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Road Builder's 'Neighborhood' Efforts Aimed at Competition

(Story created: 11/10/04)

If you're going to have roads, you've got to have rock to build those roads. But no one wants a quarry in their back yard. Now, NewsChannel 5 has uncovered questions about whether one company secretly helped neighbors, all part of efforts to keep out competition.

Down on the Marshall-Maury county line, a classic battle is shaping up.

On one side: neighbors upset about the notion of a new rock quarry.

"I'm just concerned about the blasting," says Marshall County resident Billy Ring. "I'm concerned about what it'd do to my home as far as the foundation."

On the other side: two guys -- Todd Warner and Chris Brothers of B&W Excavating -- who want to bring competition to another nearby quarry, this one operated by the giant Rogers Group.

 "I think it can be a benefit to the whole county having competition," Todd Warner says. 

Yet, the two began to hear talk that the Rogers Group and the head of the neighborhood opposition group might have teamed up together.

"We started to put two and two together and realized they were in it pretty strong," Chris Brothers adds.

Bobby Gropp heads the so-called Marshal County Residents for Responsible Zoning -- which has waged an expensive zoning battle against two other efforts to put a quarry in their back yards.

Neighbors "pooled our resources, hired an attorney," Gropp adds.

In fact, the opposition leader says he "went to school with a guy that was the president of Rogers -- he has since retired."

Asked about the Rogers Group contributions to the neighbor's zoning battle, he replies:  "They haven't given to me."

But, when we pressed by NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams, the story begins to change.

"We take help from anywhere we can get it," Gropp says.

"Including Rogers?"  Williams asks.

"Including Rogers. Hey, we don't discriminate if somebody can help us because, like I said, we are not wealthy people out there."

So how much has Rogers contributed to efforts to keep out competition?  Gropp wouldn't say.

"I'm not a bookkeeper. I didn't keep track of it. If we owed $1,500 to a lawyer, I saw that the bill got paid. Rogers hasn't done anymore than a lot of the neighbors around there have."

The vice chair of the state House Transportation Committee calls those efforts "shameful conduct."

"I can't conceive of any other reason why a rock crusher would go out and fund somebody trying to keep their competition from coming in, other than making money," says Rep. Frank Buck, D-Dowelltown.

In fact, an internal Rogers Group strategy document outlines what Rogers calls its "Big Hairy Audacious Goal" to increase company profits.  It features the company mascot taking most of a pie and leaving little for its competitors.

It notes "more aggressive zoning" will be among the problems facing the quarry industry. It concludes "smaller, less sophisticated" competitors "will increasingly struggle to meet these challenges."

It concludes, "Many will exit."

"The unfortunate part," Buck says, "about all of this is whenever they do that, the taxpayer pays the bill."

As NewsChannel 5 first revealed, when another Rogers quarry in Coffee County faced a potential new competitor a few months back, a company official sent this e-mail, urging his employees to "show your disapproval" to zoning officials.

Competition, he added, "will take work away from RGI, and YOU!"

"I think it clearly shows they are wanting to corner the market and trying to keep it all to themselves," Todd Warner says.

But Billy Ring says, "We'd accept all the help we can get."

Neighbors in Northern Marshall County just don't want another quarry in their back yards -- a feeling that's apparently shared by the Rogers Group.

"We're just trying to protect what we've got and, hopefully, we can," Ring says.

Rogers Group officials will only say they encourage employees to be active in their neighborhoods.

Still, company price lists show it sometimes charges 50 percent more in areas where there is no competition.

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