State mining specialists from the N.C. Department of Natural Resources heard from 25 speakers, each one detailing their reasons for wanting the state to deny the rock quarry its application for an operating permit.
Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone LLC has applied for a permit to open a quarry on a 57-acre tract near the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 281. The quarry would be clearly visibly throughout the Tuckasegee valley and less than 100 feet away from neighboring residential property.
Jackson County has a high-impact industry ordinance that strictly limits where such facilities may locate. The ordinance, which county commissioners unanimously adopted in May of 2002, requires a 1,320-linear-foot setback for all industries covered under the ordinance — asphalt plants, junkyards, heavy industry and mining operations. The grassroots group United Neighbors of Tuckasegee has determined there are about 39 homes within a 1,320-linear-foot radius from the quarry.
Local ordinance would overrule state issuance of a permit, and prohibit the quarry from opening as it is planned.
“Jackson County does intend on enforcing our industrial development ordinance and holding firm on it,” said commissioners chairman Brian McMahan, who was first in line to speak at the state’s public hearing Tuesday night.
Having a quarry in the middle of Tuckasegee would destroy the community, local residents have said. Not only would it be an eyesore in a pristine mountain valley, it would threaten ground water resources, nearby archeological sites, and residents’ health.
Residents Jessie and Harold Hooper appealed to the state mining specialists panel on the grounds that the dust generated from the quarry would be more than their health could handle. Jessie explained that she had allergies and asthma, while her husband Harold, confined to a wheelchair and on oxygen, has emphysema and heart problems.
“Just think what it would do to our health,” Jessie said.
Anything that is a direct and substantial physical hazard to public health or safety is one criteria upon which denial of a permit may be based, according to the Mining Act of 1971. Local physician Michael Mahar represented the medical community in expressing “grave concern” about the quarry, submitting a packet of letters from doctors testifying as to the threat it would pose to patients in the area due to impaired air quality.
Local resident Michael Milligan, confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury sustained in Vietnam, said he had grown up in a mining community and one of his uncles died due to complications from dust inhalation.
Milligan said that dust was a concern for himself as most often death for those with spinal cord injuries is caused by pneumonia, which air pollution would aggravate.
Calvin Sims brought his grandson Tanner to the podium, cradling him in his arms, as he explained Tanner’s allergies and asthma and the need for breathing treatments.
“Please consider my grandson and these other people with respiratory illness that live real close to this proposed mining site,” Sims said.
Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, echoed residents’ health and environmental concerns, saying there was “no question” that the quarry would result in significant sediment deposits in the Tuckasegee River, located just across N.C. 107 from the proposed site. Snow expressed concern over the permit application’s lack of an explanation as to how crushed stone would be washed — where the water for washing would come from and where it would go after it was used.
However, Snow’s biggest issue wasn’t just the outcome of the hearing.
“But what’s next?” he asked the state mining panel.
The permit application as written doesn’t ask for much, Snow said. It does not ask to blast in order to reclaim rock. But that doesn’t mean that one day quarry operators might change their minds. Each change to the quarry’s operation could potentially prompt another public hearing, Snow said.
After nearly an hour and a half of comments, moderator Kenneth Taylor from the Western Area Hurricane Recovery Coordinator closed the hearing. The public comment period will remain open until at least Sept. 1 so that written comments may be submitted. If additional information is requested from the quarry operator — L.C. Jones, who was not at the hearing — then the comment deadline will be extended.