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Planners are against kaolin mine request

A kaolin mining company looking to increase its operations in McDuffie County has met with resistance from area residents.

Advanced Primary Minerals applied for a conditional use permit to dig for high-grade kaolin on property the company owns near Margaret's Road and Moose Club Road, about a mile east of the Thomson city limits.

According to APM's Web site, McDuffie County properties contain about 10 million tons of the company's highest quality primary kaolin resource. They currently operate a mine and a kaolin processing plant on Tudor Road in Dearing.

More than 100 McDuffie County residents attended a county planning commission meeting Tuesday, Oct. 4, at which people for and against the proposed mine voiced their opinions.

The planning commission, led by Chairman Charles Wallace, voted unanimously to recommend that the county Board of Commissioners deny the application.

APM's proposal will go to the board of commissioners at a meeting on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The board will make the final decision to approve or deny the request.

The conditional use permit consists of 333 APM-owned acres, 189 available for mining and 144 as a buffer zone. The company purchased the parcels between 2000 and 2006 for nearly $2 million.

A CUP is not a zoning change, and the underlying zoning would still be residential, said Fred Guerrant, director of planning and zoning.

At the planning commission meeting, Mark Davies, a geologist for APM, said the company applied for a CUP due to limited product potential.

For those who have lived in the area for a few years, the issue is not a new one.

In 2006, a kaolin mining company submitted an application to mine the same area, and local residents protested potential trucking traffic, dust and noise. The planning board decided to submit a denial recommendation to the board of commissioners, but the company withdrew its application before the board met.

Those who oppose the proposed mine are worried about many of the same concerns - safety, zoning, tax and property values, drinking water and environmental impact.

Davies said APM is committed to minimizing the impact of the proposed development on neighbors of the property. He said McDuffie County stands to benefit economically from the company's presence, mentioning that from 2009 to July 31, 2011, APM spent $655,000 in the county.

Thomson businessman Delmar "Brink" Bradshaw was the first person to speak against the project. He said 436 area residents have signed a petition opposing the mine.

Bradshaw, who owns property on Moose Club Road, said he is concerned about tax values in the area. If the land were used for permanent housing instead of a temporary mine, the future tax base would be significantly greater, he said.

"From a tax standpoint, it's not a good investment for McDuffie County," he said.

APM has conducted studies to gauge the mine's potential impact on traffic, threatened and endangered species, wetlands and water. Davies said the results of the site studies support the application, as they display no loss of service, no threatened endangered species and no resource concerns.

However, Peggy Lovejoy, who lives on Timberwood Drive, said the effects on the environment and property values are among her biggest concerns.

"That home is my largest investment, as it will be for most people," she said.

"In our economy, home values have already gone down."

In 2004, Lovejoy moved to McDuffie County looking for a quiet piece of land with a stable value. She left California after a battle with zoning and planning commissioners there.

"I wouldn't have moved here if this had been an issue," she said.

Lovejoy said she wants to maintain the rural atmosphere of the area, where she can sit on her porch and watch deer wander through her yard. She thinks the mine would keep things like that from happening by affecting the wildlife habitat.

"I don't think the environmental study was thorough," she said.

It focused on the bald eagle, while the state Department of Natural Resources lists 17 species of endangered and threatened animals in the county, she said.

Davies also outlined the company's plans to mine areas in cells of approximately five acres and to conduct ongoing mine reclamation, restoring the land for use after the mining.

They would remove about 20 feet of overburden, the material above the kaolin, and dig about 15 feet deeper into the clay. After removing the useful clay, the overburden would be replaced, leaving shallow ponds, Davies said.

"It would be possible green space in the future or residential," he said. "The mining is temporary. There is no reason the property couldn't be built on post-mining."

He said APM will have limited off-site trucking seven days per quarter, not to exceed 28 days per year, and never on weekends or holidays.

Many residents cited a clay spill that occurred on Saturday, Oct. 1, as evidence of weekend trucking. The spill occurred at the intersection of Margaret's Road and Moose Club Road.

Davies said the company's reaction time was quick, with the road completely cleared within two hours.

Harold Eubank, who owns Eubank Lumber Co. in Dearing, has dealt with APM for more than a decade. The company's Dearing plant sits on a few acres of his property.

As a landowner, he said he initially had similar concerns about the effect on neighborhoods and roads and that the mines would be insufficiently reclaimed.

"I've found APM to be one of the most credible companies I've ever dealt with," he said. "They're men of integrity who do what they say."

If the CUP request is denied, APM will reconsider whether it should continue its operations in the county, said Ken MacDonald, president and CEO of APM.

"We have to continue to look at what's best for the company, as well as McDuffie County, and see if the county agrees," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, October 13, 2011

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