DHEC Delays Quarry Hearing

WINNSBORO – A tentatively scheduled July 24 public hearing on a proposed granite quarry off Rockton Thruway was officially postponed Monday, according to a letter from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Milton Pope, Interim County Administrator, announced the delay at Monday night’s County Council meeting just minutes after residents of the Rockton area once again aired their concerns before Council during the meeting’s first public comments session.

“This rock quarry that’s coming is not welcome,” Clarence Pauling, a resident of the nearby Middlesix community, said. “This rock quarry is going to destroy my community. Please don’t let it destroy my neighborhood.”

Pauling said his main concern was the potential dust stirred up by the mining operation, which he said would pose a serious health risk.

“This place is going to kill us,” Pauling said. “Even if it doesn’t get me, it will get my kids, it will get my grandkids. It will get your kids and your grandkids.”

Billy Smith pressed Council for action, and said that if it is too late and the company is indeed on its way to Fairfield County, then perhaps Council could seek some monetary concessions from the company in order to help pay for future water infrastructure. Smith noted that the company, Winnsboro Crushed Stone, LLC, plans to control dust with water spray. With water an ongoing issue in Fairfield County, Smith suggested the company might be able to help with securing new sources.

“What is our intent? What do we intend on doing to find out the answers to the questions that the people who live in this area are asking? They talked about the dust and they spoke about studies. Are we going to ask about that? I have heard nothing out of our Council since they asked for the public hearing,” Smith said. “Why don’t we talk to this company and try to get them to work with us and try to set aside some money – we’re looking for money right now, are we not, to go and do something about water? Are we not looking to go maybe pull water from (Lake) Monticello? Why don’t we talk to this company to see what they’re willing to offer us? Why don’t we do those types of things? Why do we sit here and do nothing constantly?”

Pope, meanwhile, reminded the quarry opponents that the mining application process was a state and not a County process. And even with the property in question already zoned to allow for mining, Pope said that “DHEC does not even really acknowledge the local zoning in the application process.”

“It is a state process, and I think it’s very important for everyone to know and realize that,” Pope said.

Pope said that DHEC itself was waiting on additional information from other state agencies, which in turn could be provided to the County.

“Things such as information from DOT (the Department of Transportation), information from the railroad and the Department of Natural Resources,” Pope said. “It is certainly not that the Council does not have any reaction to anything. I think we first need to be respectful of the process and get the information in order to know what questions to actually ask.”

According the DHEC’s letter to the County, the July 24 hearing was being delayed to allow Winnsboro Crushed Stone time to submit their air and water permit applications for the quarry. Once those have been submitted, DHEC said, a hearing will be rescheduled. Monday night, Pope said it was his impression from DHEC that the rescheduled hearing would encompass all three permits, but David Ferguson, Council Chairman, said he was doubtful all three items could be squeezed into a single meeting.

“Generally the length of those things is 2 hours,” Ferguson (District 5) said. “And I’m thinking if they’re going to compile all that information, and were talking about a 2-hour presentation, that’s not going to cut it. I’m a little disappointed that they’re rolling it all together. I know what DHEC is trying to do: they’re trying to get in and get out. But the fact of it is with the questions that these guys have and the questions that Council is going to have, I’m a little reluctant to think it’s going to take place in a 2-hour meeting.”

A DHEC spokesperson told The Voice Tuesday that the public hearing would be for the mining permit application, and that “staff from our air and water programs will be available at the hearing to answer questions related to their specific permit applications and permitting processes.” Public hearings specifically for air and water may not be required, DHEC said.

Pope said DHEC had suggested the possibility of another, less formal meeting that would open the floor for dialogue between Rockton residents, the Council, DHEC and Winnsboro Crushed Stone. But DHEC said Tuesday that no additional community meetings have been planned at present.

“Our program areas will be meeting soon to determine our next community involvement steps,” DHEC said.

Pope also suggested that Council take a road trip to Chesterfield County to tour the Buckhorn quarry, which is owned by many of the same interests as Winnsboro Crushed Stone. Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said Council should also take a look at the quarry in Blair, owned by Vulcan Materials.

“The whole thing is about what we instructed Mr. Pope to do, to get as much information as we can possibly get from studies, make sure we get all the studies done that can be done so that once we take this argument to DHEC we have all the information that we need to have and all these questions are answered,” Ferguson said. “That’s whose job it is. That’s who the state has put in charge of mining. There are a lot of hoops that they have to jump through and we have to make sure that they jump through them. The council’s going to see that all the questions are answered. That’s all we can do, but I promise you that’s exactly what we will do.”