By Josiah Clark
At least 60 people attended the High Country WATCH meeting at the Watauga Humane Society on Wednesday night to discuss the proposed asphalt plant on U.S. 421 in Deep Gap.
Those who spoke called for a minimum six-month moratorium, which would put a hold on the process and allow the county sufficient time to deliberate any negative side effects of asphalt production before the state makes a final decision on the project.
As of June 10, Maymead, Inc. has not applied for the mandatory permits for construction of an asphalt plant at the site of J.W. Hampton’s recycling yard, located at 5251 US-Highway 421 South, in Deep Gap, although ownership of that property was transferred to Maymead, Inc. last April.
“This project throws up so many red flags and leaves so many unanswered questions,” said Shelton Wilder of High Country WATCH, who listed environmental concerns, traffic safety, health, water and air quality deterioration and the asphalt plant’s proximity to two schools among the many consequences that could arise from a nearby asphalt plant.
Many who spoke expressed feelings of betrayal by local officials.
“When Johnny Hampton applied for a high impact land use permit, there was no public hearing. Between 2011-2015, folks bought property around scenic U.S. 421 without the knowledge of a planned asphalt plant,” said Diane Tilson, who asked the county planning board to take another look at their decisions.
“This is an example of government not following its own regulations. Someone has dropped the ball within our county leadership,” said Shelton Wilder.
The biggest concern overall seemed to be hazardous waste produced from asphalt plants, which Carolyn Henion said would have a cumulative negative effect on the community as the years go on.
“I am concerned about the allowable toxins that will come from this plant,” said Henion, who listed nearly two dozen known toxins and carcinogens, including formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide, which could be emitted as a byproduct of asphalt manufacturing.
“We’re just asking for the commissioners to do the right thing,” she said.
Susan Winters stressed the non-partisanship of the issue, and asked everyone who attended to work together to find answers.
“This is affecting everybody – 97,820 pounds of air pollution a year would be emitted from an asphalt plant,” she said.
Acid rain, toxic smog, birth defects and developmental issues for children were just some of the long-term effects listed by David Sengel, who said may come as a result of plant emissions.
John Daily, the leader of High Country WATCH, shared concerns over the accountability for asphalt plant emissions.
“Who is going to hold them accountable? The Department of Air Quality’s mandatory testing period is only once every 10 years. We ought to send this back to the planning board and hold off on building a new asphalt plant until we know for sure what will happen,” said Daily.
Susan Winters also predicted an inevitable decrease in tourist activity, which alone generated $216.72 million with tax revenues of $8.32 million for Watauga County in 2013.
“With smog, noise levels and trucks all over the highway, I’m concerned that this will be a black eye on a multi-million dollar tourist industry, since Highway 421 is one of the main arteries coming into Boone,” emphasized Carolyn Henion.
Anne Ward noted that the plant would create jobs for the community, but said the negative impacts would far outweigh any possible benefits.
“Yes, the plant would create jobs, but it would be detrimental to tourism, agriculture, and most importantly, to our residents,” said Ward, who recently relocated her family to Boone and said she made a horrible mistake for her children by planting them next to an asphalt plant site.
Most who spoke agreed that it was still too soon for the county planning board to green light construction.
Lou Zeller, of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said it was local governments who take sole responsibility for locating industrial facilities. He demanded that the county planning board and commissioners take at least a six-month moratorium period to deliberate all sides of the issue before moving forward.
“We stand behind our request for a moratorium. What we are asking for is not unreasonable, and it should be done before any further steps are taken,” said Zeller.
Maymead, Inc. President Wiley B. Roark did not return multiple requests for comment.
There will be a Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, June 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street, and members of High Country WATCH are expected to speak.
For more information about High Country WATCH, and to find out more about the opposition towards the proposed Maymead, Inc. asphalt plant in Deep Gap, visit their website, which also has a link to their online petition.
Below are some images from last night’s meeting: