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Attorney outlines claims included in asphalt suit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the attorneys leading a lawsuit against West Virginia Paving claims the asphalt supplier has manipulated the market to insure it gets the bulk of all paving jobs in West Virginia.

Mike Hissam, attorney with Bailey and Glasser in Charleston, says there is ample evidence the company systematically stamped out competition.

“The companies we have sued have gained control of at least 15 asphalt plants in West Virginia that once competed against each other,” Hissam said in an appearance on “580 Live” on MetroNews affiliate WCHS.

The firm filed four class action lawsuits this week on behalf of four West Virginia cities, but the plaintiff’s list is growing.

“It is important people realize this is not just the city of Charleston, Bluefield, Beckley and Parkersburg suing for damages to them,” he said. “They’re stepping up, putting their foot forward and saying we’re suing on behalf of all West Virginians affected, that includes individuals and small businesses.”

Hissam alleged anybody who purchased asphalt from West Virginia Paving from 2006 until the present is potentially harmed by increased prices brought on by a lack of competition.

The overall parent company is Ireland based Old Castle Materials which has worldwide holdings in aggregates, concrete, and asphalt.  Here in the United States the company operates with a host of subsidiary companies.  Those included in the lawsuit are West Virginia Paving and Southern West Virginia Paving, which has stifled any potential competition through aggressive growth according to Hissam.

“If the defendants and related entities control the supply of aggregate which you need to make asphalt, they can jack up the price and make it uneconomical for you to do your work,” he explained. “If you have a partner they can come in and buy out your partner for a ridiculous amount of money.”

Hissam added there are also cases of new out-of-state companies who have opened brand new asphalt plants in the Kanawha Valley only to be immediately bought out by West Virginia Paving and the brand new plant immediately dismantled.   The suit further alleges the company has created a way to skirt the competitive bid requirements for public paving jobs.

“They submitted bids aimed at tricking Charleston into believing they were entertaining a competitive option, in reality the city was dealing with one monopolous pretending to be two companies,” Hissam explained. “Almost mockingly, the bids were within one dollar of each other.”

The suit’s class action status allows for more plaintiffs and since the news hit, Hissam claimed more companies who have experienced problems with the alleged monopoly have reached out to them.  He would not indicate if the state of West Virginia and the Attorney General might also be considering joining the suit.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim the practice has driven up the cost of paving in West Virginia by 40 percent. The suit used eastern Kentucky’s paving costs as the comparison, but because of the nature of hot asphalt mix buying asphalt from Kentucky and transporting it to West Virginia is not a competitive alternative.

West Virginia Paving has not commented on the suit when contacted by MetroNews.

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