A sign on Boneville Road has been placed by a Kaolin mining opposition group of residents to raise awareness of next week’s public hearing. The same signs were used in 2011 when they lobbied against mining. The signs were placed at multiple locations near or leading to the proposed mining areas on Monday. By Tuesday, at least three of the signs had been stolen.

Two of three items on the agenda of the Thomson-McDuffie County Planning Commission’s public hearing next Tuesday are requests that parcels be approved for Kaolin mining. As in the past, opposition is rallying against the mining proposals.

The public hearing is for an application requesting a special exception to permit mining operations on Luckey’s Bridge Road, a parcel owned by Roy Reeves Jr., and an application requesting a special exception to permit mining operations on Boneville Road and Wellmaker Road, a parcel owned by Culpepper Lumber Company, LLC. The public hearing will be July 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Government Services Center, 210 Railroad Street.

Imerys Performance Minerals is hoping to mine kaolin at those two locations.

“We at Imerys live and work in the communities where we mine, so we understand first-hand the concerns voiced by the residents of McDuffie County. Our families drive these roads. We enjoy our rural lifestyle. And we are committed to preserving quality of life for all of us,” said Melissa Noebes, the  Communications Director for Imerys Performance Minerals - Americas, said in a statement Monday.  

“Imerys has a long, safe and sustainable history of mining in Georgia,” she added. “The Mine Management Plan for operations in McDuffie County is designed to minimize truck transit, limiting activity to one day per week during normal working hours. We will create over 50 direct and indirect jobs in the area, a vital need during these challenging economic times. Most importantly, we commit to bringing our award-winning, world-class reclamation practices to our sites here, just as we did in 2016 with the Segers Mine property located across from the Lucky’s Bridge site currently under application.”

The planning and zoning board, structured slightly differently then, reviewed requests on both parcels on Oct. 1, 2019. The board at that time chose to not recommend approval. Final approval comes from the county commissioners and the requests were withdrawn prior to it going before the county commission in late 2019.

The pending public hearing on the two new requests has been advertised and public notice of zoning signs have been placed at the two proposed mining locations. The opposition countered with signage on Monday.

Signs identified as having been paid for by “those Opposed to Kaolin Mining in our Residential Community” were placed roadside in locations near the two proposed mining locations.

One on Wellmaker Road was discovered to have been stolen within two hours of when it was placed within sight of the county’s public notice of zoning sign.

Tommy Edmunds said he placed the sign on his property, which borders one of the proposed mining sites, on Wellmaker Road. But, within two hours the sign was missing and he contacted McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall to report it as a theft.

Edmunds, who said the proposed mining parcel is located 150 yards or less from his doorstep, is concerned with the impact mining would have on his property and the surrounding area.

“You’re going to have noise, going to have dust, and have impact on the environment and the animals,” Edmunds said. “We have been here for 46, 47 years. And, it seems sort of far fetched for me that we’ve got to do the suffering for their profits. About all they can see is white and green.”

By Tuesday, two more signs had been stolen. One on Old Augusta Highway disappeared and one on Wellmaker Road at Old Augusta Highway also disappeared, according to Peggy Lovejoy.

According to Roger Harrison and Lovejoy, the signs were purchased and used during a 2011 fight against proposed kaolin mining. They were simply modified to the date of the current public hearing. According to Harrison, one sign was stolen in 2011.

“We’ve been into it three of four times,” said Harrison of his efforts to prevent mining in McDuffie. “I’m just tired of fighting it myself.”

He was involved with the opposition in 2019.

“We stayed with it and they seen that we didn’t like it and they pulled the application for the permit two or three hours before the meeting,” said Harrison.

“My problem is with people. People don’t care. That’s the problem,” said Harrison. “People are so used to getting their way and getting what they want they don’t care,” he said. “People don’t care nothing about what is going on in the county. People in general do not care.”

He wants to make sure mining does not get a foothold in the county.

“The negative part of mining coming to McDuffie County is once they get started they are going to just try to eat this county up. They want everything that they see and they are just like anybody else — they don’t care,” Harrison said. “The county ain’t going to get nothing out of it.”

Harrison said he is also concerned with mining because of the dust. He said the state does not require the trucks to cover the backs and while going down the road the kaolin dust blows out.

Several in the opposition group have referenced a letter they say was given to them by McDuffie County Commissioner Gloria Thompson when she was running for office four years ago against incumbent Paul McCorkle.

It began with “My name is Gloria Thompson and I am running for County Commission for District 2 in McDuffie County. I am 100 percent against any mining in your area now or in the future!”

Thompson, now a county commissioner, confirmed she sent the letter while campaigning. She said that specific reference was for mining proposed in the Margarets Road area.

However, as a whole she is opposed to mining in McDuffie County unless certain things happen.

“My take on mining period, is that until McDuffie County has some tighter regulations that mining companies have to abide by I will not vote to approve anything,” Thompson said earlier this week. “I am not saying that I will never consider any mining, but it will be under the tighter regulations that we have written, tighter than what the state has written.”

Her concerns are the way mining can tie up property for years, how trucks can tear up roads, and that the property could be left blighted.

“They would have to sign off to those regulations,  adhere to those so that we have some type of a recourse in enforcement. But, even with that, it doesn’t mean that I would approve it. It depends where it is,” Thompson said.

Imerys currently maintains three active permits in McDuffie County.  

“In all of our years of mining there — across the three active sites and the two retired/reclaimed sites — we have received no formal complaints regarding our operations. We pride ourselves on being good neighbors and responsible environmental stewards,” said Noebes.

At the public hearing Tuesday, both those in favor of allowing the mining and those opposed will be allowed to speak.

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