Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Asphalt Article December 28, 2000
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There have always been "Not in My Back Yard" activists. And, with cities spreading relentlessly into the surrounding countryside, there are more back yards all the time. What once was open countryside is becoming prime commercial and residential property. Industrial areas are evolving into suburban office parks. All of this means that building new industrial facilities, even upgrading existing ones, can be a contentious process these days.


In the asphalt pavement industry, hot-mix producers and zoning boards find themselves working out ways to mitigate the impact of asphalt plants on the neighborhoods that surround them. When an owner approaches the process with a vision of an environmentally friendly facility and some attention to detail, the concerns of neighbors and potential neighbors can often be addressed. Investing in both aesthetics and proper plant operations can make a plant a more desirable corporate citizen.


The education process


The public has little or no knowledge of hot-mix plants, which means that companies need to do some groundwork. Educating the public (whether that "public" is a zoning board, a group of neighbors, or an environmental activist group) is an important first step. And there is no one to do it-no one who cares enough-except the owner of the plant.


It's easy, and dangerous, to lose sight of how little the public knows about hot mix. You know, because you're in the business, that a hot-mix plant needs to be within a few miles of the roads that need to be built. But the people who use those roads don't know that until you tell them.


A common assumption among people who hear the term "asphalt plant" for the first time is that it must be a refinery. Simply informing people about what happens in a hot-mix facility-mainly, heating rocks and mixing them with hot asphalt cement-makes the thought of an asphalt plant less threatening. Adding details about baghouses, storm water plans, and emission control equipment-all the equipment and processes that are required by the regulatory process-is even more reassuring.


The stories of several companies with recent experience in siting new plants and upgrading existing ones offer practical insights into how to avoid headaches in dealing with concerned neighbors. Incidentally, all the companies in this article have won NAPA Ecological Awards.


Heading upscale


Duval Asphalt Products Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., had been operating a hot-mix facility in an industrial area since 1983. In recent years, however, the plant has been surrounded by a suburb with upscale office parks. When the time came to replace the aging equipment, the company took it as an opportunity to incorporate the latest technology, create an attractive environment, and tell its story to the public.


The new drum mix plant, which produces 400 tons an hour, can process both reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and other types of recycled material (such as roofing shingles) simultaneously. The systems for storm water drainage and for control of dust and emissions are state-of-the-art. The tank farm for liquid asphalt storage is all-electric, reducing the need for storage of fuel oil on site.


Adding to the aesthetic appeal of the facility are the 30-ft oaks, which Duval selected individually and brought in from a tree farm 50 miles away. The company paved the entire lot and put in other landscaping touches. And they had the new facility painted with Duval's corporate colors and logos, so that the appearance of the entire facility is harmonious.


Even casual passers-by see a pleasing facade. Duval goes further, inviting school groups, college engineering classes, state and local transportation agencies, and others to the facility for tours. The office includes a media center with pavement samples, a large-screen TV, and a VCR. Company officials give presentations about hot-mix asphalt construction and about the company.


"For Duval, exceeding the environmental norm is a corporate philosophy," says Mike Burns, executive vice president and general manager. "We pride ourselves on our asphalt facilities, the vehicles we drive, and the office we work in; it's an attitude with us. It helps in our relationship with the community. And our guys are proud to come to work every day."


In fact, Duval has won or been a finalist in NAPA's Ecological Award competition four times in six years.
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Part of a park


Rason Asphalt Inc. of Glen Cove, N.Y., has been in the same waterside location on Long Island since 1971. The company revamped its entire operation over the course of several years. The facility is situated on a picturesque canal, which opens into the serene beauty of Hempstead Harbor. It borders a vast community park and athletic fields. Both commercial barges and pleasure boats ply the waterway. The residences nestled in the hillsides surrounding the harbor look out across sparkling waters, open park land, and Rason Asphalt's hot-mix asphalt (HMA) facility.


Being a good neighbor in this location requires a multifaceted approach to both aesthetics and environmentally friendly operations. In a comprehensive site-improvement program, Rason Asphalt paved the yard at the Glen Cove facility and installed a New York state-approved storm water discharge system.


The company converted the entire facility to the use of clean, efficient natural gas and installed state-of-the-art emission-control devices including a dust knockout box and a baghouse. A spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plan was designed and implemented to prevent any discharge of oil into wetlands or waterways.


The company also added decorative fencing and extensive landscaping, including trees and flowers. So effective was Rason Asphalt's site improvement program, the facility was awarded the Good Neighbor Award by the city of Glen Cove.


University neighbors


Manatt Inc., Ames, Iowa, operates in a university community "with lots of people looking over our shoulders," according to company president Brad Manatt. "Our operation needs to be impeccable."


The facility incorporates the latest baghouse control technology. The drum design is such that neither asphalt cement nor RAP will ever come into contact with the burner flame. Emissions from the silos and tower are vented into the burner combustion chamber, where they are incinerated. All oil and asphalt storage tanks are contained within a 4-ft-high concrete wall. Storm water runoff is controlled by grading the site. The facility yard and access road are paved to control fugitive dust, and dust-suppressant agents and a water truck also help in that effort.


The aesthetics of the site are impressive. The landscaping includes mature trees and carefully tended lawns. Making the facility even more attractive are a waterfall coursing over quartzite boulders, a rock garden, and a decorative pond with fountain.


Company employees performed all the landscaping chores. "We've got a team of employees in Ames that are behind us 100%," says Manatt.


Save the tortoises


Relocating a facility can present a different set of challenges. When APAC-Florida of Sarasota moved from a downtown Sarasota location to an 82-acre site, the company took an environmentally responsible approach.


Four endangered gopher tortoises were found on the site and safely relocated under permit to an area on the north side of the property, away from the hot-mix facility.


More than 400 trees were preserved or planted on the site. This figure includes the relocation of 71 oak and palm trees and the planting of 188 new trees.


The site includes a 16-acre lake in a pit left from a previous quarry operation. The company created a buffer area 50 ft wide between the facility and the private road that runs past the front gate. An additional buffer area was left undisturbed on the west and north sides of the plant.


The entire site is surrounded by a swale system to deliver rainfall runoff to a 10-acre retention basin for treatment. The five-acre plant site is completely paved, including stockpile areas.


Lessons learned


The key to siting a new plant or winning the permits to upgrade an old one is maintaining good community relations. An investment in maintaining the plant's environmental controls, together with some attention to aesthetics, is the best insurance policy you can have for the day when you may want to replace or relocate your facility.


Industry insiders know that a well-run hot-mix facility can blend right into the landscape. One NAPA member tells of how he ran a highly public gauntlet of zoning hearings, finally winning approval to build a new plant. Time passed, and he bumped into one of the neighbors who had initially been skeptical about having the facility in his area.


"When are you going to start building the new plant?" the neighbor asked.


"It’s been up and running for two months," the owner replied.

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