New forest rules not likely to affect road builders

The road construction industry isn’t likely to benefit from the Bush administration’s opening May 5 of 58.5 million acres of roadless national forests for possible logging, mining and other commercial uses.

Contractor associations aren’t optimistic the revised rules will do much for a segment of the construction industry more concerned with the passage of the long-extended highway bill.

“The majority [of new projects] is not going to be paved construction,” said Charlie Ware, executive vice president of the Wyoming chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.

Ware’s state is one of 12 – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington being the others – in which 97 percent of the newly opened land is located. He estimates most of the benefit will be to oil and gas companies, which constitute much of the state’s industry.

New rules from the U.S. Forest Service cover some of the most pristine federal land in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

“There are definitely some areas that could be opened up to the benefits of cities,” Ware said. “My members are very much in support of multiuse [roads].”

Steve Loftin, president of 71 Construction in Casper, Wyo., said he doesn’t see any tangible benefit from the ruling. Paving and road construction projects make up approximately 20 percent of his company’s business.

“There isn’t a reason to build roads unless somebody wants to build a mine,” Loftin said. But even then, he said most privately owned mines construct their own roads.

Whether the new ruling effects any changes is partially up to each state’s governor. They can choose within 18 months to stop road building on some of the 34.3 million acres where it would now be permitted or request new forest management plans be written to allow construction on some of the other 24.2 million acres. The Forest Service will have final say over the governors’ petitions.

Though the potential impact of the new ruling is causing concern among many environmentalists, the issue hasn’t been discussed among some organizations representing the road construction industry.

“We don’t really have a dog in this fight,” said Matt Jeanerette, vice president of communications for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

Jeanerette said if there were an opportunity for ARTBA members, the organization would be more interested in the ruling. But he said at this time there is no incentive.

And at least for contractors like Loftin, any long-term benefits of the ruling remain to be seen. “It won’t have any effect on construction,” he said.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.