NAHB: Avoid overreaction on water regulation
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) applauded new legislation designed to curb regulatory overreach, building delays and red tape.
Introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and 29 other Senators from across the country, the Preserve Waters of the United States Act would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) from using a draft guidance to dramatically expand the scope of the Clean Water Act.
Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the NAHB and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla., issued the following statements regarding the proposed act:
"We commend Sen. Barrasso for introducing this bill to compel the EPA and Corps to go back to the drawing board and craft a balanced approach to federal jurisdiction of the nation’s waterways.
"The EPA and Corps are getting ready to issue a guidance document that will evade the more transparent rule-making process to eliminate all reasonable limits on the scope of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. As a result, the federal government’s reach would extend to all waters, including storm sewers and retention basins and seasonal streams.
"This blatant regulatory overreach would lead to many more land development, road construction and residential projects requiring federal permits and would exacerbate permitting delays. In turn, this will increase construction costs, cause job losses, drive down housing affordability and hamper economic growth.
"The nation’s home builders have long supported the goals of the Clean Water Act, which is called into play when homes are built near rivers or wetlands and when builders take steps to avoid storm water runoff from construction sites. But recklessly broadening the scope of the act to include virtually all waters — including roadside ditches — within its regulatory reach will severely restrict the industry’s ability to recover and make new homes more costly without a corresponding environmental benefit," Rutenberg said.
Dealers keep on truckin’
LBM dealers trying to deliver building materials into New York are wondering if they haven’t become a new source of state revenue, given the stepped-up enforcement of linkage laws by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Although the issue is being addressed in the New York State legislature by a bill brought forth by the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association (NRLA), lumberyard delivery drivers are playing cat and mouse with state troopers while their bosses are fighting $1,000 citations in court.
Each state has its own limits on weight and length for commercial trucks. Most fall between 40 ft. and 60 ft. New York is at the low end — 40 ft. — the typical length of a lumberyard delivery truck. The problem comes when you mount a forklift or an articulated crane or another piece of equipment on the back to unload inventory. That adds a few feet to the trucks length or “linkage.” Which is OK in Connecticut and Vermont, where the limit is 46 ft. But once these drivers cross into New York, they’re often likely to meet up with a state trooper and maybe a portable scale in order to undergo an inspection and receive a citation. LBM dealers have told Jeff Keller, manager of legislative and regulatory affairs for the NRLA, that a certain highway patrolman waits at the border between New York and Connecticut waiting for violators.
“They know the guy,” Keller said.
The NRLA is trying to address the matter with a bill in the New York State legislature, but these legislative fixes take time. (More on that later.) Meanwhile, pro dealers are coping in a variety of ways: fighting the citations in court, modifying their equipment or finding “alternative” routes to avoid being pulled over.
Jay Balkan, one of the owners of U.S. Lumber in Lynbrook, N.Y., is fighting a $1,000 “overlinkage” citation right now, with the help of a lawyer. His drivers have been cited “three or four times,” he said, and each time the fine goes up. Balkan’s trucks are hitting against an even more restrictive regulation enacted in New York City: Commercial trucks, including any piggybacked equipment, cannot exceed 35 ft. in length.
“As soon as you cross the border from Long Island to Queens, the DOT stops you and inspects your truck,” Balkan said. Measuring the length is only the beginning, he said. “They go through everything. I keep my trucks [well maintained], but no matter what, I come back with 10 or 15 tickets.”
Has Balkan thought about cutting back his deliveries to New York City? He laughs at the very idea.
“We’re finding new routes,” he said.
On the state level, LBM dealers find it particularly irksome that a law passed in 2003 to aid tourism allows recreational vehicles (RVs) up to 45 ft. to travel the highways of New York. They point out that their drivers are trained, licensed and drug tested — yet they are restricted to 40-ft. vehicles.
Legislative bill 4505, which would amend the vehicle and traffic law in New York to allow 45-ft. commercial vehicles, passed the state senate on Jan. 23, 2012, after failing to muster enough support last year. It has been introduced into the state assembly, where members of the transportation committee are working on its final version. The N.Y. Department of Transportation, which did not respond to a request for comment from Home Channel News, is working with the NRLA and members of the legislature to hammer out acceptable wording, according to the NRLA’s Keller.
“We’re open to any suggestions or solution that other states are using,” Keller said. “These trucks are vital to our members.”
Even if bill 4505 does pass, it won’t help dealers driving into New York City, which can set its own commercial vehicle lengths. Many lumberyard owners have just thrown in the towel and ordered special equipment to satisfy local or state regulations. Dana Schnipper, owner of JC Ryan EBCO/H&G, a distributor of doors and windows in Farmingdale, N.Y., has a made-to-order boom truck that can carry equipment and still fit within New York State’s 40-ft. limit.
Schnipper, who chairs the NRLA’s New York legislative committee, can’t explain the uptick in citations. But he’s been hearing a lot of complaints lately from dealers in Connecticut and Massachusetts who get cited when they cross the New York line.
“I think the law has been randomly applied over the last 15 years,” Schnipper said.
APA forecasts 10% increase in housing
For the first time in several years, all of the major end-use markets for wood products are expected to move in concert and increase this year. Housing, the largest market for many products, is expected to increase 10% this year when U.S. and Canadian starts are combined, according to APA — The Engineered Wood Association.
“There is a little more life to engineered wood demand this year. Last year, we were just treading water,” said Craig Adair, APA’s market research director. “This year, we’re expecting demand to pick up from 4% to 11% depending on the product.”
Although the Great Recession in the U.S. ended in mid-2009, the recovery has been uneven, and only now is the U.S. economy showing signs of sustainable growth. Adair noted that single-family housing is still plagued with several obstacles, including banks that are reluctant to lend and more foreclosures on the way. Single-family construction is expected to improve in 2012, but it should have a more meaningful recovery in 2013.
“It may not be a lack of consumer demand that’s holding housing back; it’s more likely a financial system that currently doesn’t freely accommodate residential mortgages, and it could take years to repair and reorganize the system,” Adair said. Meanwhile, the demand for rental housing is so great that apartment construction has picked up along with a wave of investment in existing single-family rental housing.”
Nonresidential construction is showing signs of a turnaround in 2012. Remodeling and industrial markets are expected to increase again in 2012. Exports to Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean should continue to improve.