By Nathan Ham
In a recent decision filed on March 27, the North Carolina Supreme Court has determined that the court would not hear an appeal from Watauga County in its ongoing court battle with Appalachian Materials over a proposed asphalt plant.
The plant, which can now proceed as planned, will be constructed on Rainbow Trail just off of Highway 194 North outside of Boone.
Concerned citizens banded together in 2015 in an attempt to make their voices heard, hoping that Watauga County would deny a high impact land usage permit to Appalachian Materials for the asphalt plant project. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and High Country WATCH were persistent in their efforts to get the county to block the permit.
The plea of the citizens appeared to work as the Watauga County Board of Adjustments denied the permit, and that decision was later supported by the Watauga County Superior Court two years later after the ruling stated that the asphalt plant would be within 1,500 feet of an educational facility, the Margaret E. Gragg Education Center.
Appalachian Materials appealed the decision and the NC Court of Appeals overturned the previous ruling that was in favor of Watauga County, saying that the education center, which is home to the central office for Watauga County Schools, does not meet the criteria as an educational facility.
Lou Zeller, the executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, was obviously disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It’s a terrible decision and it should not stand. I’m disappointed with the state’s Supreme Court for not considering it because there are issues of fact which I think they overlooked,” Zeller said. “The appeals court ruling, which is the ruling allowed to stand with the Supreme Court not taking it up, is like Swiss cheese it has so many holes in it and I would have thought the higher court would have understood that and the importance of local control. It’s about the town of Boone and the county and municipal governments being able to protect its residents.”
Zeller said that the ordinance in question doesn’t do anything other than protect residents.
“It doesn’t prohibit highways, it doesn’t prohibit asphalt plants, it just says you cannot put them near schools and the Supreme Court has just dropped the ball,” he said.
Zeller says that he is not sure where the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League will go from here on the issue and that he will leave that decision up to the legal team that has been working on this case. He does hope that some better local ordinances might come from all of this.
Calls for Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque and DJ Cecile with Appalachian Materials LLC have not been returned. The story will be updated should the High Country Press hear back.