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Story Last modified at 10:49 a.m. on Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eklutna asphalt gets OK to go 24/7
Expanded hours for plant makes for better bids, company says

Alaska Star

The asphalt plant in the Eklutna Inc. gravel pit along the Glenn Highway has permission to operate 24 hours a day for up to 60 days once road construction season starts.

Normally the pit's gravel operation shuts down at night to avoid problems with dust or noise. But night is when summer roadwork happens on the Glenn Highway – crews hit the pavement in the wee hours to reduce congestion when commuters start their days.

Pit operator Alaska Aggregate Products says the increased hours for asphalt production are essential to maintain the company's competitive edge bidding for area road projects.

The municipal planning and zoning commission approved Alaska Aggregate's request for expanded operating hours last month.

The expansion will generate 20 or 30 trucks an hour, said Tim Potter, director of planning with DOWL HKM in Anchorage, the consultant for property owner Eklutna Inc. The all-night operations could begin in May or June, depending on the construction season and bidding climate.

"That's a lot of trucks but not a huge amount," Potter said. "Definitely not any more than what some of the gravel operations have here in town."

Operators say they don't expect any complaints from nearby residents in the village of Eklutna.

Officials involved with the project said they notified residents of the increased operations with door-hangers and heard no objections. Municipal planners said they mailed out 37 public-hearing notices and received no negative comments. The Chugiak Community Council has voiced its support for the expansion, provided standard daytime noise reduction measures are also adopted at night.

One longtime resident, however, says she'll wait to see how things go before voicing her approval.

Elizabeth Mills lives on Haricot Drive, a block or two away from the gravel pit. She's lived in the house for 31 years and was born in the village.

"I don't know if I like it or not," Mills said of the expansion. "I don't think I want to hear that at night when I'm ready to go to bed. I don't want to hear it all the time."

Project managers say they hope Mills and other residents won't hear it much at all. Alaska Aggregate has added speed restrictions and a ban on "jake brakes," Potter said. The company will sweep and water dust on the frontage road that leads to the pit. Instead of those shrill backup beepers, Alaska Aggregate uses a white-noise generator that makes a growling sound that doesn't travel as far, Potter said. The gravel side of the operation, which tends to generate more noise, will be limited to days only – only the asphalt side of the operation will run nights.

The last time the plant worked through the night was in 2008, when the facility got an exception from its operating permit to run 24 hours a day for 12 days.

The plant only used eight days of overnight operations and got no complaints, Potter said. "It was funny ... a resident in the village called the city and said, 'I'm a little bit nervous because there's no noise going on over there so what's happening?'"

Municipal land-use enforcement officer Tim Hamrick lives in the Mat-Su and keeps an eye on the operation as he drives past the gravel pit on his way to work and home. He doesn't plan to make special trips to stop by the Eklutna pit at night unless he's required to or the operation draws complaints.

Most of the gravel operators, including several in the Chugiak area besides the Eklutna pit, have been "pretty darn good," Hamrick said. "I don't get a whole lot of complaints and I'm kind of happy about that."

While it's hard to say now how many of those 60 days Alaska Aggregate will need, it's unlikely the company will need all of them, Potter said.

That time span allows the company the latitude it needs to bid on contracts adjacent to their pit along the Glenn, Potter said. Say 10 road-construction jobs come out and Alaska Aggregate wins two. If Anchorage Aggregate gets two jobs, the 60-day operations window gives them 30 days to complete each project, and allows some wiggle room for rain or other weather conditions that might slow things down.

"If they don't have that number of days to operate with then they can't contractually obligate themselves in a bid," Potter said.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, March 10, 2011.