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  • W. Scott Donaldson

Rock Star State: Stone Production Tops in Arizona

Whether used for making concrete, mixed with asphalt, placed as construction fill, or as an ingredient in the production of concrete blocks, rock products such as sand and gravel are the foundation for much of the construction industry. Fortunately for local contractors, Arizona has been a top producer of sand and gravel, and other stone products for the past two decades.

Much of Arizona’s rock production comes from public lands owned by the federal government and State Trust lands. These two ownership groups comprise about 55 percent of the state. Rock production in Arizona is linked to population growth and economic activities, including the Great Recession, and the ongoing recovery.

Sand and gravel and other stone products can be mined and removed from Arizona's public and state lands under specific statutes and regulations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a federal agency, considers stone products to be saleable minerals, which must be purchased under the Mineral Materials Act of 1947. These sales are controlled by federal regulations, which provide for noncompetitive sales, competitive sales, contract administration, environmental assessment, and other topics. BLM will sell mineral materials at a fair market value established by an appraisal.

State statutes provide that the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD) may dispose of common variety minerals at auction and may execute common variety mineral leases offered at auction for their severance, extraction or disposal.

Common variety minerals include deposits of petrified wood, stone, pumice, cinders, decomposed granite, sand, gravel, boulders, clay, fill dirt and waste rock. This includes deposits that, although they may have value for use in trade, manufacturing and the construction, landscaping and decorative rock industries, do not possess an otherwise distinct economic value.

The construction industry uses these materials for road base, riprap, ballast, borrow, fill, facing stone, and landscaping or ornamental uses.

Limestone suitable for use in producing cement, metallurgical or chemical-grade limestone or gypsum is excluded from the common variety minerals category.

State Trust land production numbers reveal trends similar to those from the public lands, influenced by construction activity. Statutes describe mineral materials auction and lease from State Trust lands. ASLD leases are limited to not more than one legal section of 640 acres, a 10-year term, rental based on appraised land value, lessee’s rights, production royalty established by appraisal and auction, and payment terms.

“Overall the experience has been positive,” says Bill Nichols, president of Kilauea Crushers, Inc., a company which has produced crushed stone from Arizona’s public lands for more than 30 years. “We have found ways to work with the State Land Department and the Bureau of Land Management. A good working relationship has developed with the employees of the agencies.”

Scott Donaldson focuses his practice in natural resources and public lands law. His clients include mining interests and other occupants of state and federal lands. He can be contacted through

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