The first regularly scheduled Bryan County Commission meeting of 2016 got underway with a bang Tuesday in Pembroke, as commissioners approved a conditional-use permit to allow a 22-acre borrow pit on Oak Level Road despite the concerns of nearby residents.
The issue first reared its head at the Nov. 17 commission meeting, when the matter was tabled to allow residents of the nearby Sanctuary residential community and Rayonier Atlantic Timber Company representatives to meet and try to find common ground.
At that time, Rayonier Senior Resource Land Manager Ed Carter proposed a 22-acre, 30-foot deep borrow pit on Oak Level Road near Carver School Road with the dirt removed to help area construction, including the eventual widening of Highway 144.
Carter said when the excavation of the pit was completed, it would be a lake and an amenity for nearby residents, something he reiterated at last week's commission meeting.
That explanation didn't sit well with Sanctuary resident Christina Howley in November, and it didn't sit any better with her when Carter spoke to the commissioners Tuesday.
"I think ingress and egress should be from Highway 144, not Oak Level Road as Rayonier is proposing. I know there are wetland issues, but I think those could be worked out," Howley said.
She also proposed moving the pit farther down Oak Level Road to give more separation between the construction project and the residential project. Carter said that was not feasible because soil testing indicated the dirt was not suitable for fill closer to Highway 144. As proposed, the borrow pit will be 500 feet from the Sanctuary residents.
Commissioner Rick Gardner said he was concerned about safety during construction, asking that a fence be put around the pit prior to and during construction, something Carter said they would do.
"For me, it is a safety issue. The fence will keep someone from wandering in," Gardner said.
Commission Carter Infinger acknowledged it was a tough issue to decide.
"We sit up here and try to make decisions that are best for the county. We can't make everyone happy," he said.
The commission voted in favor of the conditional use, with Gardner casting the sole dissenting vote.
Also Tuesday, Regional Library Director Jennifer Durham made a presentation and passed out results of recent focus groups and a master plan of the proposed Richmond Hill downtown on Highway 144. That map showed the library as one of the first buildings people would encounter when entering the site.
Durham said she thought the library would be better located near the county annex off Highway 144 and asked the commissioners to consider that possibility. Although noncommittal, the commissioners agreed to consider her request.
"I feel confident that we'll have a library," Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed told Durham.
Other commission business included:
* Adding Veterans Day as a paid holiday for county employees.
* Setting qualifying fees for county elective offices.
* Appointing Jon Seagraves to the Coastal Area District Development Authority.
* Appointing Gardner as vice chairman.
* Re-appointing Donna Waters as county clerk.
* Re-appointing Leamon Holliday as county attorney. Being told the construction bids for tennis courts at Henderson Park would go out by the end of January.