STAR-BULLETIN / NOVEMBER 2005
Work on pothole repairs and other projects that depend on asphalt has been delayed due to a shortage of liquid asphalt.
Isle paver suggests importing asphalt
Supply problems prompt the idea of storing the material
Grace Pacific Corp. officials say they are looking into importing liquid asphalt after yet another problem with supplies for their road construction projects.
"It's an expensive project but it could be done. It should be done," Robert Wilkinson, chief executive officer of Grace Pacific, said yesterday.
The project of importing the liquid asphalt twice a year and storing it could cost $25 million and take at least a year with the permitting process, Wilkinson said. Liquid asphalt is mixed with aggregate to make asphalt for paving.
"We're working as hard as we can as fast as we can," he said. "It's fairly vigorous and time-consuming, but it beats putting yourself at (the whim) of the refinery," especially with the volatility of the oil market.
For about a month starting in May, companies like Grace Pacific were unable to make asphalt to pave roads after Tesoro depleted its supply. Tesoro, the major supplier of asphalt now that Chevron dropped out last year, is running low on asphalt this week.
But Tesoro spokesman Nathan Hokama said the current problem -- "not really a shortage per se" -- was actually caused by a Grace Pacific contract.
According to Hokama, Grace Pacific notified Tesoro last week of a major military project at Wheeler Air Force Base.
Since military contracts, by law, take precedence, the company was forced "to limit the supply we (gave) to customers" in order to meet Grace Pacific's needs.
"If Grace Pacific has enough for their project, we'll be in good shape," Hokama said.
The company plans to manufacture another batch of asphalt starting Tuesday.
But Wilkinson said that while they have enough asphalt to complete the Wheeler job, this blip, following 10 other shutdowns in the past year and a half, have led to "a backlog of work well over $150 million not being done."
While one Grace Pacific crew at Wheeler continues to work, those working on other projects have been laid off until next week, Wilkinson said. Grace Pacific employs about 500 people.
"The work force, they're in and out of work," Wilkinson said. "It's really hard for them."
Fortunately for highway drivers, the shortage will not affect them, state Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said.
Workers contracted by the state to repave Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe just finished their asphalt work.
And the next major project, repaving Farrington Highway in Waipahu, had already been pushed back to late August because of earlier asphalt shortages, Ishikawa said.
"For us it's business as usual," he said.