County Urges Quarry Delay

Administrator: No Conflict of Interest

WINNSBORO – With the close of the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC’s) public comment period on Dec. 4, the mining application for a company with designs on quarrying granite out of 405 acres of a more than 900-acre tract of land near Rockton Thruway hangs on the precipice of approval. Last week, County Council asked DHEC to delay their decision until additional information could be provided to the public. Monday night, Council once again heard from concerned residents of the community, one of whom suggested that the relationship between mining consultants and the County Administrator might be a little too cozy.

David Brandenburg, a Rockton Thruway resident and prominent member of the community’s opponents to Winnsboro Crushed Stone, LLC, said during the second public comment portion of Monday night’s Council meeting that he had seen County Administrator Milton Pope chatting it up with one of the mining company’s consultants before the Nov. 20 public hearing at Fairfield Central High School. Brandenburg said that sort of fraternization gave him an uncomfortable feeling, and he asked Pope to disclose any relationship he might have – or that Pope’s parent company, Parker Poe Consulting, might have – with the mining industry. While Brandenburg said he was not making any accusations of a conflict of interests, but said Pope’s behavior toward the consultant (Craig Kennedy of Kennedy Consulting) certainly gave that impression. If Pope would not offer those disclosures, Brandenburg said he would push for an investigation, at the criminal level, if necessary.

“I have absolutely, unequivocally, absolutely no relationship with any mining activity, company or any industry like that,” Pope responded. “I don’t even know why there’s a sense of, and I’ll say this and this is my term, I don’t know why there’s a sense of paranoia about that.”

Pope went on to say that he knew Kennedy from Kennedy’s previous employment with DHEC, “and I was just being courteous to the gentleman by speaking to him,” Pope said.

Were there any existing conflict of interest on his part, Pope said, “I would have divulged that to this Council a long time ago if I did.”

The Major and the Minor

The County’s land use ordinance prohibits mining activity on a minor road, and quarry opponents who live on the mostly gravel Rockton Thruway have been hanging some of their hopes on that point of law since March. But Monday night, Council revealed that at least a portion of Rockton Thruway is out of the County’s bailiwick, which would place the community’s concerns about truck traffic entirely in the hands of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

“I go down 34 a good bit, and if you see a school bus going down Rockton Thruway, especially when its dry, there’s more dust going down Rockton Thruway than any other highway I’ve ever seen,” Councilman David Brown (District 7) said. “I guarantee you it puts up more dust, more than likely, than the mine ever will. If the state’s responsible for it then I think they need to be doing something to it to keep the dust down. I mean it looks like the woods are on fire, from a school bus going up and down the road.”

Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said the County was responsible for the un-paved portions of Rockton Thruway. The rest, he said, was state-maintained. Pope added that, according to the conceptual plans for the mine, trucks would be crossing Rockton Thruway on the state-maintained portion of the road. But Ferguson said that the conceptual plan was all that the County had thus far seen. A final plan, he said, had not been submitted to DHEC, as far as he knew, prior to the Dec. 4 closing of public comments. That omission was just one of the reasons for the County’s request for a delay.

Request for Delay

“We believe that the applicant’s proposed mining operations fall short in terms of sufficient information available to reasonably assess whether mining operations on the subject property would be harmful or even feasible,” Pope wrote DHEC in a letter dated Dec. 4.

Pope wrote that the Nov. 20 public hearing left unanswered questions about the impact of mining on local water wells, the availability of sufficient water supply, the health impacts of dust generated by the mine, the hours of operation and the impact of truck traffic on Highway 34.

Pope and the County asked DHEC to require Winnsboro Crushed Stone to install a groundwater monitoring system, and requested 100-foot buffers around Horse Creek and its tributaries. Pope also asked that the dust control plan include requiring trucks entering and leaving the site to be covered by tarp; for water used in dust suppression to be silt-free; and for on-site haul roads to be paved.

The County also asked that the company be required to conduct a traffic impact study and to bear the costs of any road improvements; for background noise levels to be monitored and noise impacts on neighboring properties minimized; and for the company to limit hours of operation to week days and within a time frame “most conducive to neighboring property owner’s peaceful use.”

“Therefore, the County respectfully requests that DHEC delay any permitting decision until another public meeting is held to address these legitimate concerns and until DHEC provides written responses to public questions and issues raised in this letter,” Pope wrote.

In an emailed response to The Voice Tuesday, a DHEC spokesperson said his department plans to make a decision on the application in late January.

“We will continue our dialogue with all interested parties throughout the process,” the spokesperson said. “We will answer questions as best we can as we work through the review process. Answers to all questions that we received during the comment period will be answered in writing and will accompany the final decision.”