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Wednesday, 23 August 2006 00:00

Quarry opponents get county support

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The grassroots group United Neighbors of Tuckasegee celebrated another victory in the battle to keep a rock quarry from locating in its community when county commissioners passed a resolution Thursday night (Aug. 17) imploring state officials not to issue a permit to quarry operators.

“Everyone is very pleased with the commissioners’ support, and we feel like they did a good thing,” said Nola Brown, a UNOT steering committee member who presented the resolution to commissioners.

Since county commissioners already have an ordinance in place strictly limiting the rock quarry’s location, that commissioners “urge and encourage the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to deny” Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone’s mining application.

A nearly standing-room only crowd gave commissioners a thunderous round of applause as they unanimously adopted the resolution.

Community opposition to Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone’s proposed rock quarry was strong, with five local residents voicing their opinions during the commissioners’ public comment session.

“This whole operation would ruin this whole entire area,” said resident and local boating guide TJ Kruger of the quarry, which is to be located on a 57-acre tract near the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 281 and less than 100 feet away from neighboring residential property.

Margo Wilcox, reading a statement on behalf of resident Hugh Thompson who could not be at the meeting, said supporting the quarry would be fiscally unwise. The taxes collected from the quarry would not be enough to compensate for the lowered tax values of neighboring residential properties, said Wilcox, reading from Thompson’s statement.

Peggy Dawson agreed, saying that Tuckasegee is no longer just a rural farming community but a residential community. The community is important to those who live there, and residents want commissioners to stand behind their ordinance “rather than make us a backwater on the way to Cashiers,” Dawson said.

Rock quarries are an environmental danger for which there are not enough controls, said Tuckasegee resident Keith Brown. Brown said he spent about 15 years working in rock quarries and had suffered the physical consequences.

“I’ve lost most of my sense of smell and taste working in rock quarries,” he said.

However, two consultants brought in to represent quarry operator L.C. Jones begged to differ. Terry Kennedy and Rohit Shetty with Geological Resources Inc. of Charlotte said that the company had been preparing mining permit applications since the mining act was passed in 1971.

Kennedy and Shetty both listed off the various agencies that review mining permit applications, pointing to the expertise of these agencies at evaluating application concerns. Kennedy cautioned commissioners that community outcry and talk of passing a resolution was “much ado about nothing,” as the state has not yet issued a permit.

Even if the state does issue an operations permit, a county ordinance would override the permit, making it useless. As written the local ordinance does not allow for any variances, meaning that county officials have little choice but to enforce it.

“The only other option that we have is we technically could revise the ordinance. That is an option, but I don’t foresee that happening,” said county commissioner chairman Brian McMahan in an interview prior to the meeting last week.

During Kennedy and Shetty’s presentation, McMahan interrupted to say that commissioners were aware of the review process and asked if either consultant had any new information to add to the discussion. They said they did not.

County attorney Paul Holt asked the consultants if they were familiar with the county ordinance strictly limiting such industrial uses as rock quarries. The ordinance, which county commissioners unanimously adopted in May 2002, requires a 1,320-linear-foot setback for all industries covered under the ordinance — asphalt plants, junkyards, heavy industry and mining operations. The setback is measured from the property line on which the industry is located — not just its building footprint. UNOT attorney Jay Spiro has determined there are about 39 homes within a 1,320-linear-foot radius from the quarry.

Shetty responded to Holt’s inquiry that yes, the consultants were familiar with the ordinance. Holt in turn asked if it was their professional opinion that the application as written would satisfy the local ordinance.

“Well we’d have to look into that,” Shetty said.

“But you have read our ordinance?” Holt asked.

“Yes,” Shetty said.

Since the consultants were acquainted with the ordinance, Commissioner Conrad Burrell asked the obvious question.

“Then why are we at this meeting now?” Burrell said.

Jones chose to respond.

“We was only going to remove boulders from the site,” he said, explaining that even for that he’d found he needed a permit.

“Would removing boulders not constitute mining?” McMahan asked.

Although the answer was yes, Jones said that removing boulders is something everyone all over the county does, permit or not. Such reasoning was not good enough for commissioners.

“I happen to have a quarry in my district,” said Commissioner Roberta Crawford. “So I certainly would not like to see another one in Tuckasegee.”

Crawford represents the Dillsboro area, home to APAC’s rock quarry. The quarry was part of the motivation behind the passage of the industrial development ordinance strictly limiting such land uses commissioners passed back in 2002.

Commissioner Joe Cowan motioned for passage of the resolution imploring the state not to issue Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone a permit, which Crawford seconded.

“That should settle the issue,” McMahan said upon the motion’s unanimous adoption.

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