McDuffie County’s planning board said no to a mining company’s desire to further expand its operations in Dearing.
The McDuffie Planning Commission denied a variance request from Imerys Clays, based in Deepstep, Georgia, to begin kaolin mining of 329 acres of land abutting Wellmaker/Boneville/Hampton Davis Roads and 10.5 acres of a 54.54-acre tract of land on Luckey’s Bridge Road.
The board denied the mining company’s request to expand onto low density residential properties owned by Culpepper Lumber and Roy C. Reese Jr., Oct. 1 following a nearly two-hour McDuffie County Planning Commission meeting where the Dearing residents opposed to the expansion filled the meeting room at the government center.
The McDuffie County Commission will either uphold or strike the planning board’s denial recommendations at its Oct. 15 meeting.
The planning board includes three members—Chairman Charles Wallace, Georgia Hobbs and Don McCorkle. Two members resigned, Sammy Fowler left the board because he moved to another county, and Jimmy Poston resigned. The city council recently approved combining the city and county boards into a Thomson-McDuffie Planning Commission, effective in January.
Bob Knox, legal representative for Imerys Clays, told the commission and audience that the mining company has leased the Culpepper land since 1967 but has yet to do any mining on the property. “Imerys has about mined themselves out in several areas and they are moving to this tract,” he said.
Residents listened attentively as Knox spoke about traffic flow from the Wellmaker Road site if the variance was approved. He proposed that the flow of trucks would be from Wellmaker Road to Boneville to Augusta Highway to the Thomson Bypass and down towards Wrens and to Deepstep.
He told the planning commission that there would be one hauling period per week from the location. The Culpepper property is more than 1200 acres and Imerys wants to mine 329 acres, he said.
Monty Sanders, the lands and mines manger for Imerys Clay, informed the group that the Culpepper property is needed for its operation and that eight people would be employed in stripping the mines for five to 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. He said 20 trucks would haul 80 loads from the site one day a week.
When asked why the desire to mine the property now when it has been leased for more than five decades, Sanders said the property is 59 miles from the kaolin plant in Deepstep and the company wanted to mine those closer locations first.
Twelve people opposed the mining or expressed concerns about safety, narrowness of roads for trucks, spillage from trucks, decrease in air quality from dust, possible problems with residential, commercial and agriculture wells, destruction of property, its track record in communities, and the benefit of the operation to the community, including employment of residents.
Old Whiteoak Road resident Jeff Welch was concerned about the 10-acres of heir property he owns that abuts the Culpepper property. “I am concerned about the property values,” he said.
Mickey Johnson of Boneville Road was adamantly opposed to the mining in his neighborhood. After speaking against clay spillage from trucks and safety on the road, he offered a suggestion that drew laughter but conveyed his seriousness.
“My suggestion to Imerys and all the chalk companies in the future is to invent some kind of drone to haul that chalk away. I don’t appreciate them coming a bit.”
The strong opposition to the variance for the Culpepper property compelled the planning board to recess the meeting and talk among themselves before voting. After a 10 minute conversation, the meeting came back to order.
Georgia Hobbs moved and it was seconded by Don McCorkle that the variance not be granted. The members declined the variance because of strong opposition from the Boneville community, because of the destruction of the area for future growth in McDuffie County, because of the poor track record of mining in McDuffie County and because of the increase in traffic on roads that are already overtaxed.
The approval to deny was unanimous from the planning board. The recommendation will go before the county commission Oct. 15 and that body will either uphold the planning board’s recommendation or overturn it.
The proposed property on Luckey’s Bridge Road faced the same type of opposition.
“People bought houses out there and there were no mines,” said Nick Almeter, of Adams Reeves Road. He told the planning commission that he does not want a mine in his backyard.
“People are fed up with dust,” said Don McCorkle. “People are fed up with mud.” He also talked about health hazards from constantly breathing the dust and the destruction of the road from the current mining operation.
Others spoke of the disturbance they felt it would bring to their communities.
After hearing the arguments, the planning board unanimously rescinded the request. The matter will go before the county commission Oct. 15.
The planning commission’s action also resulted in positive moves forward for Wayne Williford who wants to turn the old Lions Fairground location on Jeannette Street into a location for auctions and other events; for Frank Richardson, to rezone two acres at 3359 Augusta Highway in Dearing from residential to commercial to build a T-shirt printing shop, and for Robert Boswell III to subdivide a 29.19 acre tract of land on Wrightsboro Road into four, approximately 8-acre tracts for homes for a subdivision.