Reduced supply of rock has real consequences for development

A supply issue of vital resources is a problem for entire community that will end up paying more

Rock Truck
Andrea Smith
ANDREA SMITH Southwest Washington Contractors Association

Clark County is among one of the fastest growing counties in the state. With a rapid increase in population, new development should be quick to follow. Whether it’s construction of new housing units, office space or retail space, the construction industry is struggling to keep up with increased demand.

While the workforce shortage issue is a big factor in rising construction costs, it’s not the only issue plaguing the industry. Many of us are familiar with the consequences of the steel tariffs, but there are other raw materials threatened by the unintended consequences of governmental policy decisions. Aggregate resources (including rock, concrete, etc.) are among those raw materials in Clark County. A supply issue of these vital resources isn’t just a problem for those operating companies reliant on these materials, it’s a problem for our entire community that will end up paying more.

To put into context, aggregate resource prices have nearly doubled in the last five years. This can add significant expense to the price of construction projects, such as new home construction. In fact, SWCA and BIA member data shows aggregate costs per new home construction can total anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000. To some, that may not seem like a significant cost to worry about. However, if the current trend continues and the cost of aggregate doubles again in five years, it will only serve to price more Clark County citizens out of homeownership.

According to the National Association of Homebuilders’ Priced-Out Estimate for 2019, for every $1,000 of added cost on a home, 776 people are priced out of purchasing that home. In a time when housing affordability is of upmost concern, running the risk of pricing more people out of the market seems irrational.

Residential building isn’t the only industry affected, as virtually the entire construction industry is impacted. The SWCA compiled member data and found the following:

School construction projects require an average of 30,000 tons of aggregate materials, 882 trucks for transport and total cost is approximately $450,000.

Medical clinic projects on average require 25,000 tons of aggregate materials, which would require about 770 trucks and cost approximately $375,000.

A much larger project, such as a distribution center or manufacturing plant, averages 119,000 tons of aggregate resources, resulting in 3,606 trucks and totaling $1.8 million.

If the trend continues, and the cost doubles in the next five years, imagine how much your children will have to pay for their first home, how far the taxpayers’ dollars are stretched to build new schools, and the possible increase in goods and services to cover the overhead of building a new facility.

The unfortunate reality is if the resources cannot be sourced locally, contractors will have to purchase aggregate materials from elsewhere. The result? Hundreds more trucks on our already congested I-5 and I-205 bridges and public roadways. It’s also interesting to speculate the environmental impacts associated with longer trucking routes.

The good news is we don’t have to depend on outsourced aggregate resources. We can support operation of local quarries’ surface mining, which is a highly regulated industry. Not only do quarry operators have to go through a rigorous permitting process to open or extend surface mining operations, they also must answer to multiple regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources and Southwest Clean Air Agency.

It often takes seven to 10 years and well over $1 million to open a new quarry. When a surface mining permit is finally granted, special conditions can be attached to its operation. In one case, a quarry operator has stated they have 122 special conditions attached to one permit. Two examples of special conditions are maximum load counts and limitations on hours of operation. Load count limitations do not consider demand and is instead an arbitrary number imposed by the county. The hours of operation limitation forces quarry to open late and close early. These two examples working together simultaneously can severely limit the supply of aggregate available at any one time.

Quarry operators and contractors alike are outstanding members of our local community and want to ensure the county has an adequate supply of aggregate. These individuals don’t want to drive up construction costs, increase congestion on roadways, or emit more greenhouse gases due to longer trucking distances; they simply want to supply locally what the market is demanding.

It is possible to live in harmony with quarries so long as we understand the benefits reaped by the community through reclamation efforts. The Fisher Pit was once an important supplier of aggregate resources and now it’s the future home to Columbia Palisades, an 84.2-acre community campus along Highway 14. It’s because of responsible quarry operations that our community can now enjoy this new development.

Andrea Smith is the marketing and government relations director for the Southwest Washington Contractors Association. She can be reached at andrea@swca.org.

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