There is a request going before the Bryan County commission on April 10 to start a sand mining operation on Belfast River Road, a mile from where it intersects with Highway 144.
Mr. Massey of Richmond Hill Earthworks, a long time resident of Bryan County and a benefactor to the community in many ways, is the party making the request. The Bryan County planning and zoning commission has recommended approval of a zoning change to accommodate the sand mining operation.
If you care to look it up on the internet, the area where a request for a zoning change has a heading that simply states that the “District Intent” of an A-5 District is for the “purpose of conserving natural resources and open space of land while permitting low density residential development compatible with that purpose.”
Permitted uses include a list of things like single family dwellings, agricultural use, churches, family day care, bed and breakfast, etc. Conditional uses list cemeteries, public utility stations, schools camp grounds and parks.
All of the above would be something I would expect to see in an area in which the master plan calls for residential growth. But all the way at the bottom of the list there appears the conditional use of the land for excavation or mining of sand, gravel or other natural materials.
That use fits in with the rest of the descriptions of the allowed uses of the property like outhouses in Buckhead and has the same smell.
It appeared that the decision to recommend the change in zoning to allow the mining operation was based on Mr. Massey’s past history as an outstanding citizen and contributor to the community.
The fact that there are already other borrow pits in the Bryan Neck area off Highway 144 was given as a reason to dig another one.
The fact of the matter is that even with the very capable leadership we have in Bryan County in both our elected and employed officials, there must be a never ending review of existing rules and conditions and the readiness to make changes where necessary.
Borrow pits are essentially dead zones holding water with insufficient oxygen content to sustain marine life. That is unless you want to call mosquitoes marine life.
It was mentioned at the zoning meeting, as part of the argument for the mining operation, that there were expensive homes existing on old borrow pits. If you want to build a half million dollar home on a borrow pit, be my guest.
There is a long list of concerns that need to be addressed concerning the implementation of a mining operation on Belfast River Road, before the project is approved.
I am hopeful that Mr. Massey can answer all of the objections to the satisfaction of the general public but the problem is that the public is limited in its ability to present these oppositions.
I assume that the prerequisites for advising the public of the pending zoning change was satisfied by the placement of the little white signs at roadside in line with where the mining is to take place. Frankly I never noticed the signs as frequently as I travel that road and if I did see them I would never have thought that it was a zoning request for a mining operation!
They are just completing a new middle school in that area. I would have thought it would have been notice of a pending apartment complex or homes.
The projection of a “three to five year” operation seemed to satisfy the zoning board. Three to five years is a long time to be confronted with dump trucks weighing 80,000 pounds running down the adjoining roads at a suggested rate of a hundred a day. That is essentially a minimum of one sand truck every five minutes.
There is also the question of contiguous property values. There is the question of exactly what type of mining will be done. Will chemical separation of minerals in the sand be accomplished on the site? How deep will the site go and how might it affect water tables.
What’s more, changing the zoning sets a precedent. What is to stop the operation from expanding in the future from five acres of digging to 10 times that? Sand is a valuable material these days.
There is the question of expansion of the operation once the precedent has been set.
The mining operation already has the approval of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD). Somehow I can’t take much comfort in that endorsement.
It was stated that monitoring would be done and regulations enforced. By who? With what? Certainly the EPD does not have the resources, funding or manpower to regulate or inspect much of anything, with even more budget cuts made on that program this last go-around in Atlanta.
I can say without hesitation and in all confidence that I am quite sure that Mr. Massey and the county authorities involved have no intention of doing anything to endanger the residents of the Bryan Neck area or do anything other than to ensure the continued quality of life we enjoy.
I just think that this is one time when there needs to be a genuine effort to do an unbiased assessment of the many downsides of this project and greater thought given to both the immediate and long term concerns for the quality of life of the residents of the Bryan Neck area.
There also needs to be more consideration of the best use of property to ensure the greater long term value in terms of an expanding tax base. Bryan County is going to be here a lot longer than three to five years.
Hubbard is a former green beret and an active environmentalist. He writes a semi regular column on environmental issues.