For months, resident after resident has voiced their displeasure over what one landowner wants to do with his property, saying his personal venture will not benefit the community and will act to hurt their quality of life.
That procession of opposition continued during a recent meeting and will carry on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 6:30 p.m. That is when the Sampson County Planning Board will meet again to discuss a special use request by Draft and Design Services to develop a sand and gravel mining operation on a large tract of land on Five Bridge Road owned by Clark Wooten.
However, after some 10 hours of talk of the issue, the board has yet to deliberate. Board chairman Scott Brown has expressed his desire to get to that point on Jan. 13. There is much to consider, as concerns have only mounted.
“Aggregate is not a public service,” said Linda Warren Naylor, one of more than a dozen residents to speak in opposition to the special use request at the most recent meeting, held Monday, Dec. 28. “If our property valued is decreased then this money will have to come from somewhere. That means taxes go up. We love Sampson County. This room is full of people — we all love our homes and our community, and you can’t put a price on that.”
“There’s a big weight on your shoulders,” Naylor told the board. “I urge you all to vote no to this project. We want to keep our peaceful, quiet neighborhood.”
Throughout the entire process, residents opposing the mines have expressed their concerns with perceived truck traffic and pollution, and the overall adverse effects — environmentally and aesthetically — they believe will come from having an “industrial operation” in a rural residential area.
Attorney Andrew Jackson, representing the applicant, presented written objections Monday that lay witness testimony, representing the bulk of what the opposing side was offering, was “not competent,” specifically noting objections to concerns raised about increases in vehicle traffic, as well as dust and groundwater issues.
“Speculative and generalized fears are not competent,” Jackson stated.
Clifton Hester said the expert witnesses presented by the applicant had done little to make their case.
“They really haven’t given you any evidence that (the mine) won’t decrease property values,” Hester said.
The applicant recently submitted self-imposed conditions to which it would adhere, which Jackson noted went beyond what is required by the county and state.
The proposed Little Coharie Mine would operate 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no operations on Saturday or Sunday. The access gate to the plant will be located no closer than 450 feet from the centerline of Five Bridge Road and a split rail wooden fence will run along each side of the hail road extending from Five Bridge Road to the plant site, the conditions state. That haul road will also be equipped with a dedicated sprinkler system to mitigate dust from traffic in and out of the plant.
Other special conditions proposed by the applicant include that no pit will be located within 100 feet of the adjoining property line; maximum stockpile height shall not exceed 15 feet; and maximum equipment height shall not exceed 17 feet. Minimum berm height will be 8 feet with a 50-foot base.
No more than 14 acres may be opened for mining at one time, and the operator will keep a log of all third-party complaints — anonymous and otherwise — as well as the nature of the complaint and what steps were taken to mitigate the issue, the conditions state in part.
“Higher berms or whatever he has proposed does not make this in harmony with the area,” resident Carrie Ann Cooper said. “You can buy a lot of things — high-priced attorney and experts — but you cannot buy harmony. It’s one thing this community has been blessed with for a long time and we do not want it to change.”
The special use request by Draft and Design Services asserted that the use would not substantially decrease the value of adjoining properties and was in harmony with the area. It was “wet dredging” operation, and would not bring dust with it. However, it could take two or three years to get to that point, so sprinkler systems and the like would be utilized.
Resident Billy Satterfield said he did research on the mines on North Peavine and Murphy roads, used by the applicant to note harmony already existed locally with such operations. Those mines are much smaller and barely active, while also covering much less acreage than the proposed 330-acre venture on Five Bridge Road, he said.
“One is dormant and one is used very little,” Satterfield noted. “There’s no comparison between the Murphy Road and Peavine pits and the Five Bridge proposed pit.”
Another resident raised the same concerns, calling the comparison “apples and oranges.”
Zachary Rivenbark, who previously offered pro bono services to residents fighting mining operations on Five Bridge and High House roads before backing out due to conflicts, also spoke in opposition. His wife’s family has a great deal of property in and around the Five Bridge Road area and the new couple were pondering a move there as well.
“There is absolutely no way I will live there if there is a mining operation,” he protested. “There’s no way this is in harmony with this neighborhood.”
He alluded to data used by real estate appraisers in drawing comparisons between mining operations and the effect on properties in Onslow and Wake counties.
“One is a military community and the other is the fastest growing county in the state. That could not be further from what Sampson is,” said Rivenbark. “It is ludicrous and absurd to make that comparison.”
Property values and harmony have been points of contention in discussions. At Monday’s meeting, Rev. Mike Shook again reiterated the group’s driving point that the mining operation would not be in harmony.
“I plead with you to give some consideration to the well-being, the future development, the harmony of a community where we live,” said Shook, who noted he and his wife have lived more than 20 years in harmony with their neighbors there. “We love the place. It’s a beautiful place, a friendly place … we have a pretty nice community.”
Jackson has maintained that “competent, material and substantial evidence” by the applicant backs the request, and denial of the permit by the board could only come if evidence on the opposing side was equally as substantial. Lay witness testimony is “hearsay” and does not meet that standard, he has consistently noted.
Shook urged the board to think beyond one request and listen to the masses.
“Please think beyond the benefit that this will for the mine owner and think about what effect it will have when you try to recruit business, families and future development to Clinton and Sampson County,” he implored. “Leave a place of beauty and tranquility for our children and our grandchildren and future generations. Don’t just think of selfish interests.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.