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Planning board shoots down request for kaolin mine

More than 150 people showed up to the McDuffie County Planning Board meeting Tuesday evening to speak against a proposed kaolin mine.

Residents in the area of Margarets Road, Wisham Road, Moose Club Road and White Oak Road who gathered at the McDuffie County Courthouse gave a standing ovation when the planning board voted unanimously to recommend denial of the J.M. Huber Corporation's conditional use permit application.

The kaolin company had to file the application to mine a Sparta Kaolin-owned 209 acre parcel in that area because the land sits in a high density residential zone. The zoning does not allow industrial uses of property, such as mining.

The denial recommendation of the Planning Board will now go before the County Commission for a final ruling on Oct. 17. So representatives for J.M. Huber aren't quite ready to give up yet.

"We'll discuss with the owner of the property what their plans are," said Ken Coxen, land manager for J.M Huber. "(An appeal) is certainly a possibility. We won't rule that out."

The residents that showed and the 235 who signed a petition against the mine location hope it won't come to that. If it does, they are ready to fight for what they call the survival of their neighborhood's way of life.

Residents like Joann Harris of Wisham Road cited traffic concerns with the nearly 100 daily truckloads of material that would come in and out of the mine in conjunction with traffic congestion near Thomson High School and a future junior high across White Oak Road.

"You want to come in and destroy what we've spent our lifetime building up," one resident told company representatives.

Kelly Evans said the mine would not bring in additional jobs nor tax revenue to the county. She added that it wouldn't attract new industry to the county either.

"Why give up so much and get nothing in return?" she asked.

Mr. Coxen told the crowd that the strip mining operation would work in plots of three to five acres at a time which would be refilled and planted with grass and trees after it is mined.

He added that the operation - mining a type of kaolin new to his company - would last five to 10 years, extracting up to 300,000 tons per year from an average depth of 35 to 40 feet.

"We feel like this area is fairly remote as to having people near the mine," Mr. Coxen said to a round of groans and chuckles.

Ken McDonald of Sparta Kaolin said the land would be left in better condition than before it was mined. He also said it could be used for many purposes - such as a golf course - after the mine closed.

Residents were less concerned about the future use of the land than they were about how it would affect their property values as well as the environment. Mr. Coxen said the economic impact of the mine would be positive for McDuffie County as a whole.

Area residents also posed questions ranging from what the mine would do to the water table to how it would affect wildlife. J.M. Huber representatives responded that a plan would be approved by the state on dealing with those sorts of problems.

McDuffie County Public Works Director Chris Pelly asked how the roads would be affected and who would pay for their repair due to the increased truck traffic.

"What happens when I get calls from these people saying there's a pot hole in their front yard?" he asked.

Prior to the public input portion, Planning and Zoning Director Fred Guerrant urged everyone to keep a level head during the meeting.

"Remain calm," he said. "I understand all of you have deep-seeded feelings."

Web posted on Thursday, October 05, 2006

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