The McDuffie County Board of Commissioners pleased a multitude of Dearing area residents on July 21 by saying no to mining for now. The well-attended meeting was held outside, in front of the Government Center to accommodate the large crowd while maintaining social distancing.
County commissioners voted unanimously to deny two special exceptions that would have allowed kaolin mining to begin on tracts off Boneville and Wellmaker Road and Luckey’s Bridge Road. The commission also denied a recommendation made by the Thomson-McDuffie Consolidated Planning and Zoning Commission to create a community liaison committee. This committee could have addressed citizens’ concerns over mining activity and have the authority to place stipulations on mining, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Fred Guerrant previously said. The planning and zoning commission had met on July 7 to hear the two special exception requests.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton stated Tuesday that only the Board of Commissioners has the authority to place stipulations on mining in the county.
“From our standpoint, we have no other actions to take,” Newton told the Progress last week. “Any other actions would come from the applicants themselves.”
County Manager David Crawley said individuals have the right to appeal land use decisions to Superior Court.
“The argument for the appeal can vary, from the county’s authority to make a decision to how the decision was reached or the reason for the decision,” Crawley said.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Chase Beggs suggested in a staff report that the county review its ordinance on mining and possibly amend the ordinance.
Arguments for, against
Commissioners listened as people spoke for or against the requests before voting to deny the applications.
One application pertained to a 10.52-acre tract of land off Luckey’s Bridge Road, a parcel owned by Roy Reeves Jr., and the other was for a 329-acre tract on Boneville and Wellmaker Roads, property owned by Culpepper Lumber Company, LLC. Imerys Performance Minerals intended to mine kaolin at these two Dearing locations.
Both applications were previously denied in 2019 by the former planning and zoning commission, and both applications were then withdrawn before they could be sent to the Board of Commissioners.
Numerous area residents voiced their concerns to commissioners. They stated kaolin mining would pollute their ponds and wells and open pits would create safety hazards particularly for local children and youth. Citizens worried about the dust and noise from mining. They also said heavy trucks that haul kaolin could dirty and damage roads.
“I never would have bought that property had I known it was going to be mined up,” said Michael Hayes, a Luckey’s Bridge Road resident and the father of six.
Boneville area resident Billy Lavigno claimed Imerys’ permits to mine were not valid. He said the permits were only good for one year, and stated that the company could not show when they began clearing land in preparation for mining. Lavigno added that the county could require the mining company to conduct an environmental study before getting a permit. He stated the area has a low water table.
Imerys’ legal counsel, Atlanta attorney Matthew Parrish, said the company has valid permits from EPD to mine. He said the 10-acre site on Luckey’s Bridge Road is part of an existing mine.
According to Beggs’ staff report, “The proposed mine adjoins a 70-acre tract of land that is currently being mined. This mine, known as the Fuller-Greene Mine, is accessed off of Luckey’s Bridge Road and Greene Road.”
The report reads that the 10.52-acre tract, owned by Roy Reeves Jr., was recently clear cut for timber harvesting, and therefore “ no longer contains the natural wooded buffer between the homes on Luckey’s Bridge Road and the mining site.”
The report states that mining began on the Greene tract in 1994 and encompassed four property owners’ properties. “Reeves bought the property from the Segers family and contacted Imerys to draw up another contract,” according to the report.
The staff report also reads that the 10.52-acre tract is located within the confines of the area designated for mining in the county’s 2015-2035 Comprehensive Plan.
Regarding the 329-acre tract of land on Wellmaker and Boneville Roads, Beggs’ staff report states Imerys has had mineral rights to the property since 1967.
However, the Wellmaker and Boneville Roads tract is located outside of the area designated for mining by the Comprehensive Plan, according to the report. It is located inside a character area known as “Countryside.”
“The Countryside Character Area describes future development uses as large lot residential, clustered residential development and agricultural uses,” reads the report.