Residents blindsided by asphalt plant

Asphalt plant 'slipped under the rug,' residents say

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 10/1/21

Angier residents turned out in droves six months ago to oppose Highland Paving’s plans for a new asphalt plant.

People living in the subdivisions surrounding Highland Paving’s latest …

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Residents blindsided by asphalt plant

Asphalt plant 'slipped under the rug,' residents say

Posted

Angier residents turned out in droves six months ago to oppose Highland Paving’s plans for a new asphalt plant.

People living in the subdivisions surrounding Highland Paving’s latest venture in Lillington received no such opportunity.

A decades-old zoning change on a more than 40-acre parcel of land off of U.S. Highway 401 allowed Highland Paving to avoid the public hearing process and move full steam ahead on its new proposed asphalt and concrete plant. Residents in the surrounding area recently learned of the plans and are feeling left out of a process that directly impacts their livelihoods.

“We feel this has been done so sneakily,” Marge Moreton, a Ballard Woods resident, said. “We’re furious because none of our state representatives want to even touch this. Everyone is saying it’s out of their hands, and that is where the buck is stopping right now.”

Lillington’s Ronnie Kemp appeared before Harnett County commissioners on Sept. 20 to express her disapproval of the new asphalt facility. Kemp, who also opposed the proposed Angier plant, told the board her neighbors felt they didn’t have a voice in the matter and concerns relayed to county officials often were downplayed.

“We’re very well aware of the health and safety and environmental impacts this plant poses to our neighborhoods and our families,” said Kemp. “I urge you to consider allowing an opportunity for residents to voice their concerns publicly, and to have the information about the safety and environmental and health impacts be publicly announced so people have the opportunity to digest this information.”

Kemp said officials from the county’s planning department compared the new facility to Johnson Brothers Utility & Paving on Main Street, which sits in a residential area.

“That may very well be the case, but I did not choose to build my home beside the Johnson plant,” Kemp said. “I feel like the informed consent is being taken away from residents in the fact that this plant is being constructed after many residential homes have gone into the area, versus a plant that was in existence ahead of time and people could make the conscious decision about whether they wanted to live nearby.”

Plant concerns

Kemp also expressed concerns regarding the size of the new plant, considering the lot in Angier was 13 acres and the Lillington site is more than 40.

“All of this information is incredibly concerning to residents,” said Kemp. “I don’t feel like there’s been a lot of forthcoming information to people who live within a mile or two. I think it would be beneficial to include residents in the planning process for that.”

Apparently many residents in the area agreed with her.

Within a week of Kemp’s soft-spoken appeal to commissioners, hundreds of residents flocked to social media and organized a much louder voice. A Facebook page called Harnett County Residents Against Concrete & Asphalt Plant attracted more than 300 members nearly overnight with people pledging to gather petitions and challenge the plant’s construction.

Morgan Farms resident Aric Allen moved in not quite a year ago and feels blindsided by the process, or lack thereof.

“It seems like it was almost slipped under the rug and is being built without any public notice,” Allen said. “It doesn’t feel like we were actually represented or thought of in this scenario. The fact of the matter is we’re living less than a mile away from this plant and none of our representatives or local government even thought to let residents know in the area that this was being built and making us aware of some of the health impacts we might see by living close by it.”

As word of the plant spread, more residents started coming onboard, including Megan Smirnov, owner of Cape Fear River Adventures in Lillington. Smirnov felt the site’s zoning needed to be looked at with the three decades worth of demographic change taken into consideration.

“[Industrial zoning] is completely outdated now,” said Smirnov. “With all the changes to the town and surrounding area, it’s really not appropriate. The reason why they didn’t have to hold any public meetings is because everything was just kind of there for their taking legally. They have houses right next to everything. The effect of this asphalt plant and its location is going to be pretty big. We’re upset.”

Different scenario

Highland Paving faced a much different scenario in Lillington than it did in Angier. The company needed the Angier Board of Commissioners to approve a special use permit for its intended plant. The hearing attracted the public, a quasi-judicial hearing was held and the board unanimously denied the permit.

“It says requested use would not be detrimental to the health and morale welfare,” Angier Commissioner and Board of Adjustment member Loru Boyer Hawley said following the eight-hour hearing on April 27. “There is no evidence here tonight that says it will not be detrimental to certain people who live in these communities. There has been nothing presented to us to support that.”

According to Harnett County Senior Planner Landon Chandler, the site’s zoning designation switched to industrial in 1989, eliminating the public hearing requirement.
“No public hearing is necessary when the zoning is in compliance,” said Chandler. “The zoning was for the specific use they’re asking for.”

Highland Paving submitted its site plan on June 1, garnered the proper permits from the North Carolina Division of Air Quality a few weeks later and closed on the property at the end of August. Crews already started clearing the site and residents are left with few pursuable avenues.

“They probably did it correctly, but the issue is you’d think there would still be some public recognition to let us know that there are going to be some health concerns,” Allen said. “It’s going right next to a hospital. I’d like to see somebody from the local government acknowledge it and let us know what happened from their perspective. Maybe get some representation to acknowledge that residents in the area aren’t happy about this and what they’ve done to explore options to appease their residents.”

Several members of the Harnett County Residents Against Concrete & Asphalt Plant Facebook page met online Tuesday night to discuss their options. Becky Fuller said she reached out to Therese Vick with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a regional and community-based nonprofit environmental organization, who provided a few options.

Other options?

Vick advised the group to request that the N.C. Division of Air Quality reopen the permit process and allow for a public hearing. Fuller said more than 500 people already signed a petition she planned to send to the agency this week.

“At that point, if we get a public hearing, and it’s a long shot, but it could happen, we would then need to bring our attorney and all of our activists and our environmentalists and all the reasons why this is not a good thing,” said Fuller. “If we can’t get any of the permits open, and we’ll do the same thing for water quality and erosion, we have one last Hail Mary pass and it’s called an administrative appeal.”

In other words, going to court.

“Basically, we’re saying the N.C. Division of Air Quality didn’t do their job and we’re suing them,” Fuller said. “It needs to be done within a timeframe. We need to know about reopening permits so we don’t run out of time to file an administrative appeal.”

Vick offered other approaches such as highlighting the proximity of two asphalt plants less than 3 miles apart, the disparity of the impact on people of color and the presence of wetlands and Neill’s Creek, which run directly into the Cape Fear River.

“We’re advised to look at doing a cumulative community impact study,” said Fuller. “Now we have basically double the contaminants in our air, our soil, our water equality.”

Harnett County issued a statement saying Highland Paving followed all the proper procedures during the planning and permit process. The Harnett County Development Review Board, comprised of local water, health and pubic safety representatives and other state officials, will “ensure that all required standards have been met prior to approving the project for construction.”

“When a business or citizen proposes to develop a project that is listed as a permitted use under the zoning classification of the property they are developing, they are not required to hold a public hearing prior to developing the property if the proposed use is permitted by right by the Harnett County Unified Development Ordinance,” the statement said. “In this case, an asphalt plant would be permitted by right under the industrial zoning classification.

“As is the case with any industrial project, this project will be required to meet all county development guidelines such as buffering, setbacks, lighting, parking, ingress and egress, etc. along with all required state, and federal guidelines for this type of use.”

Angier residents found their voice six months ago. Lillington residents hope to be afforded the same opportunity, and time is running out.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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