Trying to smooth things over

Keith Rose

La PORTE – Despite the Indiana Department of Transportation temporarily suspending operations at Rieth-Riley’s La Porte asphalt plant, the paving company’s CEO is standing behind his firm’s work – and is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Keith Rose addressed the recent problems surrounding the plant during a La Porte County Board of Commissioners workshop Thursday in La Porte. Rose is offering the county a five-year warranty on whatever work Rieth-Riley performed for the county last year, in light of commissioners’ concerns about the quality of the La Porte facility’s asphalt following a harsh INDOT audit.

During the board’s last regular meeting in May, Rieth-Riley vice president of operations Gene Yarkie told commissioners about the state agency’s decision to suspend operations at the La Porte plant after an examination in March.

INDOT representatives found several instances of poor record-keeping at the facility’s laboratory, including a lack of documentation on what corrective actions employees took when asphalt mixes fell outside INDOT guidelines during testing, he said.

INDOT could allow work to resume at the La Porte plant later this summer or as late as next January, Yarkie said.

In the meantime, Rieth-Riley has taken steps to rectify the problems INDOT identified in the audit, including making changes to plant personnel, instituting new testing procedures and guidelines, and contracting external engineer companies to audit operations at all company facilities, Rose said.

“To date, we made significant efforts in these efforts, and we’re confident INDOT will lift the suspension sooner as opposed to later,” the CEO said Thursday.

But La Porte County Highway Supt. Robert Young, who attended the workshop, recommended the county select an independent firm to test the quality of Rieth-Riley’s asphalt mixes in the future. 

Young also suggested the commissioners consider evaluating samples from a half dozen or more roads the company paved last year to ensure the material is still up to specifications.

Rose said Rieth-Riley would have no problem covering the costs of such tests.

Until it can reactivate the La Porte plant, the company will use asphalt produced at its South Bend and Valparaiso locations for any upcoming projects the county has already contracted it for this year, the CEO said.

“We routinely haul out mix 40 to 50 miles with no problem,” Rose said. “We’ve even hauled mix out 80 miles with no problem.”

Commissioner Sheila Brillson Matias expressed concern about the possible quality of Rieth-Riley’s asphalt, given INDOT drastic actions following its audit. 

“[INDOT officials] speak about the closure of your plant as a historic move,” Matias told Rose. “It wasn’t just a bookkeeping error ... it was volumes of bookkeeping errors. It wasn’t just one load or two loads or five loads – it was lots of loads.”

The commissioner asked how the company can have confidence in the quality of asphalt mix produced in La Porte before the audit, as it is impossible to know the effects of changes made without proper documentation, she said.

Rose said that is a definite gray area, which is why the company is offering a five-year warranty on all roads it worked on last year.

“We are willing to stand behind the performance of the product,” he said.

County Attorney Shaw Friedman recommended the commissioners consider the proposed warranty and testing of any future asphalt during their next meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 5.

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