U.S. Silica has new plant manager & new directions
Since mid-July, U.S. Silica has had a new plant manager in Berkeley Springs.
Jim Buchanan replaced former manager Al Gwizdala, who was promoted to Director of Operations, Industrial Sand Products and now works out of the corporate offices in Frederick, Md.
Buchanan, 42, has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Youngstown State University and master’s of business administration from Williamson College of Business at Youngstown State.
Before coming to U.S. Silica, Buchanan worked at a variety of manufacturing and chemical companies in the U.S. and Canada.
U.S. Silica has begun a community outreach program called the U.S. Silica Sustainability Program.
Once each quarter Buchanan invites members of the business community, organizations and government officials to a luncheon at the plant and a facility tour.
Bath Mayor Susan Webster and Economic Development Authority Director Bill Clark attended the October 25 luncheon.
Buchanan said the program has three components; people, planet and prosperity.
“Primarily people — how can we interact with the community? Where are the synergies? I think we have already realized that in the town of Berkeley Springs,” Buchanon said.
Recently Mayor Webster called upon U.S. Silica to help get the lot behind the train depot ready for parking during the Apple Butter Festival. Buchanan sent workers and equipment to cut down the chest high weeds covering the lot.
The “planet” portion of the program refers to recycling, reduction of carbon emissions and water conservation.
The plant has a closed loop water system. Water is used to wash the sand and then recycled for use again after separating the mud and sediment removed from the sand.
“I catch every drop of rain that falls on the property including U.S. 522,” Buchanan said.
The plant has three environmental monitoring stations that test the air for particulates that might be emitted. The stations test for particles one-half the size required by the government.
“We are testing for twice as small as what is required. If more particles are in the air that immediately triggers us to go back and look at our environmental controls,” Buchanan said.
“The ‘prosperity’ portion is how do we make sure we are still here 15 or 20 years from now and still going.” he said.
For tour, visitors donned hard hats, safety glasses and steel-toe slip-ons over shoes.
The group went to the repair shop where vehicle maintenance is performed on heavy equipment used in mining.
Buchanan explained they have a predictive maintenance strategy where the mechanics analyze the oil and lubricants of a vehicle to predict when a failure is eminent.
“We still have downtime, but it is when we want it,” Buchanan said.
The group looked into the deep quarry carved out by the mining operation, visited the crusher that breaks up the boulders to about softball size and the grinder that reduces those stones to gravel.
Buchanan took the tour next to the Hancock quarry, the old north quarry that hasn’t been mined in 15 years and is now a dual reservoir divided by an earth and gravel dam.
Half of the reservoir contains muddy water filled with sediment pumped down from the clarifying ponds along U.S. 522. The other half is fresh water from those ponds.
Buchanan made a point of showing how nature has mostly reclaimed the quarry and trees have again taken root on the once barren ridge sides.
He said employees have dumped bass and other fish into the fresh water reservoir and are allowed to fish there. “We try to be the best steward of the environment,” he said.
The tour concluded on the plant side of U.S. 522 with a view of the clarifying ponds and the various buildings and processes used to produce different grades and sizes of sand.
This included grinders to reduce the gravel to sand and the sand to different sizes.
U.S. Silica employs 59 workers at the Berkeley Springs plant and mines 15,000 tons of stone a week that is converted into different grades of sand for a variety of products.
The plant ships 26,000 tons of sand a month for the manufacture of glassware, pharmaceuticals, paint, filters, sandpaper, sand for golf courses, and sand ground as fine as talc for toothpaste.
Future mining plans
Buchanan estimated the present quarry will last seven to ten years.
“There is still ore to be had here,” he said. “We will not go any closer to town.”
The land where the maintenance shop, crusher and conveyor belt that is visible from U.S. 522 are located, just to the north of the quarry, will be the next area to be mined, he said.
U.S. Silica is in the process of determining the ability to mine Tonoloway Ridge in nearby Maryland. “We are still investigating ore content and where to start quarrying.” Buchanan said.
The permitting process has started but has a long way to go. “All of the environmental impact studies are going on right now and being conducted by an independent environmental company,” Buchanan said.
Asked if the new quarry will be visible from the Panorama overlook, Buchanan said the quarry will be on the northwest or Woodmont Road side of Tonoloway Ridge.
“I don’t know if you will be able to see that from the overlook,” he said.
Buchanan displayed engineering drawings that show the ridge to be 1,130 ft. high. The quarry planned for the northwest side of the ridge will only rise to a height of 700 ft., according to the diagrams.