Counties can own hot mix plants, but only after feasibility studies
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Whether to establish a plant to produce liquid asphalt — “hot mix” — for local use is up to the Obion County Commission, according to an official.
Rodney Carmichael, director of Tennessee County Highway Officials Association, said the General Assembly enacted legislation two years ago that gives county governments authority to own and operate such a plant.
“It allows local government to be involved in the production of asphalt, if that’s what a county commission and citizens want to do,” he said.
Carmichael credits state Rep. Phillip Pinion, who sponsored the bill, with getting the legislation passed in the House of Representatives. “He did what others have tried to do for 30 years,” he said.
Pinion said the Tennessee Road Builders Association and special interests opposed the bill. “We took them on and we beat them,” he said. “Obion County and Dyer County and Lake County, if they so choose, can now own and operate a hot mix plant by law.”
Carmichael said the law contains financial safeguards such as requiring a feasibility study and knowing the costs of building a plant and the price of hot mix produced locally as compared with private sector prices.
“It requires that, after a feasibility study, (there be) a public hearing be held. It also requires a two-thirds majority vote of a county commission before a county can proceed with it,” he said. “Those safeguards are in place for the taxpayers’ sake. We worked out a bill that will allow counties for the first time since 1976 to even look at the possibility of having an asphalt facility.”
The dates the bill passed the House and Senate and when it was signed into law are not available. However, a spokesman for the Tennessee Legislative Services Office in Nashville said the act is listed in the Public Chapter 344 series.
“It allows local government, after a financial feasibility study is done, to enter into the purchasing and operation of an asphalt manufacturing facility,” Carmichael said. “Two or three counties have already done feasibility studies.”
Carmichael said that before the bill was passed, a 1976 law prohibited counties from owning or operating a hot mix plant. The association had worked 10 years to get corrective legislation passed. Then, by working with Pinion and other committee members, a bill was crafted, and it passed the General Assembly.
“Our association, which represents all 95 counties, is very pleased with this bill,” he said. “We got a bill we’re all happy with and satisfied with. It’s a great piece of legislation.”
Carmichael warns that a hot mix plant is an “expensive proposition,” and not for everyone. A county has to study it indepth and be reasonably certain it would be financially feasible. And oil-based products are tremendously costly.
“The production of limestone rock is higher now because of inflationary factors,” he said. “But if the county commission in Obion County wants to look at having a plant of its own, they can have a feasibility study done and go from there.”
Obion County highway superintendent Gary Lofton said he’s already requested a feasibility study.
Budget Committee chairman and county commissioner Danny Jowers said a county-owned plant won’t happen soon. “We haven’t really studied it fully to see what the cost will be and the potential savings. It may take a year to do that,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford it. Even if you own a plant, you’ve still got to buy the components to go into the mix. Oil is high.”
Published in The Messenger on 2.22.08
hot mix, Tennessee