Washington State Lawmakers Mull A New Layer Of Oversight For Asphalt Facilities

Washington State Lawmakers Mull A New Layer Of Oversight For Asphalt Facilities
A worker drives a roller to pave hot mix asphalt on State Route 520 near 92nd Avenue Northeast. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation.

You can’t get anywhere without asphalt. It’s a crucial component of many of the roads our cars and buses use every day. To deliver people to work, shopping and leisure pursuits, those roads take a pounding hour after hour, day after day. Washingtonians continue to tax themselves to pay for roads upkeep. Vehicle miles driven have ratcheted up dramatically nationally and statewide over the last five decades. All this means that more asphalt is needed to build and maintain roads. Asphalt plants are regulated under the Clean Air Act by the state and regional authorities such as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Kenmore Facility Would Be First Targeted

Now, Washington state lawmakers are trying to grant cities local nuisance abatement authority to further regulate asphalt plants, but industry and labor sources are battling back. The effort stems from local complaints about Kenmore Asphalt Materials, which has operated in that community since the 1960s. Its parent company is CEMEX USA, which in Washington also owns aggregate or asphalt facilities in Maltby, Woodinville, Everett, Arlington, Granite Falls, Burlington, Battleground and Vancouver.

The vehicle in this case is House Bill 1028. It gives cities which do planning under the state Growth Management Act (GMA) the power to approve ordinances restricting some operations of asphalt production facilities, “in response to nuisances or complaints regarding perceived nuisances.”

If the bill were approved, parts of production lines could be ordered to be enclosed, including truck loading areas. The measure also gives cities power to require asphalt-carrying trucks cover their loads.

Noxious Odors A Concern

In a January 9 public hearing of the House Environment Committee, lawmakers heard from supporters and opponents of the bill. The lead sponsor of HB 1028, Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-46), told the committee, “this is a bill about noxious odor abatement. At the north end of Lake Washington, we have a basin and an asphalt plant in an industrial area, adjoining the Burke-Gilman trail,” a heavily used bike route that runs from Seattle to Bothell.

Kenmore Mayor David Baker testified to the committee that, “We consistently hear from our citizens about the noxious odors. It’s frustrating because the community has grown up around it. We need to do more to protect” those “that are living and recreating around the plant.” At a January 5 legislative town hall meeting at Kenmore City Hall, numerous local residents urged Pollet, Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46) and Sen. David Frockt (D-46) to take action about odors they say stem from Kenmore Asphalt Materials.

‘Structured Regulatory Process’ Key

Employers and labor have different perspectives. Tom Gaetz, Senior Advisor to the Washington Asphalt Pavement Association, testified to panel members that the bill “circumvents a lawfully-adopted process employed by the regulatory authorities assigned to these very complicated and complex issues…” He added, they “have the expertise to administer and provide oversight with a very structured regulatory process. This bill provides none of that due process.”

Gaetz added that it “is not good public policy to enact such legislation, that would have a devastating impact on the price of a product that represents 90 percent of publicly-travelled surfaces, because of an unresolved dispute between a city targeting one facility that has operated at the site since 1962.”

Karen Deal is the Environmental and Land Use Director for Lakeside Industries, a hot mix asphalt manufacturing company with Washington facilities along the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, and also in Redmond, Issaquah, Kent, Monroe, Lacey, Aberdeen, Anacortes, Centralia, Longview, Vancouver, Port Angeles, and Port Ludlow.

Keeping And Growing Existing Businesses

She testified that the bill “provides arbitrary and capricious authority to limit and prohibit a single, lawfully operated site. The bill is manifestly contrary” to state GMA planning goals “promoting retention and expansion of existing businesses,” Deal said.

Greg McClure is Vice-President of International Operating Engineers Union 612, which operates in Pierce, Thurston, and Lewis counties, and Pacific County north of the Nacelle River. At the state capitol Tuesday, January 10, he told Lens he is not keen on the new measure. “Operating Engineers Union 612 has significant concerns about HB 1028. We’re going to be monitoring it, and participating in the process.”

Possible proliferation under the law of varying and uncoordinated local or county regulations of facilities which serve the road construction industry, such as asphalt plants, are inimical to fair play and economic growth, McClure said. He added this has been the case in Thurston County, where a county ordinance now prohibits the use of recycled asphalt products.

Labor Is Concerned, Too

McClure said, “my members are the acme of environmentalism. They hunt, fish, camp.” But legislation and regulation of industry needs to be based on quantifiable data, and shouldn’t be allowed to supersede overarching compliance frameworks around which employers have already expended time and money to comply, he said.

Last year, Pollet sponsored HB 2385. It would have required asphalt production facilities to get an updated Clean Air Act permit if they were operating under one that was issued before 1996 and was “less stringent” than current conditions. The bill did not reach a vote in the House Environment Committee.

The unofficial Washington state legislative cut-off calendar for 2017, still be to be formally approved, would require bills to clear policy committees of origin by February 17, and clear their chamber of origin by March 8.

According to the National Asphalt Paving Association (NAPA), 94 percent of U.S. roads are surfaced wth asphalt, and many are completely asphalt. NAPA adds that nationwide, the industry produces about 400 million tons of material annually, worth more than $30 billion, and supports 400,000 jobs. By weight, asphalt is almost entirely made of stone, sand, and gravel, and is the most recycled material in the U.S.

Some road contractors say asphalt is superior to concrete, which is also used for roads, because its bitumen binder allows more flexibility and greater conformance to surface imperfections, and because it is easier to remove, repair and recycle.

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