It’s called the NIMBY effect and no global industry is more universally challenged by “Not In My Back Yard” opposition than the mining and quarry sectors. Except perhaps the nuclear power industry, and in either sector, rarely is the opposition justified.
It’s not a rare occurrence that environmental hysteria over gravel quarries and other mineral and metal mining operations can easily equal that of the “China Syndrome” phobia faced by the nuclear power sector.
While the new self-appointed green economy, carbon-zero moguls such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are spinning the nuclear power angle to their advantage and boosting local mining operations with state-of-the-art nuclear reactors in Wyoming, the aggregates industry doesn’t have such notorious billionaire guardian angels working on their behalf to sway public opinion.
The rather short-sighted, and frequently local but vocal minority NIMBY attitude, persists anywhere hard rock and essential mineral and rare earth element miners operate, ranging from Greenland to British Columbia to Lousiana and every operation in between.
Too often hard rock operations face costly shutdowns and legal obstacles from the uber green-minded folks who seem to think that omelets can be made without cracking some eggs. Even existing aggregate operations, long approved by the highest regulatory authorities, face never-ending opposition when doomed-to-fail but affectively obstructive and costly legal action is initiated by the nebulous NIMBY crowd for whom the larger societal needs are rarely a concern.
Hard rock production is essential to repair the crumbling US infrastructure that’s earned a “D” from the ASCE American Society of Civil Engineers for most of the past decade, and the same sad state is true for some North American metros in Canada. Booming construction up and down the continent requires quality concrete production, and quality concrete requires an adequate local supply of sand and gravel aggregates. Period.
But that doesn’t stop local malcontents from crawling out of the woodwork, or in this case more aptly from under their rocks. In many cases, unrelenting NIMBYists seem determined to bite the very industrial hand that feeds them, the local aggregate operation that creates lucrative jobs for their own town folk, and steers critical revenue to the parish, county, and state in the way of taxes, and a host of other punitive “fees”.
These overreaching policies make profitable hard rock operations harder as we discussed here at the Resource Erector’s blog concerning the critical US domestic mining situation last October 2021. And there’s no end in sight for NIMBYism in 2022.
Not that the aggregate sector isn’t prepared to overcome these challenges. For seasoned mining and aggregate companies, overcoming the ubiquitous NIMBY objectors is just Business as Usual.
NIMBY Hurdles Are an Aggregate Industry Standard
Southern Aggregates is Louisiana’s largest sand and gravel producer for bustling metros including Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and New Orleans. The inevitable opposition they’re facing now in the 2-year battle with their own home parish is a case in point.
2 years of expensive litigation and lost production revenue is the toll Southern Agg is paying in order to meet the enormous demand for gravel in the ongoing US construction boom. The south especially is flourishing, and Louisiana is right up there with Florida, Texas, and Georgia for construction investment spending in 2022. By “expanding their footprint” at an existing approved gravel mining operation in East Feliciana Parish in Louisiana the company will be able to access nearly ⅓ of the sand and gravel they already own the rights for.
Unless local NIMBYists get their way. But how important is it to ramp up sand and gravel production in the state, right here and right now?
Louisiana in 2022 is dealing with 2 simultaneous construction booms. With single-family housing surging in the state, as it is across the rest of the country, new LNG (liquid natural gas) and energy facilities are creating a separate but equally demanding industrial construction boom.
“We will be the LNG capital of the world here in Southwest Louisiana with more plants in the area than anywhere else in the world,” – George Swift with the Southwest Louisiana Economic Alliance.- SWLA Projects Report 2021
But not so fast George. NIMBY activists in the neighborhood are now playing the old reliable “wetland encroachment” card. Expanding gravel mining operations in the parish will require the use of a mere 12 acres of designated wetlands for building a new access road, and that’s all the NIMBY team needed to throw a monkey wrench into the beneficial if ambitious LNG works envisioned by the optimistic SWLA.
Once the magic “wetlands” word is invoked, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit is required. A vocal minority of East Feliciana residents were quick to take the opportunity to voice complaints, but the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury wisely refused to take action at the year’s end after their December 20, 2021 meeting. Since Southern Aggregates has not even undertaken any work at all in the expansion area yet, no action was required.
“Our legal adviser said that if we shut them down, it would cost us millions of dollars,” – Parish Manager Jody Moreau – The Advocate- East Feliciana residents upset about gravel pit tearing up roads.
But apparently, the NIMBY movement can be perilous to political careers in East Feliciana. The former Parish Manager John Rouchon still insists that the company should not have been able to do anything at all on the approved site without a “Police Jury floodplain permit”. Rouchon has since been ousted by the much more pragmatic current Parish Manager Moreau.
But wetlands, rare buckwheat flowers, and ancient burial grounds are just some of the hurdles that persistent NIMBYists will use to shut down essential mineral and aggregate operations, as we found when we looked north to British Columbia.
Would you believe the NIMBY rallying cry up there in Prince George is:
Stop the Gravel Pit to Save… the trailer Park?
The current NIMBY targets up in Prince George, BC are the colorfully named Rolling Mix Concrete and their operating partner Rock’n Roll Aggregates. Local D. Marsh opined at the Prince George Citizen chastising the apparent silent local majority’s approval of the company’s expansion of operations.
“By not phoning to oppose gravel pit plans says you wouldn’t mind having this happen in your neighborhood.”
Citizen Marsh’s slovenly grammar aside, at issue here, is a 100-meter setback from land zoned for residential use, ie the Evergreen Trailer Park. That area holds nearly one-third of the sand and gravel reserve that Rolling Mix would have been able to mine. Rolling Mix pays a hefty royalty to Rock’n’Roll to extract material from the site.
Yearly volume exceeds 100,000 cubic meters of sand and gravel, according to court filings. The material was to be extracted to “ensure the continuation of supply for concrete manufacture” by Rolling Mix, the company said in a recent court notice.
The dispute with the city of Prince George, a metro that itself relies on sand and gravel production from the site, goes way back to October 2020. Operations were shut down under a stop-work order issued by the city but Rolling Mix is now close to an out-of-court settlement after arguing that the BC Mines Act takes precedence.
As it always has.
No word yet on whether or not Rolling Mix will ever be able to recover lost revenue from the city’s shutdown that in all fairness was a 2-year long lose-lose situation for all parties thanks to the unavoidable NIMBY effect.
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