Palmetto Corp. Puts up Plant #4
When Palmetto Corp., Conway, South Carolina, was awarded a large project on Hard Scrabble Road in 2016, the company began investigating the need for another asphalt producer in the central South Carolina market.
Hard Scrabble Road is a main thoroughfare 15 miles northeast of Columbia, with an average annual daily traffic count of 45,000. Surrounded by a mix of schools, commercial properties and residential properties, the road is a major commuter route in addition to supporting a high volume of business-related heavy trucking.
“Congestion, coupled with growth and expansion, created a need for improved access and traffic flow,” said Palmetto Chief Operating Officer Eric Faulk. Palmetto began working on the project in July of 2018 and isn’t expected to complete the project until June 2022.
During that time, the 8-mile span of roadway will be expanded from two lanes to four. The scope of work includes two new bridges, newly installed overhead and underground utilities, newly installed concrete curb/gutter and sidewalk, subgrade prep, and 130,000 tons of paver-placed 10-inch cement stabilized base course (CSABC) topped with 182,000 tons of hot mix asphalt.
“Our asphalt plants are the core of what drives our business,” said Palmetto CEO Shawn Godwin. “Even though we provide trucking, milling, concrete, reclamation, surveying, dirt moving, pipe laying and crushing, our core business is asphalt. That is driven by having the ability to control all variables from quality to production and the asphalt plant allows us to do that.”
Palmetto already had three plants located in the central and eastern parts of the state, in Conway, Florence and Bishopville, but a fourth plant located closer to the state’s capital of Columbia would expand its reach.
According to U.S. Census data, Columbia’s population has grown by 15 percent since 2000. As the state’s capital and its most populous city, Columbia is also a junction of numerous major highways.
“Columbia is a growing market, especially the suburbs,” said Palmetto’s Plant Division Manager Charles “Ray” Mothershead. Palmetto’s new plant in Lugoff, 30 miles from central Columbia and 12 miles from its Hard Scrabble Road project, is well-situated for future growth.
“It would be difficult to be competitive in the Columbia market without the new plant in Lugoff,” Mothershead said. Trucking mix from its second-nearest plant, in Bishopville, would add 25 miles to the journey. “Now, we can reach into the Columbia market, as well as into Lexington County to the west and Kershaw County to the north.”
“Expansion was part of the plan to grow in a new region to not only actively pursue more SCDOT and municipal work but to also tap into a flourishing commercial market,” Faulk said. The majority of Palmetto’s work is a mix of South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) contracts, FAA airfield work, municipal contracts and commercial contracts.
“The Lugoff plant, along with the Hard Scrabble Road project, acted as the catalyst that helped facilitate some very intentional progression where that growth strategy was concerned.”
The Hard Scrabble Road project will require 52,000 tons of HMA Base Type A, 4,000 tons of HMA Surface Type C and 126,000 tons of HMA Surface Type B.
The Lugoff plant is a Gencor Ultradrum asphalt plant capable of producing up to 300 tons per hour. It’s equipped with three 200-ton silos, six cold feed bins, one RAP bin and its own lab.
When the plant was first built, Palmetto had only installed two silos. However, after one year of operation, they realized they needed more storage space.
“We didn’t think the demand would pick up as fast as it did, or that we’d need to have as many mixes as we did on any given day,” Mothershead said. At times, they still had to send mix from Palmetto’s Bishopville plant to jobs closer to the Lugoff plant for that reason. In May 2020, Palmetto added a third silo to the Lugoff plant. “This year, we will begin the paving portion of the Hard Scrabble Road job, so we will definitely need that third silo so we can continue outside sales of asphalt while balancing the intercompany demand.”
Palmetto also invested in Gencor’s Ultra-II multi-fuel aggregate combustion system for clean and efficient burning.
“When the company bought the plant, we knew we wouldn’t be able to get natural gas to the site initially because the side was brand new,” Mothershead said. “We knew we’d have to run waste oil for at least the first year.”
The Ultra-II burner was the ideal choice, Mothershead continued, because “it not only works well with waste oil, but it will also do a good job when that plant gets switched over to natural gas. Plus, it’s a tried-and-true burner, it’s durable and reliable.”
Mothershead said the ability to mount the flights within the Ultradrum into multiple positions is also a helpful feature. “By positioning the flights in a certain way, you can control the veil of stone in the drum and create some holes in the veil as the stone comes down to allow for the heat to make its way to the back of the drum and into the baghouse,” he said.
SCDOT requires 1 percent lime in two standard mix designs, so the Lugoff plant also has a lime silo integrated into the plant’s controls. Although each of Palmetto’s plants has this capability, Mothershead said the Lugoff plant was built from the ground up with this capability.
SCDOT’s RAP spec is based on percentage of aged binder rather than overall RAP percentage. “We average about 25 percent RAP to stay within the aged binder limits,” Faulk said. However, Mothershead added, the amount of RAP allowed will likely increase in the future and said the Lugoff plant will easily accommodate higher RAP content.
The plant also utilizes Gencor’s Ultralogic plant controls.
“We’ve trained a couple fellows to run the plant who hadn’t run an asphalt plant before and they took to it very easily because of the Ultralogic controls,” Mothershead said. One of those new employees was Mothershead’s son, Charles Mothershead III, age 22. When Mothershead was promoted to division manager of all of Palmetto’s plants, his son was promoted from plant operator to plant foreman at the Lugoff facility.
“I think the modern controls are more user-friendly for the next generation of plant operators,” Mothershead said. Mothershead, who has been in the asphalt industry for 30 years, recalls the days of levers and batch plants. By comparison, the new system is a breeze, he said. “You can start the whole plant up with the push of a button.”
The Lugoff facility is also home to three asphalt paving crews, one concrete crew, four grading crews, 20 haul trucks and drivers, a truck foreman and a dispatcher. It is also home to a fully equipped equipment and truck shop, as well as an office that houses Palmetto’s Midlands survey division, director of business development, Midlands estimators and the Midlands area management. In total, Mothershead estimates the plant has created 100 jobs in the area.
“We have assembled a great team and the Midlands market is going to be a great market for the years to come,” Godwin said. “It has far exceeded our expectations.”
In its first year, the Lugoff plant produced around 140,000 tons, with 120,000 tons for Palmetto projects.
“The leadership at Palmetto isn’t just growing the company for themselves, but to create more jobs in the state and to open up doors for so many people,” Mothershead said. “With leadership like that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Palmetto covered the whole state one day.”