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Region imports rock despite plentiful local supply

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The San Diego region is paying almost double the statewide average for aggregate. Aggregate materials include sand, gravel and crushed stone, and are used as base material under roads and rails to provide a solid foundation. Aggregate is also the key ingredient in concrete and asphalt.

The state projects an 83 percent shortfall in aggregate supply for meeting the region's 50-year demand.

These sobering facts, reported by SANDAG in a recent transportation publication, seem inconceivable to a region built on rocky hills and mountains. Some have compared San Diego's aggregate crisis to a man sitting in a boat on a lake, dying of thirst while waiting for someone to bring him bottled Fiji water.

In 2004, when voters approved the 40-year extension of TransNet, a $14 billion congestion relief program was launched for public transit, highway, and local street and road improvements.

"It's pretty straightforward," said Jason Mordhorst, vice president of Hazard Construction, also a board member for the Engineering & General Contractors Association (EGCA). "Widening freeways, building new roads and repaving the existing highways for San Diego's transportation improvement projects create a huge need for basic construction materials, including aggregate. It doesn't make sense to import what we already have all around us: rock and sand."

Disappearing quarries

According to SANDAG, "San Diego County has enough aggregate to fill its construction needs, but much of it is found in environmentally sensitive areas or on military bases with restricted access."

"We have watched aggregate quarries within San Diego county drop from 48 in 1980 to only 12 sites today," said Kyle Nelson, president of Cass Construction and treasurer of EGCA. "And I'm told the number of active quarries will continue to decline to eight within the next five years."

With no new mining permits issued in San Diego County in the last two decades, and dozens of existing sites now closed, we are rapidly approaching a complete exhaustion of permitted native material sources.

"It's there," said EGCA board member Dain DeForest of Vulcan Materials, of the native aggregate needed by homeowners, cities and other public agencies, "but it is an uphill battle to get permission to go get it."

Nearly exhausted aggregate sources currently exist in Santee, Lakeside, Miramar, Carroll Canyon and Mission Valley.

"After watching aggregate prices soar disproportionately past statewide levels, and after hearing over and over how difficult, expensive and time-consuming it is to get any new quarry permitted, we decided it was time for informed citizens to speak up," said EGCA Executive Director Debbie Day. "So we began to talk to the people most in the know: our own engineering contractor members and the EGCA affiliate members who provide these materials."

As a result, according to Day, EGCA is interacting with public agencies and industry groups providing information and strategies to find local solutions to the county's dwindling supply of aggregate. Regional challenges to be addressed

"To make regional aggregate prices comparable to statewide prices, more cost efficient local sources of aggregate need to be identified," said Jeff Anderson, vice president of Vadnais Corp. and an EGCA board member. "The region looks to its local leaders, assembled on the SANDAG Board and Transportation Committee, to provide solutions to the diminishing supply of local aggregate."

"There are land use policy implications and environmental impacts related to closing and opening of aggregate sites," said EGCA public works liaison Dan Fauchier, vice president of The ReAlignment Group, "but the region's needs for viable transportation beg for cost efficient sources of aggregate, and that means local aggregate. The environmental issues can be worked out collaboratively with all stakeholders. Those of us who care about air quality know that excessive shipping and truck traffic bringing in all that imported rock and sand is not the answer to the region's quality-of-life needs. We must provide for ourselves locally."

"Construction managers work for the public agencies that are struggling to cope with these huge price increases brought about by local shortages and the need to import most of our rock and sand," said Joseph Smith, vice president of PBS&J and president of the Construction Managers Association of America, "so we've joined our voices to the EGCA coalition both as taxpayers and as professionals charged with helping public agencies control costs of construction."

"Viable solutions must be found," said Mike Shaw, president of Perry & Shaw and vice president of EGCA. "The EGCA supports SANDAG's efforts to identify local sand and aggregate sources and make them available for local use. Good public policy must be supported by forward-thinking citizens."

For information visit egca.org and sandag.org.

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