Not Enough Rocks? That’s Just How We Roll!

California has a lot of recent experience with shortages. The state has been short of money, short of water, short of jobs. But there’s a new shortage looming that could spell real trouble. I refer to a recent story in the Fresno Bee that describes a potential statewide shortage of rocks. Really, a report by the California Geological Survey says we might not have enough rocks, or sand, to keep up with demand from construction projects.

The report also says that California is going to need a lot of sand and gravel (aka “aggregate”) over the next several decades: 12 billion tons to be exact. Let me repeat that: 12 billion tons!!! And only a third of that is available from quarries that already have permits, hence the potential shortage.

Now, I recently paid a visit to the Inland Empire of Southern California – and I’m here to tell you, they have plenty of rocks down there. Sand, too. But, of course, it’s not that simple. You need the right kind of rocks and sand for construction projects and you need it in the right place, because moving a few thousand tons of rocks from the quarry to the project can get a little pricey. The farther you have to move it, the more expensive it gets. Bottom line is, we need more quarries to keep up with the expected demand — or we could come up short of rocks. Ideally, quarries are close to the projects, but no one wants one in their back yard, so deciding where to put new ones isn’t easy.

The abstract from the report reads, in part: “This information is intended to help planners and decision-makers balance the need for construction aggregate with the many other competing land use issues in their jurisdictions, and to provide for adequate supplies of construction aggregate to meet future needs.” In fact, there is another recently released report that details all the deferred maintenance on local roads and bridges in California.

I am sure that when a new quarry is proposed or approved somewhere, somebody will suggest there can’t be a shortage of rocks because someone else’s head appears to be full of them. Making decisions that have direct impact on people’s lives and homes can’t be easy. The rock shortage merely illustrates a truism of government: Leadership requires making hard decisions, and having a thick skin doesn’t hurt either, because you never know when someone is going to start throwing rocks.

About: Gregg Fishman:
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.

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