Mark Wilson, of Canadian Sailings, introduces us to a booming trade in aggregate from British Columbia, made possible by ocean shipping. The article is a bit dated – the Orca project outside of Port McNeil is up and running; pictured to the right – but otherwise a fine insight on the recent developments of aggregate industry in BC. You can also visit the BC Government’s website to read a summary of the aggregate business in BC.
B.C ‘rocks’ California’s world
Aggregates shipments for construction industry set to increase
British Columbia advantage in supplying sand, gravel and crushed rock to the California construction industry
Ais the depletion of conveniently located local sources and the high cost of trucking from further afield. The volume of ship deliveries from Canada’s west coast to the huge market to the south is set to increase.
An established major supplier to the San Francisco Bay area is Construction Aggregates Ltd. (CAL), whose sprawling operation at Sechelt, B.C., mines both sand and the granite that underlies it. The sand is a relic of a glacier that once filled what is now Sechelt Inlet and its subsidiary fjords.
CAL ships 1.5 million tonnes of sand and crushed rock to California out of an annual output of six million tonnes. The U.S. customer is Hanson Aggregates North America, which pays for the marine haul from Sechelt.
The ship traffic currently provides employment for two CSL International vessels – the CSL Acadian (74,517 deadweight tons) and the Pioneer (37,448 DWT). Both ships are selfunloaders.
The CSL Acadian, which is owned by the shipping line, was built in 1982 and received a new forebody this year. While CSL Acadian was off undergoing surgery, she was temporarily replaced by the 23-year-old Nelvana (74,974 DWT).
Nelvana is two years younger than Pioneer, which is one of the ships in the CSL International fleet that are managed and operated on behalf of other owners.
In 2000, CAL installed a quadrant-style shiploader at Sechelt, replacing a barge loadout. The present facility has a loading rate of 4,500 tonnes of sand, crushed rock or small stone an hour and is fed by a 1.1 kilometre conveyor from the mine.
The company, which employs 100 people in a three-shift operation, has reserves to last 50 years, at the current rate of extraction.
Competitive transportation costs are only part of the explanation for CAL being a player in the California market. Another is the strength of the crushed rock that the company supplies; this allows for a lesser amount of cement to be used in producing high-strength concrete, and cement is the expensive ingredient in concrete.
Sechelt aggregate was specified for the Skyway section of the multibillion-dollar San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. The Skyway section is a pre-cast segmental bridge 3.2 kilometres in length and it required the highest strength concrete ever used by CalTrans (the California Department of Transportation). Due to the mass of the bridge’s concrete foundations, tight limits were set on the rate of heat release during curing.
Sechelt aggregate also went into the 452 pre-cast bridge spans, some weighing 708 tonnes, which were lifted into place to form the Skyway deck.
The CAL mine, which was worked between 1942 and 1963 and reopened in 1974, gained expanded sales markets with the installation of a shiploader as bulk carriers made it economical to serve California. The company has even shipped sand to Hawaii.
from Australia or China. In 2002, the bulk carrier Skaustrand loaded 16,824 tonnes of sand from the Sechelt mine for a now golf course being built in Kekaha, Hawaii. The sand, which met U.S. Golf Association standards, was used in the construction of greens, tee boxes and bunkers on a private golf course for the Charles Schwab Group. Previously, most of the golf course sand in Hawaii was importedThe Sechelt sand, which was delivered to Kawaihae Harbour, on the Big Island, after a voyage of two weeks, took four days to unload.
In addition to ocean-going ships, the Sechelt mine produces sand and aggregate for the Vancouver-area construction industry. Tugs and barges for this movement are provided by affiliate Ocean Construction Supplies. Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, the North American operation of Heidelberg Cement AG, of Germany, owns both companies. At the north end of Sechelt Inlet, a subsidiary of French cement colossus Lafarge SA has a sand and gravel operation that supplies the Vancouver area by barge. The pit has been worked intermittently since the 1950s.
On the spine of the peninsula separating Sechelt Inlet from the Strait of Georgia are two potential mine sites that Pan Pacific Aggregates PLC plans to develop, pending provincial government approval. The company proposes shipping limestone, dolomite and industrial minerals to California, using deep-sea vessels. Pan Pacific has the option of barging from Sechelt Inlet to a shiploading terminal on the outer coast. Alternatively, the company can deliver directly to a shiploading terminal by means of an 11 -kilometre conveyor.
Another development plan is that of Polaris Mineral Corp., of Vancouver, which has raised $80 million towards opening a sand and gravel mine on Vancouver Island and building an unloading dock in the target market of California.
The attraction is the San Francisco Bay area where aggregate prices have risen to nearly US$11.50 a ton as sand and gravel pits within easy reach have been depleted. There is a similar situation in the Los Angeles basin, where aggregate prices have increased 11 per cent.
Polaris’s initial plan is to mine a property near Port McNeill, at the north end of Vancouver Island, for sand and gravel. Production may start this year. A longer-term venture is to quarry granite near Port Alberni, which sits at the head of a long fjord on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Development costs for the Orca project are estimated at more than $50 million, with another $36 million needed for the unloading dock in California.
And then there is Texada Island, where three limestonequarrying operations are helping fulfil an Indian legend that the island will disappear. Texada, the largest of B.C.’s Gulf Islands, is visibly being carved apart, in part to supply the U.S.
Ash Grove Cement West Inc., at Blubber Bay, is the second largest limestone quarrying operation in Canada. The company supplies limestone to its cement plant in Seattle and also delivers aggregates and agricultural limestone to Puget Sound. Chemical-grade limestone goes to Portland, Ore.
Imperial Limestone Ltd., near Van Anda, is another U.S. company, based in Seattle. It has created the notched profile of the northern end of Texada Island that can be viewed from the mainland at Powell River. Lafarge Corporation Texada Quarrying Ltd., north of Gillies Bay, ranks next to the Blubber Bay quarry in size and is a source of limestone for Lafarge cement plants in Seattle and near Vancouver.