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Wednesday, 02 August 2006 00:00

150 show up to oppose Tuckasegee quarry

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Opposition to a proposed rock quarry near the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 281 in Jackson County has prompted state officials to take an unusual step by calling for a public hearing on the company’s permit application before the written comment period has even closed.

“From the interest I’m told we’ll get here, I’m sure we’re going to have a hearing,” said Jim Simmons, director of the Land Quality Section of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Land Resources and a state geologist.

Simmons estimated that the hearing would occur in about a month, though no time, date or location has been set.

Residents and concerned citizens turned out in droves for a meeting called by the United Neighbors of Tuckasegee last Saturday (July 29). The meeting, held at the Tuckasegee Baptist Church, drew approximately 150 audience members who filled the church in a quiet show of support for the United Neighbors’ cause. Opening the meeting, local resident Tom Turrentine cautioned audience members that the meeting was called solely to spark action.

“It’s not about discussion or debate of the issues,” he said.

The United Neighbors group banded together upon learning that Franklin-based Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone has filed an application with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to open a new crushed stone quarry. The quarry is to be located on a 57-acre tract visible from N.C. 281 and less than 100 feet away from neighboring residential property.

County ordinance requires such industry to have a 1,320-linear-foot setback from certain neighboring property lines including those of residential homes for such industries and appears to prohibit the quarry. The setback is measured from the property line on which the industry is located — not just its building footprint.

“We’ve determined that, ballpark, there’s 39 houses within that distance,” said United Neighbors’ attorney Jay Spiro.

However, local residents are not willing to sit back and risk the chance that local officials would not be able to enforce the ordinance or that state officials would grant the mining company an operating permit.

“People are tired of people coming in here and just buying up land, and because we don’t have any land planning and we don’t have zoning, they just come up here and do whatever they take a notion to,” said Nola Brown, a member of United Neighbors’ steering committee.

Local resident Thomas Rain Crowe said that allowing a rock quarry to locate in Tuckasegee would destroy his way of life.

“They literally would be coming in right on top of me and I would be forced to move,” said Crowe, whose home is within 90 feet of the proposed quarry’s location.

Crowe said that his home in Tuckasegee with its peace and quiet had been the perfect place to write. Crowe lauded his community’s efforts to keep the rock quarry out, banking on the group’s acronym (United Neighbors of Tuckasegee, or UNOT) to make his point.

“Which as far as I’m concerned stands for ‘UNOT going to put no damn quarry in my backyard,’” he iterated from the church pulpit to a round of laughter and applause from the audience.

By Monday, United Neighbors had collected more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the quarry. The petition was sent to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Land Resources. If the Department of Natural Resources determines there is significant public interest in the project, a public hearing will be held within 60 days of the end of the written comment filing period.

However, some confusion exists over when the written comment filing period ends. United Neighbors had originally figured a date of Aug. 18, but upon review of the permit application Judy Wehner, assistant state mining specialist, issued a tentative Aug. 4 deadline.

Consequently, United Neighbors members urged concerned citizens to mail letters expressing their concerns to state officials by Monday, July 31.

Additional letters will be sent to county officials in time for their consideration at commissioners’ Aug. 17 meeting, at which United Neighbors hold a slot on the agenda.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a roomful,” Brown said.

So far, United Neighbors has largely left mine property landowner James Vander Woude and Carolina Crushed Boulder and Stone owner L.C. Jones out of discussions about the quarry’s potential impact on their community.

Vander Woude, who owns Whistle Stop Mall in Franklin and has plans to construct a Mayberry replica town near Macon County’s new library, is known throughout the region as a property developer. He owns several tracts in addition to the Tuckasegee property, which he bought for $490,000 from Ohio-based Shetland Mountain LLC. With well-timed purchases, Vander Woude’s land dealings kept Jones’ out of bankruptcy in 2004.

With liens on his residence and his company — J&J Specialty Contractors — Jones had filed for bankruptcy. Vander Woude bought one-half interest in land Jones owned off Asheville Highway near Harris Regional Hospital for $106,454. That money was in turn used to pay off United Community Bank, which released its lien on Jones’ other half of the property and reduced his other debts.

The agreement, which forced Jones to sell property he owned in Macon County to help pay off bank liens, allowed him to keep his home and keep his company operating. However, with Jones’ payment to United Community Bank, his remaining half interest in the Asheville Highway property also was conveyed to Vander Woude.

Vander Woude and Jones are jointly involved with the Tuckasegee property for the rock quarry, as Jones is leasing the land from Vander Woude for the mine’s operation. Jones and Vander Woude did not return phone calls for this story.

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