and the surrounding community are Granite’s biggest concerns, according to Materials Manager Ric Skinner. The facility sits on Wasatch Boulevard, a major thoroughfare for the city, and is close to I-15. A considerable amount of landscaping surrounds the entrance and perimeter of the facility, according to Skinner, and the Wasatch Mountains stand behind the plant.

Granite’s Cottonwood facility consists of a Gencor plant with six 300-ton silos, vertical load tanks and a dryer. The plant produces over 400,000 tons of HMA a year.

Because the plant produces so much asphalt a year, within a residential neighborhood, Granite Construction has to be extremely aware of their actions and their effect on the surrounding community. The company recently installed a tire wash track-out, which helps to reduce dust and track-out. Granite also applies a baghouse technology to its crushing operation, which helps with dust control.

The Cottonwood facility was recently accepted into the Clean Utah program, which was developed for companies that are committed to go beyond what is required by law to reduce and prevent air pollution. The program was developed by the Utah Department of Air Quality, in conjunction with representatives from the industry, government and environmental communities.

Granite also is involved with the Old Mill Citizens Committee, a citizens group that allows the company to better communicate with neighborhood residents and also the Community Involvement Program, which enables the community to get in contact with Granite via a community hotline. “Keeping the lines of communication open has been a big part of our success,” Skinner said.

While their neighbors may not be thrilled to live next to the HMA plant, Granite has been successful in working with their community to help them better understand the operations of an asphalt facility. “We’re partnering with the community,” said Skinner, “so they understand our business and we understand their concerns.”

And another…

Vulcan Materials’ Santa Ana plant also was recognized as a finalist for the Ecological Award. For 43 years, this HMA facility has been located on 2.3 acres of urban landscape, with industrial, commercial and retail businesses all around it.

In early 2001, the company replaced its 6,000-lb batch plant with a 10,000-lb batch plant tower. The replacement project included a Gencor batch tower, a Gencor Ultraflow baghouse, three Gencor vertical asphalt tanks, new Gencor Equinox low-NOx burner, a Gencor hot oil heater, a Butler Justice truck load-out blue-smoke control system, a new motor control center and an upgraded operator control room.

Vulcan also recently re-graded its entire site so all water would drain into a central underground sump with a clarifying system, improving the property and better controlling storm water. The entire site also was paved to control fugitive dust emissions and ensure proper storm-water drainage flow.

Underground asphalt tanks were removed and replaced with three new aboveground vertical asphalt tanks. The asphalt cement tanks and the hot oil heater were placed on a concrete slab with concrete containment walls to ensure there could not be an accidental release of material.

Vulcan also improved the aesthetic appearance of the Santa Ana facility by replacing a chain-link fence with a concrete block wall and by planting flowerbeds and trees around the property.

The Vulcan facility is actively involved with the Santa Ana community and recently helped displaced families of Hurricane Katrina by donating HMA to temporary housing that was set up at the nearby Tusin Marine Base.

With recent site improvements competed in 2004, and a constant devotion to the local community, Vulcan’s Santa Ana plant has been able to work well with it’s nearby neighbors while being active stewards of the environment.

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