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Shortage of cement forces rationing

Barbara Marquand

First there was a steel shortage.

Now the construction industry is grappling with a cement shortage.

Local cement suppliers are struggling to keep with up huge demand, and construction companies in northern Nevada are making do with rationed allocations.

Lehigh Southwest Cement Co.’s distribution terminal in Sparks, for instance, is getting about half the supply of cement from its Redding production plant that it normally would get this time of year.

“All of our customers are on allocation,” says Mark Grant, the terminal operator.

A spokesman for Nevada Cement Co.

in Fernley, the largest local cement supplier, could not be reached for comment before deadline, but its customers also report they are receiving rationed supplies.

Granite Construction Co., which owns CB Concrete Co.

in Sparks, has seen its allocation of cement get cut by 25 percent, says Rod Cooper, branch manager of Nevada operations.

“We’re doing the best we can to keep projects on track,” Cooper says, although the company is not taking on any new work at the moment in northern Nevada as a result of the cement shortage.

Cooper says the company will have enough cement for its major projects, such as the RETRAC project downtown.

Al Pena, human resource and safety director of American Ready-Mix, a concrete maker, estimates his company is getting about 30 percent less cement from local suppliers and is in turn rationing concrete to its customers.

Concrete is a mixture of cement, rock, sand, fly ash and chemicals and is used in almost every type of construction.

“This summer, we’ve only run out of concrete one day on a fairly small curb job,” says Q&D Construction Inc.

engineering vice president Joe Serpa.

“If supplies don’t get any shorter than they currently are, we will be able to keep our commitments.”

Shortages are occurring in other parts of the country, too, and they are tied to high regional demand as well as global economic issues.

According to a recent shortage update from the Portland Cement Association, a national trade group headquartered in Skokie, Ill., the shortages are concentrated in the Southeast, Southwest and New York/New England areas.

They stem from tightened imports and high demand fueled by increased construction activity.

The United States depends on imports to fill the gap between domestic cement production and consumption which last year was about 23 million tons, or 23 percent of consumption.

A huge construction boom in Asia has tightened cement supplies from top exporters to the U.S.

In addition, China’s demand for building materials has led to increased freight flows to that country and tightened ship availability.

The association projects shortages to ease by the end of the year as more ships become available and residential construction softens with rising interest rates.

Locally, northern Nevada’s construction boom has contributed to the shortage here.

Residential, commercial and public construction activity has been on fire the last two years.

In addition construction has slowed less than usual during the winters, which has given suppliers less time to catch up on inventory, Pena says.

Q&D’s current concrete demand, for instance, is double that of last year, fueled in part by several large projects that feature extensive flat work, such as the Reno Events Center, Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, Saint Mary’s West Campus Parking Structure, the Medical Plaza at Saint Mary’s and Immaculate Conception Church, Serpa says.

Q&D also started doing all of its own concrete work, instead of hiring subcontractors, which also has driven up its demand for concrete.

Another factor increasing demand for cement is that builders are using more concrete in their projects, Pena says.

Homebuilders are building homes on cement slabs instead of wooden floors, and some are using a technique called insulated concrete forms concrete sandwiched between styrofoam.