Commissioners: Asphalt plant ordinance needs more work

JEFFERSON-Ashe County Commissioners agreed Monday morning that more fine tuning of the county’s proposed high impact land use ordinance is needed before it can earn the board’s seal of approval.

That decision followed lengthy discussion by the board and input from concerned citizens that the proposed setbacks of polluting industries from protected properties are not enough to safeguard the county’s natural resources and the health of residents.

Commissioners voted 5-0 that the proposed setbacks for Class I facilities under the proposed ordinance should be increased from 1,000 to 2,500 feet and from 500 feet to 1,000 feet for Class II facilities.

Those proposed changes will be incorporated by the planning board before it is sent back to the commissioners for consideration in April.

The HILU creates two polluting industries categories. Class I includes asphalt plants, incinerators, quarries, stone crushing operations, concrete mixing plants, pulp mills, chip mills and saw mills. Class II inculdes chemical manufacturers, chemical storage, explosives manufacturers and warehouess, fuel storage centers and medical waste disposal centers.

Since 1999, the county has been protected by the Polluting Industries Ordinance, but a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Sprnigs has reignited calls for revisions and greater protections.

In response to this, county commmissioners voted 5-0 on Sept. 8, 2015 to hold a public hearing for amending the existing PIO. Then, on Oct. 19, the board unanimously adopted a six-month moratorium on new permits under the PIO.

Enter the HILUO.

On Jan. 28, the Ashe County Planning Board approved a draft of the HILUO, which opponents, including the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said would weaken the existing ordinance by severely reducing setbacks from protected uses.

Under the proposed HILUO, this would require setbacks from any polluting industries of 1,000 feet for Class I facilities and 500 feet for Class II.

“Under the existing PIO, chemical manufacturers, chemical storage, explosive manufacturers and warehouses, fuel storage center and medical waste disposal centers could not be located within 1,000 feet of a home or commercial building, or within 1,320 feet of a school, daycare, hospital or nursing home,” said Louis Zeller, executive director of the BREDL.”Under the HILU, all these polluting industries are Class II and could be located just 500 feet from any of these protected sites. This represents a 50 percent reduction in setback distances from polluting facilities to homes and commercial establishments and a 62 percent reduction in setback distances to schools, daycares, hospitals or nursing homes.”

The HILU would have a similar impact on Class I polluting industries, said the league.

Commissioners agreed that the proposed setbacks are not enough.

Commissioner Gary Roark said he will not vote for the proposed HILUO as it stands and expressed his overall disapproval of locating another asphalt plant in the county.

“I have no intention of padding the wallet of someone (asphalt plant) outside of Ashe County,” said Roark. “We already have an asphalt plant in county and others within striking distance of U.S. 421.

Brien Richardson said he would not pass the proposed ordinace until the setbacks are increased.

Commissioners were also moved by the setbacks put in place by other counties, including the 2,000-feet setback on these industries in Alleghany County.

“We should meet or exceed or neighbors,” said Chairman Jeff Rose. “All of us are in favor of greater distances.”

Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.

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