By Jesse Wood
In an interview on Tuesday, Maymead President Wiley Roark said he intended to appeal Watauga County Planning Department’s decision to revoke a 2011 permit for an asphalt plant on U.S. 421 in Deep Gap.
Last week, Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman sent Roark a letter stating that the permit “expired and therefore [is] revoked.”
Furman added that the project wouldn’t be grandfathered in the event that Watauga County Board of Commissioners modify the county’s high impact land use ordinance, which regulates asphalt plants and other polluting industries. The commissioners will hold a public hearing next Tuesday morning, and Maymead has asked for extra time to present its opposing stance to the potential amendments.
Furman also noted that Maymead didn’t have vested rights, for one, because it still had several permits from numerous agencies to secure. See entire contents of Furman’s letter here.
“We are certainly disappointed by Mr. Furman’s letter, and we don’t agree with it,” Roark said. “We feel certain that we are vested from the standpoint of the permit that has been issued to us by Watauga County and we intend to pursue it.”
He added, “If Watauga County wants to strengthen their high impact land use ordinance, that is certainly up to them, but our position to them … the [potentially new] regulations don’t apply to us because we are vested and we are going to pursue that. We feel like we are on a very strong footing to do so.”
Roark wouldn’t comment on specific monetary investment his company had made for the site on U.S. 421, but he did say that he spent a “significant amount of money” on land acquisition and development.
In January, Roark secured an eight-year agreement with Johnny and Joan Hampton to lease 4.341-acre property at 5251 U.S. 421 South for $6,000 per year during the initial eight years. It contains a five-year option to renew. The contract also includes Roark’s right of first refusal to purchase 104+ acres in and around the site. This 104+acres includes includes 22 acres owned by the Hamptons, which also includes the 4.341-acre site, and 82 more acres of land owned by adjacent property owners, including Gateway Crew, LLC and Summer Tract, LLC.
Roark noted that Maymead operates nine plants in Tennessee and Watauga County and that his company is familiar with this process. He mentioned that a similar case occurred with his company in Alleghany County after the county changed its regulations after the fact.
“We sued and we prevailed. They paid damages, and we got the permit,” Roark said. “Sometimes a county can be ill advised.
At a public hearing last month, about 300 people attended a public hearing, and when one person asked for anybody that supports this asphalt plant to raise their hand, only one person did. This happened to be Johnny Hampton.
Opponents, in particular community members with High Country W.A.T.C.H., cited the proximity of homes and two schools near the site, health risks to children and residents and stated that studies have shown that nearby asphalt plants significantly reduce surrounding property values.
“Asphalt plants mix aggregate with petroleum products to make asphalt. The process releases tons of toxic chemicals into the air each year, including volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and very fine condensed particulates (soot and even heavy metals). Many or these are highly toxic and/or known carcinogens, e.g. benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide, mercury, and cadmium. Adverse health effects increase with long-term exposure. Citizens with asthma and other respiratory ailments will suffer most,” High Country W.A.T.C.H. posted on its website.
Asked how he responds to citizens that oppose a plant, Roark said:
“Well, I am certainly not going to stiff arm a citizen who has a legitimate complaint. I think the question is, I happen to like asphalt plants. I don’t mind living next to one. The picture being panted that asphalt plants pose health risks to children is ridiculous. The facilities we run and facilities permitted by DENR (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) pose no health risks to the public. Period. None, and you know the hue and cry out there? It’s America. We all got free speech. The facts support what I am telling. They do not pose a health risk to the public.”
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