Tuckasegee residents rock the public hearing
More than 100 concerned residents of the Tuckasegee community crammed into Sylva's Jackson County Justice and Administration Building on Aug. 22 for a public hearing concerning a 3.44-acre rock quarry proposed for a roughly 57-acre tract that lies less than 100 feet from neighboring residential property. The crushed-stone quarry would be located off N.C. 281 in Jackson County and operated by Carolina Boulder and Stone, a limited-liability company managed by L.C. Jones of Franklin. The United Neighbors of Tuckasegee, a citizens' group formed in opposition to the quarry, has led the effort to rally public support for adjacent-property owners.
According to the company's permit application, the quarry would be 40 feet deep, but only unconsolidated stone would be removed and no blasting would occur on the site.
Judith Wehner, assistant state mining specialist with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Land Quality Section, didn't know when a decision would be issued on the permit, but noted that the agency is legally required to make a determination within 30 days. "At the minimum, we will be asking for more information," she said, citing sediment-control issues as one of the areas in which DENR would ask for clarification from the company.
Brian McMahan, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, was first in line to offer comments, declaring that the board would stick by a 2002 county ordinance that prohibits heavy industry from locating operations within a quarter-mile of a residential neighborhood. State issuance of a mining permit would not override any existing county ordinances barring such development, according to the N.C. Mining Act.
McMahan submitted a resolution from the Board of Commissioners expressing opposition to the quarry and noting public concern about "similar types of invasive, noxious industrial activities in Jackson County residential neighborhoods." It was the first of what would become a small tower of documentation that Wehner accepted from speakers at the podium, stacking one packet after another neatly beside her own furiously scribbled notes.
Beverly Turrentine of Tuckasegee submitted a list of 1,500 signatures of Jackson County residents opposed to the quarry. Matt Mahar, a physician, presented a packet of testimonials from local doctors detailing the potential health impacts of dust from the quarry. Cherrie Ann Moses, an historian and retired teacher, handed over a bundle of documents detailing the archeological value of the site, noting that it probably contained Cherokee artifacts.
Jessie Hooper, whose property borders the proposed quarry site, helped her wheelchair-bound husband Harold to the podium and implored state officials to consider his condition: Diagnosed with emphysema, any impact on air quality could significantly effect his delicate health, she said. Dr. Mahar, his physician, underscored her plea by saying that "his life hangs in the balance of safety in air quality."
Concerns about impacts on wildlife were also raised. According to written comments submitted by Brian Cole, a field specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, federally designated critical habitat for the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel lies just downstream from the project. Thomas Crowe, whose property sits less than 100 feet from the proposed site, says he's seen eagles, osprey and blue herons fish in the river directly in front of the site.
State Sen. John Snow also made an appearance at the hearing, voicing his concerns about dust and sediment runoff. In his written comments, Snow indicated that "there has been no showing that this is necessary for economic development in Jackson County[,] and to the contrary [it] appears to be just a money-making venture for owners who live outside Jackson County."
L.C. Jones of Carolina Boulder and Stone was not present. Contacted afterward by Xpress, he declined to comment on the health and environmental concerns raised by surrounding residents. "That hearing was for the state and the concerned citizens," he said when asked why he'd decided not to attend. "I got no reason to be there."
For more information about the proposed quarry, visit the United Neighbors of Tuckasegee Web site at www.unot.org.