ASHE COUNTY —Turns out local fresh air advocates didn’t have to hold their breath for very long.
The Ashe County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a six month moratorium against polluting industries Oct. 19, that could throw a wrench in plans for a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs.
“We are delighted that they are moving the ball down the field,” according to Pat Considine, a founder of the local environmental advocacy group Protect Our Fresh Air. “It’s not a touchdown, but it’s certainly moving it in our direction.”
While Considine applauded the board’s decision, representatives for Appalachian Materials Group, the company hoping to build the asphalt plant, said they’re still moving forward with the application process to build the facility.
How’d we get here?
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.
In response to that application, Protect Our Fresh Air was formed to oppose the plant’s formation. The group voiced their concerns in public on Sept. 8 and again in public hearings on Oct. 5-6. Each time, the group requested that commissioners consider a moratorium on polluting industries, even presenting a petition with over 400 signatures from residents of Glendale Springs who oppose the plant.
But Derek Goddard, principal consultant of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, says Appalachian Materials has acted in good faith and has developed an application that meets all necessary requirements.
And state air quality officials said earlier this month Appalachian Materials Group has complied with all of North Carolina’s clean air permitting rules and regulations and said the proposed plant likely won’t pump hazardous levels of toxins into the air.
Health, safety and general welfare
The moratorium ordinance passed by commissioners this week is written to protect Ashe County and its citizens from “potential harmful emissions and any aesthetic or property value damage to adjacent residential and agriculture properties.”
“Development approvals subject to the moratorium are asphalt plants, rock quarries, rock crushing operations and any industry which produces objectionable levels of noise, odors, vibrations, fumes, light, smoke, air pollution or other physical manifestations that may have an adverse effect on the safety or general welfare of the citizens of Ashe County, including any active applications or permits for which a vested right has not been established.”
Even with the moratorium in place, it’s possible that it could only slow down construction of the proposed asphalt plant rather than stop it.
According to John Kilby, Ashe County’s attorney, the moratorium does not stop the asphalt plant from being built but will allow commissioners and the Ashe County Planning Board to review the current Polluting Industries Ordinance which was passed in the early 2000s in response to Tri-County Paving’s attempts to build an asphalt plant.
“The key question is how the commissioners view them as being vested or not vested in their applications. We contend that they are not vested,” Considine said. “They clearly have greater setbacks than protect the health and welfare of the citizens of Ashe County. They are going to throw out 178,000 pounds of trash each year.”
According Goddard, the decision to enact a moratorium was not unexpected.
“We’ve been coming to these meetings and saw the tone of the board and the reaction of the board,” Goddard said. “Our contention is that we certainly are vested and we applied before this moratorium.”
What happens next?
According to Kilby, the future of Appalachian Material’s application is unknown.
“There’s not been a ruling on whether or not the current application will be exempt from the moratorium. The applicants have not obtained the final permits that they need in order to proceed forward,” Kilby said. “I expect if they do obtain those permits, they might request an exemption. If they do, we will deal with it as it occurs.”
According to Goddard, an air quality permit from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is the only outstanding permit needed. He expects Appalachian Materials to receive the air quality permit within the next couple of weeks.
The moratorium will take effect Oct. 19 and is set to expire April 19, 2016 with the possibility of a six month extension. The Ashe County Planning Board will make recommendations regarding their review of the Polluting Industries Ordinance no later than January 21, 2016. If commissioners consider any proposed amendments to the ordinance, a public hearing will be scheduled.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.