ASHE COUNTY —They came wearing anti-asphalt plant buttons on their shirts, coats and blouses – and they showed up in force Monday morning at the Ashe County Courthouse.
More than 25 people voiced their thoughts on Appalachian Materials’ plan to bring an asphalt plant to Glendale Springs during a public hearing hosted by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
The Protect Our Fresh Air committee, formed this summer by concerned community members, presented a petition with nearly 400 signatures from members of the Glendale Springs community who opposed the plant. The petition asked for commissioners’ support for a six month moratorium on polluting industries.
Following the hearing and an extended executive session, the five member board voted unanimously to start the process that could halt the plant from going forward for at least six months.
Commissioners instructed county attorney John Kilby to draft a moratorium that could stop the issuance of a polluting industries permit for up to six months.
Citizens say ‘no’
The Ashe County Planning Department received a formal application from Appalachian Materials for an asphalt plant at the end of June. The proposal stated the plant would sit on a 30-acre land parcel on Glendale School Road next to an existing rock quarry owned and operated by Radford Quarries.
According to Ashe County Planning Director Adam Stumb, before the asphalt plant can be granted a permit, it has to receive federal and state permit to meet the Polluting Industries Ordinance act passed in the early 2000s in response to Tri-County Paving attempting to build an asphalt plant.
Pat Considine, a founder of the Protect Our Fresh Air committee, told commissioners Monday that from his backyard he is able to look down onto the New River valley.
“My family loves this little place, this piece of heaven, and we want to protect it from a black sooty hell of an asphalt plant,” Considine said.
According to Considine, his 30-acre property, located less than two miles from Radford Quarries, could possibly be affected by smells and sounds coming from the proposed asphalt plant.
“If the proposed asphalt plant is permitted on Glendale Springs road, Glendale Springs will be overrun by truck traffic, the frescoes will likely be damaged by heavy truck vibrations and the lungs of all our neighbors particularly children and frail elderly citizens will be compromised by the effects of 178,000 pounds of pollution annually,” Considine said.
Glendale Springs resident Bob Sumner spoke to commissioners during the hearing to tell them that he believes that the application submitted by Appalachian Materials could be rejected under Ashe County’s current Polluting Industries Ordinance.
According to Sumner, the application could be denied under the current ordinance because it’s written to promote the “health, safety and general welfare,” of the citizens of Ashe County.
“We believe that the provision is strong enough that it gives you the power to be able to deny the permit even if the applicant, Appalachian Materials, comes to you with the permits from the state,” Sumner said.
Sumner also brought up a lawsuit in which the federal government had sued Appalachian Materials last year.
The asphalt plant’s response
Randy Marsh, compliance director at Radford Quarries, later addressed Sumner’s claims and explained the situation to commissioners.
“They don’t know why this lawsuit started,” Marsh said. “It started because of one footprint. One, and that was all.”
According to Marsh, the footprint was found by an inspector behind a berm barrier which was placed to prevent injuries from falling rock. Appalachian Materials was found not at fault for the footprint and Marsh agreed to give workers an educational session to make sure they understand the berm barrier and the safety reasons for them, he said.
Derek Goddard, principal consultant of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, spoke during the the hearing on behalf of Appalachian Materials and stated that commissioners had been presented inaccurate information.
According to Goddard, drafting a moratorium would set a bad precedent for businesses wanting to come to Ashe County in the future. He referenced a bill proposed by N.C. House Rep. Jonathan Jordan that would prevent asphalt plants operating within two miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. That bill was ultimately rejected by the N.C. House Rules Committee.
“It’s anti-business,” Goddard said. “It’s not in the core with how people ought to do business here in the state of North Carolina.”
Goddard also mentioned an event that occurred almost 15 years ago when Tri-County Paving attempted to build an asphalt plant in Ashe County, leading to the creation of the Pollution Industries Ordinance. Ashe County adopted a moratorium period and the asphalt plant was not constructed.
According to Goddard, asphalt plant opponents have what he calls “not in my backyard” syndrome.
“The opponents of this asphalt plant don’t think there’s any good place for an asphalt plant,” Goddard said. “If we were proposing one in Lansing, or Warrensville, or Fleetwood, the same people would be here and the same arguments would be in place.”
Despite claims that Appalachian Materials has outstanding violations issued by the state of North Carolina, Goddard said that is not true.
“There are no notices of violation that have been issued by the state of North Carolina even though some claim that there are,” Goddard said.
According to Goddard, Appalachian Materials has acted in good faith and has developed an application that meets all requirements and therefore should be “grandfathered” in if a moratorium is adopted or if changes are made to the existing Polluting Industries Ordinance.
“If you do draft a moratorium, what you have to consider is, my client made an application under and with reliance on the Polluting Industries Development Ordinance as it stands now,” Goddard said. “Don’t pull the rug out from underneath our client, because they’ve done everything that you’ve asked business people to do.”
The board won’t actually vote on enacting the moratorium itself until its next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.
Ashe County Commissioner Larry Rhodes said he’ll vote in favor of the moratorium later this month.
“Whether the plant goes forward or not, I think the board needs time to review this entire situation,” Rhodes said. “The moratorium would allow us to do that.”
Considine called the possible moratorium by commissioners a “good first step.”
“We’re delighted they listened to the community and that so many had the time and courage to stand and up and express their desires,” Considine said. “But we don’t see this as over.”
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.