GRAHAM — The permit for a controversial proposed Snow Camp rock quarry is valid, according to the Alamance County legal and planning departments, but a lot of questions have gone unanswered.
"How do we know the map submitted by the person making this application is accurate and complete?" County Commissioners Chair Amy Galey asked at the commissioners' meeting Monday, Oct. 7.
Opponents, neighbors of the mine proposed by Alamance Aggregates in Snow Camp, organized into the No Snow Camp Mine chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, say there are violations of a county ordinance and policy. Those include streams on maps submitted to the state that aren't on the maps submitted to the county planning department, which means the company hasn't set aside required buffers for those streams.
Planning Director Tonya Caddle told the commissioners the county's information about streams comes from state "layers" in the county Geographic Information System. She could only suppose the state looks at stricter definitions of streams — streams that don't flow when the weather is dry, for example — when it considers water-quality questions outside the county's purview.
Last fall, the commissioners found out the county had approved an application from Alamance Aggregates to open a crushed-stone quarry in Snow Camp nine months before. The current Heavy Industrial Development Ordinance did not require the Planning Board or commissioners be notified of its application.
The commissioners seemed to get frustrated Monday by the number of times they heard "I don't know" from Caddle and Assistant County Attorney Ben Pierce as they tried to explain the situation.
"I'm sorry," Galey said. "How could we not know that after a year?"
Members of the No Snow Camp Mine group spoke during public comments at the start of the meeting saying they were unhappy with the commissioners' choice not to bring in an outside lawyer to look at questions over the permit and critical of what they said was County Attorney Clyde Albright's bias for Alamance Aggregates.
After the presentation, Gary Ulicny, who originally brought the mine permit to the commissioners' attention, said there were many omissions, but Galey told him he had already used his opportunity to speak on the subject during public comments.
The commissioners put a moratorium on new industrial applications until December and charged the county Planning Board with drafting a new HIDO. The commissioners heard their first presentation on the revised HIDO, Monday as well.
Probably the biggest change in the proposed revised ordinance is in land-spacing requirements. Now, applicants under the highest-impact categories of industry, a gravel mine for example, have to draw a circle 2,000 feet from their center of operations. Inside that circle they have to deal with any protected use, like a home. Under the proposed revisions, the protective space would be 1,250 feet, but starting from the property line.
Commissioner Steve Carter balked at that, saying adding 1,250 feet to the line of a 40-acre property could be a significant barrier.
"What's the impact on other industries coming into the county if you've got a requirement so large you're trying to find a spot so large to have the acreage with the buffer to protect it?" Carter asked. "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak."
Another major change is with waivers. Applicants can get neighbors to waive their rights to a buffer between their homes or other buildings and the applicant's operation. Under the proposed revisions, the county would have to approve those waivers, Caddle said.
Galey asked for more explanation of the changes in industrial classifications, "because that's going to be a huge change," she said.
The new classifications would put solar farms with the lowest-impact operations and separate saw mills from higher-impact chip mills and treats race tracks differently from other high-impact uses.
Galey said the commissioners would hear more about the proposed HIDO changes at their next meeting Oct. 21, hold a public hearing and vote at their Nov. 4 meeting and second vote if necessary Nov. 18. The moratorium on new HIDO applications ends in December, Galey said, and she wants to have something in place when that happens.
Conflict of interest?
One of the people who worked on the revised HIDO was Bill Poe. Poe lives near the Alamance Aggregates site and joined the Planning Board after the controversy started. His wife, Donna, frequently speaks to the commissioners about the controversy.
Bill Poe shared copies of letters he has exchanged with Thomas Terrell, a lawyer representing Alamance Aggregates, which he said he read into the record at a recent Planning Board meeting.
On Sept. 3, Terrell wrote that Poe is using his position on the Planning Board to advocate for a moratorium "so that Alamance Aggregates could not make further application to the county for additional uses otherwise allowed; support for a new zoning ordinance that would expressly prevent any expansion of this issue; support for a noise ordinance that could be uses as a weapon against Alamance Aggregates; and requests that the county revoke Alamance Aggregates' validly issues permit."
Terrell writes that using a public office to advocate for positions that could personally benefit him and his property violates state and federal laws and opens Poe and the county to legal action if he keeps participating in discussions of those issues on the planning board.
In his response Sept. 11, Poe wrote that he put the common good ahead of his own interests, and recommended Terrell represent his client's interests publicly rather than exploiting gaps in local ordinances to operate out of sight.
"I certainly think those citizens and their representatives will think more highly of your clients if they hired you to take that route, rather than to write threatening letters to public officials that resemble bullying."
Poe, however, agreed in the letter not to participate in those discussions as a Planning Board member.
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