- Associated Press - Saturday, August 19, 2017

PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. (AP) - PLEASANT GARDEN - Gerald Hall’s 800 chickens mill around the crowded floor of their metal henhouse, cooing and flapping their wings, as he swings his arm toward a treeline 150 feet to his left. Toward his new neighbor.

“That dead tree marks the property,” Hall said. “You’re looking at the Hanson property.”

That’s Hanson as in Lehigh Hanson, a major North American construction materials company. The Irving, Texas-based organization plans to open a granite mine on 352 acres here.

And like most quarries, the company will use underground explosives to do the work. In this case, to break up granite to make gravel for cement, concrete and other construction materials.

And that’s not sitting well with residents like Hall.

Hall, known in these parts as “The Egg Man,” believes he is in a fight to protect his farm and his way of life.

“It’s more than a living,” said Hall, 58. “The noise would bother everything - me and the chickens. I can sense that coming.”

Owners of the farms and tidy roadside houses in this rural part of Guilford County know they may never actually see the quarry - it’ll be dug several hundred feet from a 20-foot berm with a row of trees planted along the top.

But they fear they’ll feel its presence. They worry about the congestion of daily truck traffic, dust from operations affecting air quality and the possibility that heavy water use at the quarry’s processing plant could drain their wells - their only source of water.

Toby Lee, a company general manager, said the operation’s first phase will be on 20 acres near the center of the property, which is bordered by McClellan Road on the east and is about 1,000 feet north of well-traveled N.C. 62.

The land is zoned for heavy industrial use but was originally approved for clay mining when Boren Brick owned it decades ago.

Lehigh Hanson is seeking approval in September from the Guilford County Planning Board for an updated set of conditions and a special-use permit to allow for mining.

With the clock ticking, residents are doing what they can to stop the quarry from becoming a reality.

About 5,000 people live in the town of Pleasant Garden and in the unincorporated territory around it. They believe, like Hall, they are fighting to preserve their rural lifestyle.

The people who live here are older - the median age is 45 compared with 38 statewide - the median income is higher and many people own acres of agricultural land whether they farm or not.

All of them treasure the green space, quiet country roads, churches and nicely tended homes where many families have lived for generations.

The family of Haley Hackett, 27, has been a part of Pleasant Garden for more than 100 years. She is one of many vocal critics of the quarry plan, saying members of her tight-knit community have forged even closer bonds over what they feel is a fight to protect the tranquility of this region.

Her No Quarry Here! group operates out of a small brick building on N.C. 62 that once was a country store. One recent afternoon a steady stream of residents dropped by to purchase signs and other items, building opposition to the unwelcome visitor in town.

“It’s very cool to see how this community has come together,” Hackett said.

A major point of contention between residents and Lehigh Hanson is how much of an impact the quarry represents.

Residents are certain the quarry’s operations will be disruptive. Company officials, as you might expect, think those concerns are overblown.

Hackett and other residents might agree if they had information to that effect.

For instance, they say they’ve asked Lehigh Hanson for detailed studies of the quarry’s effect on water wells around the area, but so far the company hasn’t provided anything.

Thomas E. Terrell Jr., the company’s Greensboro attorney, said Lehigh Hanson will present that information at the planning board’s public meeting on Sept. 13.

Terrell is direct in his responses to the No Quarry group’s other concerns. He said the company has offered to take community members on a tour of a Lehigh quarry operation in Wake County, but so far only two residents have signed up.

“The line of communication has been difficult at best,” Terrell said. “We reached out to the community. None of the leaders have called (Lehigh) Hanson or me.”

Residents said they feel the same is true for Terrell and Lehigh Hanson.

Terrell said residents are spreading false information that the quarry will result in more traffic. The average number of truck trips will be somewhere around 286 a day, he said.

According to residents, Terrell and Lee said at a community meeting in late June that it would be 540 trips - one way.

As far as air quality goes, specifically silica dust that state regulators consider a potential pollutant from quarries, Terrell said the Martin Marietta materials company operates a similar quarry near West Wendover Avenue with no sign of dust.

“Show me silica dust,” he said. “This has not been a problem at any other quarries. We’re offering to take residents to see Lehigh’s quarry in Wake Forest, where upscale homes were built 650 feet away.

“They’ve never had a dust problem.”

Members of the Pleasant Garden group remain worried as well about the effects of blasting on the surrounding houses. They point to an incident on Aug. 2 when an errant blast from a Jamestown quarry sent a rock crashing through the roof of a house on Kivett Drive.

Terrell said 2015 statistics - the most recent year available - show that of roughly 7,600 quarry blasts around the nation, only six sent any kind of debris flying outside a quarry.

The house on Kivett Drive, he explained, is 286 feet away from the quarry. The closest house to the proposed Lehigh Hanson quarry will be 1,500 feet from the portion of the property where actual blasting will take place.

In a statement, No Quarry Here! members say they aren’t convinced.

“The explosion at the High Point quarry raised huge red flags for us,” the group said. “In our community, we have neighbors who have structures within 1,000 feet of the proposed blast site. … There is no promise that the future blast locations will not inch closer and closer to the homes, barns and other structures on the abutting properties.”

One Pleasant Garden resident is already dealing with some fallout.

Karen Towery owns 20.5 acres of prime farmland in Pleasant Garden separated by one other property from the proposed quarry. She has been trying to sell the land since April and was working closely with a potential buyer.

After she found out about the proposed quarry, she immediately told her buyer.

Toward the end of July, the buyer asked for more time to research the purchase.

“Then the Jamestown quarry explosion happened on Aug. 2,” Towery said. “He terminated the contract on Aug. 4.

“I consider myself the first casualty.”

The opposition group says property values typically drop in a 3-mile radius around a quarry, based on a 2006 study of seven Michigan quarries.

Towery said that Pleasant Garden incorporated in 1997 to stop the march of Greensboro’s annexation and the urban problems that go with it.

“This totally disrupts the point of incorporating in the first place,” she said.

David Cranfill, 62, has been living next door to the property where the quarry is proposed for 30 years.

At one time, the driveway that separates his property from the Lehigh Hanson land passed his house and accessed a rental house deeper into the property. When he built his house, he made a stipulation in his deed that required Boren Brick, which owned the nearby property at the time, to continue allowing access to that house.

Months later, Cranfill said Boren Brick forced a family out of that house.

When Lehigh Hanson bought the property several years later, it asked Guilford County to rezone the land from agricultural use to heavy industrial use for a possible clay mining operation.

Lehigh Hanson never did mine clay there, but Cranfill said that he recently learned that during the rezoning “it was also indicated in the minutes of the planning board at that time that Hanson was not to use my driveway for the purpose of getting into their property.”

But earlier this year the company did just that, hauling heavy equipment down the driveway to drill for core mineral samples.

“I finally caught them the last day when they were leaving and I asked them if anybody had told them where the property line was,” he said. “They said no.”

Just two weeks ago, when Cranfill and his wife were out of town, crews used the driveway again to access the property to drill wells for the quarry.

He said Lee, the Lehigh Hanson general manager, apologized when Cranfill confronted him at a recent community meeting.

To make sure it wouldn’t happen again, Cranfill asked the No Quarry Here! group to post a 7-foot-tall banner that blocks the end of the driveway.

He said he objects to the quarry as much for the truck traffic as any dust or noise it may generate. He said heavy trucks on McClellan Road near his house will break up pavement that was never meant to handle that kind of traffic.

If that’s the case, Terrell has a solution: Lehigh Hanson will find a way to repave the road so it can accommodate more vehicles.

He added that the number of daily trips isn’t expected to add measurably to the traffic already on McClellan Road and other streets in the area, especially the already busy N.C. 62.

Cranfill isn’t convinced. So he has a simple request of the planning board.

“Put yourself in my shoes,” he said. “Do you want a quarry behind your house? Are you willing to approve that? We’ve lived there for 30 years. I plan to live there until God calls me home, and I don’t particularly want a rock quarry behind my house.”


Information from: News & Record, https://www.news-record.com

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