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Supplier has concrete plan to fix construction quandary

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Meeting resistance: Mike Bierman at the quarry site at Lolly’s Well, Smith’s Parish (Photograph by Duncan Hall)

Bermuda’s oldest construction material supply company is sitting on 1 million cubic yards of provable reserves of limestone aggregate but has been denied planning permission to dig it out, its owner says.

Mike Bierman operates Bierman Concrete Products Ltd, which was established on Boxing Day in 1946 by his parents, Herbert and Stella.

He said Bierman’s can satisfy current construction industry demand for ready mix concrete and concrete block – but says the answer to the island’s anticipated future demand lies 80 feet below the surface of the quarry at Lolly’s Well in Smith’s Parish.

Mr Bierman said he has approached Planning several times over the years for permission to lower the quarry by 80 feet to give access to the material in the ground – making presentations and showing his plans to officials in the department – but each time has been met with a denial.

Mr Bierman said the six-acre quarry sits on a flat plateau, surrounded by 50-foot cliffs, and is 110 feet above sea level.

Mr Bierman said: “If government allows me, I can get my hands - within hours - on one million cubic yards of good quality limestone aggregate.

“But that is only if they allow me to take the quarry down to the level I want to, which Planning has so far resisted.”

Mr Bierman said he doesn’t currently have a planning application in play.

But he added: “I have been talking to them on and off for years. They well know what I want to do.”

Aside from the 11-acre property in Smith’s, Mr Bierman owns a 20-acre site at Ferry Reach. Permissions for that property have also been denied by Planning. Nothing is being taken out of that site at present.

He added: “One million cubic yards of material can be pulled out there, too. In time, it can be replanted with cedars – it could be the largest cedar forest in Bermuda.”

Mr Bierman was speaking after news of dramatic increases in the prices of ready-mix concrete and concrete block being charged by SAL Trading Limited, a major supplier to the island’s construction industry.

Those increases, of up to 50 per cent, have been attributed to a need by Island Construction – SAL’s supplier – to import aggregate after their long-time source of hard rock at Wilkinson Quarry was mined out.

They have prompted fears of job losses as contractors ponder walking away from planned projects, and homeowners reconsider their plans because of the increased cost of building.

Bierman Concrete Products will also soon increase its prices (see related story).

Mr Bierman said the Lolly’s Well quarry site is similarly mined out. Bierman’s is supplied with material by Precision LMT, a company that excavates construction sites island-wide before delivering material to Bierman’s, which processes it into aggregate for making concrete and block.

The 68-year-old company owner said Bierman’s occasionally purchases hard rock aggregate from Island Construction, and on occasion buys granite from East End Asphalt, in order to “salt” ready-mix concrete to a small degree, should specifications require.

He said the supply of material from Precision is sufficient to satisfy construction industry demand for ready-mix concrete and block “for now”.

But he said: “If things go the way we think, we may not be able to keep up; (that is) if a couple of hotels are built at the same time, if houses are built. And we hear there may be big infrastructure projects coming.

“Just going out and getting excavated materials is not going to cut it.”

Should such projects go ahead without permission to mine the reserves at Lolly’s Well, Mr Bierman said, the result could be chaos.

“We would simply not be able to keep up with demand and you would have one company with horribly expensive imported aggregate controlling the entire industry – and that would be very, very bad news.”

On the other hand, permission to drop the quarry by 80 feet would “help us to control inflationary impact costs. It would minimise the costs that I would need to pass on to the industry.”

He said the reserves are not as hard as that of the Wilkinson Quarry.

Meeting resistance: Mike Bierman at the quarry site at Lolly’s Well, Smith’s Parish (Photograph by Duncan Hall)

But he said: “The rock here was good enough to build the Southampton Princess (which required 32,000 cubic yards of concrete and 300,000 eight-inch blocks), and the XL building, and thousands of houses in Bermuda.

“On occasion, and I emphasise ‘on occasion’, we need to supplement that with some harder rock and we do that by bringing in a ship and storing the rock in our quarry.”

He added: “Today, we’ve got aggregate here that does the job in Bermuda. Anyone who says different is lying through their teeth.”

•A Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson late last night responded to these statements by advising: “The construction industry is vital to Bermuda's economy, and we are mindful of the need to provide construction materials to help ensure its success.

“However, we should not sacrifice Bermuda’s natural environment for the sake of development and must also consider the interests of area residents.

“In the case of Ferry Reach, that property is zoned nature reserve and woodland reserve and is unlikely to be permitted to quarry there. Additionally, the property is on the flight path of airlines and quarrying activities would likely affect aviation.”

The spokesperson added: “Regarding Lolly’s Well, we are currently inundated with objections to applications for further industrial activity, which would cause additional challenges for the residents, particularly traffic implications, generating even more objections.

“Publicly, these issues are well-known. However, the Government will continue to dialogue with construction industry suppliers to find ways to reduce construction costs.”

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Published January 30, 2023 at 7:53 am (Updated February 02, 2023 at 1:20 pm)

Supplier has concrete plan to fix construction quandary

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