The Missouri River took no prisoners when it surged downstream in March, blowing out levees, knocking out bridges and washing out roads and highways.
In Missouri, farmers and rural communities might be hard pressed to see much upside, but those who mine for crushed stone can find a sliver of good in a river of woe. Quarries across the state are seeing increased demand for rock and aggregate material needed for emergency repairs to highways, railroads, bridges and river infrastructure.
“You are going to see a lot of demand,” said Morgan Mundell, executive manager of the Missouri Limestone Producers Association. “These roads have washed out. There’s also the construction of levees.”
Footage of emergency levee repairs in southwest Iowa shows the scale of the challenge. Heavy equipment appeared to be located in the Gulf of Mexico, not Thurman, Iowa, as work crews hauled heavy rock and other material to close a breach on a patch of levee that remained above water. The Corps of Engineers spent up to $20 million to repair the levee in two spots, using boats to haul rock from a quarry.
Multiply that over and over — the Corps of Engineers confirmed 47 levee breaches between Omaha, Nebraska, and Atchison County, Missouri, with more levees damaged further south in Holt County and areas around St. Joseph. Then there’s the repairs needed to reopen flooded roads and highways.
State highway departments and county road districts need rock of various sizes to rebuild gravel roads and stabilize bridges and paved highways. Ron Hook, the western district commissioner in Buchanan County, said his district puts down 80 to 100 tons of gravel a week just for regular maintenance in summer months.
“We lay down quite a bit of rock each year,” said Hook, whose district experienced heavy flooding along the Missouri River. “I’ve got 6 to 7 miles of damaged roads. The silt has covered the roads for some time, a couple of months.”
Rock typically is not part of levee construction, said David S. Kolarik, chief of public affairs for the Corps of Engineers district in Kansas City. Due to the extensive nature of this year’s flooding, the Corps of Engineers will use 600,000 tons of rock for emergency repairs to breaches at Mill Creek and the Big Tarkio River in the northwest corner of Missouri.
“It represents the largest amount of rock ever utilized during a flood fight, or for the levee rehabilitation that follows a flood, in the district’s history,” Kolarik said in an email to News-Press NOW.
He said the Kansas City district normally purchases 150,000 tons of rock a year but may need 2 million to 3 million tons in 2019.
Into this breach comes rock quarries, an industry that operates in practically every county in Missouri.
Missouri has 350 limestone mining sites, said Bill Zeaman, chief of the industrial and metallic mineral mining unit for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In Northwest Missouri, one of the largest operators is Norris Quarries, with sites in Buchanan, Andrew, DeKalb, Holt and Nodaway counties.
“We have some in downtown Kansas City. We have some in areas as rural as you could possibly get,” Zeaman said.
Few quarry operators wanted to talk on the record, although some confirmed that business has picked up. Martin Marietta’s quarry operations normally supply rock closer to Kansas City, but the company has responded to the increased demand in flood-damaged areas.
“We are shipping more materials in the northern area than we have in the past just because of some supply constraints,” said Matt Rosenthal, vice president and general manager for Martin Marietta in Kansas City. “The biggest source of aggregate tonnage is to the railroads. They have seen a huge need for their rail lines.”
The news hasn’t been all rosy for quarries. Mondell, with the limestone producers trade group in Missouri, said some quarry sites also suffered from the flooding because it curtailed the transport of heavy loads on barges or rail lines.
“There is a detrimental side to that,” he said.