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ADCNR, ADEM team up on innovative paving projects

When you visit Lake Guntersville State Park or the DeSoto Falls area at DeSoto State Park, the ride will be noticeably smoother after the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) teamed with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to use material from recycled tires to resurface roads in the parks.

Thanks to an $829,080 grant from ADEM to Alabama State Parks, the repaving project covered the access roads and parking areas for the lodge and campground store at Lake Guntersville State Park, as well as the parking lot at DeSoto Falls. At Lake Guntersville, State Parks provided an additional $500,000 to use the special asphalt to pave other roads in the park.

The material used for the paving utilizes new technology that combines the rubber from recycled tires with asphalt compound to produce a superior road surface. In the recycling process, the tires are ground up and material like steel from belts is removed. The end result is fine, ground rubber that can be mixed with the asphalt and other materials to make an improved resurfacing material.

Studies have shown rubberized asphalt can last up to 50% longer and is less prone to crack or develop potholes. Because this is a new technology, the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University certified the asphalt mix.

The project would not have happened without the forward thinking of the ADEM Solid Waste Branch. They mentioned the possibility of the project to ADCNR deputy commissioner Ed Poolos, who joined ADCNR after 25 years with ADEM. Poolos loved the idea and shared it with Conservation commissioner Chris Blankenship and State Parks director Greg Lein.

“At DCNR we have many roadways on our radar we want to upgrade. When old friends at ADEM began telling me about this new asphalt mix and its benefits and how it might meet our needs, the ideas for this project began to come together,” Poolos said. “It was great to think of a joint project that would promote environmental health and enhance Alabama’s conservation and recreation at the same time. Anytime you can convert something like old, used tires into new roads and parking that benefit our State Parks and Alabama’s citizens who use them, that’s very exciting.”

Lein expanded on that thought.

“Within the State Parks community and the folks who enjoy our facilities, there’s a pretty large segment interested in recycling and recycled products,” Lein said. “So, being able to take a car tire that often ends up in a landfill or a ditch or a wetland and is a source of pollution and recycle it, that idea is very appealing. That recycled material not only resurfaces the road but makes for a better road.”

In addition to the parking lot repaving project, DeSoto State Park also completed renovations of the swimming area, the railing, and the restrooms at the falls.

“Resurfacing the parking lot at DeSoto Falls was icing on the cake,” Lein said.

At the ribbon-cutting earlier this year, commissioner Blankenship pointed out the benefits of using the special asphalt, which lasts longer, is quieter and provides more traction than traditional asphalt.

“We were thrilled with the opportunity to resurface the roads and paved areas of the park with a material that will require less maintenance, hold up better in all kinds of weather conditions and greet park-goers with a more pleasant ride,” commissioner Blankenship said. “We are extremely grateful to ADEM for making this money available.”

“This is really a tremendous project between two state agencies to do good things for the people of Alabama. We have a couple of these events and a couple of these type projects,” he added. “We’re working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on multiple fronts. It really does give me a good feeling as Conservation Commissioner to work with another state agency to achieve these results. When you can use resources from different agencies to do good for the public, we should do that. This is how government should work.”

When tires are purchased in Alabama, $1 is assessed on each tire to go into the state’s Scrap Tire Fund administered by ADEM. That money is used to promote recycling of discarded tires and to remove scrap tires from illegal dumps and roadsides. The Scrap Tire Fund also reimburses local governments for the costs of picking up discarded tires along highways and clearing unauthorized tire dumpsites.

ADEM director Lance LeFleur said State Parks provided a perfect venue to demonstrate the benefits of using recycled tires to improve the repaving process.

“For many years, old scrap tires have been a nuisance,” LeFleur said. “We have cleaned up tire dumpsites all over the state where tires collect water and become breeding areas for mosquitoes and other pests. Tires strewn along roadsides and waterways are also a common sight. Even when tires are properly disposed of, they oftentimes end up in landfills, which is not ideal either because they take up valuable landfill space and over time can work themselves to the surface. The best way to deal with old tires is to find an alternative beneficial use, thereby creating a market for them. If scrap tires had more value, fewer of them would be dumped and become environmental problems.”

“We are extremely happy to partner with State Parks on these projects, first at Lake Guntersville and then at DeSoto, and we look forward to possibly growing the program to include other parks,” he continued. “Demonstration projects like these are critical to showing there are practical uses for old tires, and there can be a viable, sustainable market for them that benefits both the environment and our roads.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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