Above: Kerry receiving the IOQ Lyn Jordan Award at the 2019 QuarryNZ Conference.
In the third profile in our veteran profile series Kerry Reilly writes about his long career in the extraction industry.
My first job was as a trainee marine diesel engineer. I lost my dad who passed away when I was 10 and I soon realised that if you wanted something you had to go out and work for it, and I thought that this would be a good trade for me to take up as I had always had an interest in the marine industry.
I moved out of the Marine industry in 1973 and became involved in a variety of industries including designing and building heavy salvage equipment and setting up Action Towing and Salvage; and demolition work (I demolished the Auckland gasworks and the Meremere power station).
My introduction to extraction happened when I was approached by Bunny Collie from Atlas Concrete with an offer to take over the cartage of all sand and aggregates into his ready-mix concrete plants around Auckland. He gave me a letter of support to approach the bank and borrow enough to buy a fleet of trucks and start to cart his product. At the height of my time working for Bunny I had eight truck and trailer combinations in work carting aggregates for Atlas, carting sand from Mt Rex and aggregates from Lunn Ave as well as another five on general work.
At this time there was a lot of union strife and prolonged strikes in the concrete industry, and I was hurt by the lack of income and looked to branch out into the general construction industry and land clearing, which led me to setting up Black Gold producing compost working out of a yard in Albany. I won the Albany to Puhoi motorway contract for vegetation clearance (sub-contracting to W Stevenson & Sons) and I was producing compost from the vegetation. My first large customer was Kings Plant Barns who paid me in advance to help me get established. In a short time, I was producing around 186,000 bags of compost per year for them.
I sold the company to the Living Earth Company, moved into the construction and quarrying field and purchased some mobile crushing and screening plant. I gained the contract to extract and process some of the last remaining resource from Lunn Ave Quarry, used in the development of the subdivisions in the quarry area.
I had two D9s and the big 120 tonne Demag excavator working in there ripping material out around the outer edges of the site to maximise the extraction before the resource consent ran out. I also was given a contract to break the oversize rock that had been stockpiled in the quarry over many years and this took me about a year to complete. At the same time, I was contracted to remove all the areas of fill that had been placed in the quarry over the years without any engineering controls. This material had to be sorted and any good material was re-used while the rest was dumped off site. I purchased two heavy duty scalping screens built in Ireland from Mimico to separate materials and we processed in excess of 800,000 tonnes.
I was approached at this time by Fulton Hogan who had a similar problem at its Reliable Way quarry, and where it wanted to extract all the material so that the site could be developed, but housing and commercial buildings had come right up to the quarry boundary which made blasting an extremely risky proposition. I designed and had a 12-tonne Ripping Tyne built to suit the 120 tonne Demag Excavator to extract the last of the resource.
The timing was good for me as the Asian financial crisis had come around. Resource extraction was complete at Lunn Ave and the site was virtually put into mothballs for a while as a result of the crisis, so I moved my gear to Reliable Way and began doing the same job for Fulton Hogan.
At this time, I was also doing some major stripping operations at places like Atlas Resources quarry in Maungatoroto, Rodney Lime Quarry, Wellsford and at the same time (early 1990s) I had machinery working on site at the Golden Cross Gold Mine at Waihi for Fletchers, building the access road into the site.
This contract at Golden Cross was going along really well but suddenly another crisis struck when the cracks in the tailings retention dam were noticed and all work on site came to a screeching halt. The dam had been built on top of a geological fault line and the ground had moved causing cracks in the retention dam itself. The contract was cancelled for some months, and I had a bunch of men doing virtually nothing, so I had to pull out of that job.
The making of Baldwin Quarry
It was at this time that I started doing contract mobile crushing work around the North Island for many different quarry operators. I imported a lot of mobile track mounted crushing plant from Japan with a Lokotrak Jaw Crusher and two LT800 Mobile cone crushers, one LT1100 mobile Cone Crusher and two individual track mounted stacking conveyors to complement my existing equipment. At the height of this period, across all the operations, I had a total of 22 staff working for me.
I then made the decision that it was time to look at buying my own quarry and, in late 1999, I purchased land at Meremere from Terry Baldwin and gained consent to open a commercial aggregate quarry. The land was steep and had little flat area for stockpiling or processing in the early stages. The challenge was to open stockpile areas, haul roads processing areas etc … and to mitigate the effects from any run-off to the stream which drained the large catchment area of the Baldwin farm surrounding the quarry. It went through the operational quarry area and exited through adjacent farmland owned by Peter Buckley and his wife Judy, and finally into the Whangamarino Heritage Wetland.
Driven by the need to move overburden, I saw an opportunity to solve the initial construction challenges by the formation of a wetland on the Buckley Farm that would enable the treatment of any silt bearing stormwater prior to it entering the Whangamarino Heritage Wetland.
My experience told me that if I could slow the flow of water and use nature’s methods of plant filtration techniques it would be a cost effective and long-term natural solution that would become an insurance policy that enhanced the on-site settlement systems and silt ponds within the quarry itself.
An award-winning wetland
The plan was hatched after I climbed a hill overlooking the Buckley farm and the Whangamarino swamp, observing the water flows during and following heavy rainfall. Instead of excavating ponds on the Buckley land, I decided it would be more beneficial to create the ponds by encapsulation, while also building roads and an observation island in the centre of the new wetland.
This method had several benefits: it would allow the use of a larger volume of over burden and negate the need to excavate into the sensitive wetland peat swamp and, at the same time, create a roading network to enable access for machines to maintain the wetland in the future and for visitors to view the fish and birdlife.
I designed an island as a centre piece of the wetland that solved several challenges; it provided an ideal viewing area that overlooks the entire project and assists to create a larger pond network and longer water flow path which allows filtration of any microscopic fines to be achieved.
In the early days Maori grew and harvested flax in the swamp which was exported to Australia and manufactured in to rope and hemp. I believe over-harvesting and disease killed off most of the flax and the Whangamarino then became overrun with willows planted by early settlers.
The creation of this new wetland has allowed for the clearing of the willows in this area and provided unrestricted access for ducks, swans, fish, frogs and birds which can now be observed breeding in the wetland. The Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust (WCEET) sponsored the supply and planting of over 15,000 native trees and shrubs to beautify and enrich the whole development.
This project has been a win/win for all concerned. Our adjacent neighbour who is a past chairman of the Regional Council can demonstrate that farming discharge water can be naturally enhanced by this wetland; the quarry owner can sleep at night when the rain is pouring down, knowing the discharge water is not polluting the environment; and the local community can see a solid commitment has been made to protect our waterways, and allow fish and birds to thrive in a clean environment.
Dairy NZ saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate our joint commitment to caring for the environment by facilitating a field day at the wetland when they hosted a large contingent of overseas guests, and local farming managers together with District and Regional Council representatives.
It was encouraging to have the confidence of our neighbours, the Waikato District Council and Environment Waikato for issuing the necessary consents to allow this project to proceed and the sponsorship of WCEET for its funding for the trees and shrubs.
It also allowed me to develop Baldwins Quarry. I originally had resource consent to extract 100,000 cubic metres a year and this was rapidly reached so I applied and was granted an extension up to 500,000 cubic metres a year. At the same time, I had a crew working at Wilsonville Quarry in Hikurangi, Northland, removing Glauconitic clay from around the limestone pinnacles for the Golden Bay Cement Company. The limestone from this site was extracted and trucked down to the Portland Quarry where it was mixed with the Portland material to be used in the manufacture of cement at the adjacent Portland cement plant.
Father and son unite
Then there was another global financial crisis (2008) and I was hit by a number of large bad debts. I had cross collateral guarantees in place and as a result all three of my companies were put into receivership.
With the sale of the Baldwins Quarry to Higgins I was asked by Bernard Higgins to remain as manager and did so. After a few years under the Higgins banner, the quarry was sold again to Winstone Aggregates, and I was kept on as the manager until the quarry was mothballed and the staff made redundant.
With this redundancy I decided that the best thing for me to do was to work for myself again and I started a company called Aggregate Solutions, providing extraction services to the quarry industry using a 40-tonne excavator equipped with an ‘Excentric’ ripper. I have also recenlty bought a Finlay 24-metre mobile stacking conveyor that is capable of stockpiling product up to 10-metres above ground at the rate of up to 500 tonne per hour using only five litres of diesel per hour. I also provide interim A grade management for quarries that require a manager or support and contract crushing and processing services and solutions when required.
Which brings me to the greatest highlight of my career; to see my son Zak come into the quarrying industry and over the past 12 years progress from a raw schoolboy recruit to the holder of an A Grade Quarry manager’s Certificate of Competency and be appointed manager of the J Swap’s Taotaoroa Quarry. Proudly, I am currently working for him as filling in as they are short of staff, and he has no problem in letting me know the tables have turned and now it’s his turn to be the boss.
Working with good people
I am also proud of the awards that I have been presented with over my time in the quarry business gained through the excellent people working for me and through great teamwork. They include: The Winstone Aggregates Safety Award (Baldwins Quarry); the Mimico Gold Environmental Award (Baldwins Quarry); the Paykel Shield (Services to the IOQ Auckland Branch); the Lynn Jordan Award (best paper presented at an IOQ meeting in any given year); and a Caernarfon Award (International Award presented by the IOQ for the best paper presented at an IOQ conference anywhere in the world in a given year). I also take this opportunity to thank Dean Tortenson, Murray Discombe, Andy Loader and Murry Francis for their assistance over the years in helping me to get nominated for these awards.
And, when I look back on my career in the quarrying and contracting businesses one of my first reflections is on the good people that I have met over the years who have helped me and to the excellent staff that I have been fortunate enough to have had work for me. It has been the support from all these awesome people that has allowed me to achieve so much in my career.
So, I am pleased to say that I have enjoyed my time even though it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and I have had the chance to meet, and work with and besides some wonderful people. I have seen the industry progress from one where most quarries were insular and kept to themselves, to one where most quarries are open to visitors and willing to help and share their knowledge and expertise for the betterment of all.
I also must thank and give credit to the IoQ which I first joined over a decade ago and I have just applied to upgrade my membership to Fellow status. Over my membership I have been elected to the Auckland branch committee, which I’m still on after six years. A tremendous highlight for me with my involvement in the IOQ is winning the Canaerfon Award for my paper on the wetland development at Baldwin Quarry.
Meantime, the quarrying industry needs to find a way to attract younger people into the industry. Currently when you look at the industry the average age of current staff is getting up to the late fifties, early sixties and the industry cannot carry on without a serious injection of youth into the mix. I think the reintroduction of the Cadet Training system would be very worthwhile in providing future career opportunities for our young people.
The industry is also changing and in future there will be far fewer small local quarries and more large centralised quarries that will be able to control the market due to their ability to achieve a better economy of scale . The only thing that may work against this happening in the short term is the cost of transport, but eventually I believe that a lot of the small quarries will disappear from the industry.