With sand and gravel mining requests approved in northern Sampson County, the optimism for residents living around the two other proposed sites in central Sampson has waned even as those remaining requests still sit firmly on the table.
“Needless to say I was disappointed with the vote on Monday night,” said Billie Jo King, who has spearheaded opposition of mining and quarry operations proposed for Five Bridge and High House roads. “The landowners whose property adjoins the ‘Big Easy’ had a lot of valid points in opposition to the sand/gravel mine request. It is very disheartening to realize that Sampson County citizens’ voices are not heard.”
A special use permit for “Big Easy” mine on Fleet Naylor Road (Timothy Sod LLC) has been approved, following the approval of an adjacent mine proposal OK’d in September. There are two requests by Drafting and Design Services, Inc. for mining operations on High House and Five Bridge roads still pending from Emerald Sod LLC and Belvoir Sod LLC.
All ventures are on land owned by County Commissioner Clark Wooten.
Attorney Andrew Jackson represents the applicant and brought several witnesses forward earlier this week, each of them testifying that the mines would have no adverse effects on properties and their tax values, and that one could deduce from that assertion that environmental impacts would also be minimal. Michael Blakley of Drafting and Design also noted the various governing entities — the Mining Act of 1971 and numerous local, state and federal agencies — that the mining establishments, once proposed, would have to satisfy in every aspect of their operations.
Jackson said “competent, material and substantial evidence” backed the request, and denial of the permit by the board could only come if evidence on the opposing side was equally as substantial.
“The testimony you have heard is a prima facie case,” said Jackson, referring to a case presumed to be true unless it is disproved, “that supports granting a special use permit.”
Board members agreed, citing the evidence in approving the permit for the “Big Easy” mine, a 254-acre tract, 49 acres of which will be developed to include a 5.2-acre plant site. It passed by a 4-1 vote, with board member Sherri Smith voting against the measure. While there would be a 10-year state permit to sell materials from what Blakley called a “wet dredging” operation, the life could be double or triple that, or even longer.
The decision brought swift reaction from a large contingent opposed to the mining, many of whom were at Monday night’s marathon meeting that spilled into Tuesday morning. They plan to be there again this Tuesday where the other two requests will be considered.
Residents expressed unease at what Monday’s decision could mean for the requests in their neighborhood, and complained of perceived conflicts of interest and unheard voices by large groups of citizens.
“Something as huge as this should not be decided by an appointed board, especially a board appointed by the Sampson County Commissioners, of which the requester is a part,” King remarked, who noted her belief that it presents a conflict of interest. “Who am I to say? I am only a tax-paying citizen and, according to the board, my opinion and the effect that the mines will have on my daily life and … everyone’s daily lives simply does not matter.”
“But our community does matter,” she continued. “We love this county and this community.”
Sampson County resident Steve Demarco shared the same sentiment.
“Everyone has presented their reasons either for or against the operation. Those reasons aside, another determination that should be considered is the board’s duty to its citizens that it represents,” Demarco stated. “What makes our form of government so admired and envied is that everyone expects and should get equal representation under it. The fact that the owner of the land and the one requesting the permit is a county commissioner and a member of the government that helped appoint the board making the decision lends itself to an air of impropriety and conflict of interest.”
Attorney Clifton Hester, representing those in opposition in the Five Bridge and High House requests, did not cross-examine any of the expert witnesses on the applicant’s side as part of the first matter. He was conducting a cross-examination in the second matter, the High House Road request, when Monday’s meeting was adjourned.
For a special use permit to be granted, the use must: not materially endanger the public health or safety; meet all required conditions and specifications; not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property; and be in harmony with the area and in general conformity with the Sampson County Land Use Plan.
“I’ve heard the comments that this isn’t farming and this is not Sampson County — I understand the heartache,” Board member Gary Mac Herring said earlier this week leading up to the permit approval for Fleet Naylor. He noted, reiterating a point of Jackson’s, that while the use of a quarrying or mining operation is not spelled out in the Land Use Plan, it does fall in line with a special use allowed within an area zoned Residential Agriculture.
“These decisions were made before we got here,” said Herring of the letter of the county’s planning code. “We need to follow the law. I don’t know how we can vote against it.”
Even though “disheartened,” the residents of the Belvoir Township are pressing on and will be holding a community fundraiser on Monday, on the eve of the Planning Board meeting, at McGee United Methodist Church. There, spaghetti plates are being sold for lunch and dinner. King urged support in what she called “Belvoir Township’s” effort, as did others.
The proposed High House Road mining operation contains approximately 279.42 acres, with about half of that — 141.8 acres — proposed to be developed. The Five Bridge mining proposal contains 510 acres, with 330.5 acres to be developed.
The Planning Board will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, in the City Hall Auditorium to mull the two other requests.
“The ultimate question every board member should consider is ‘would I want this operation next to my house?’” Demarco stated. “If not then they should not vote to put it next to their fellow citizens. If the decisions (the board) makes are for the benefit of its citizens, it is clear that more people are against this than are for it and decisions should be based on this. It is how democracy works.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.