Resort-area property owners fear quarry impact
County commissioners voted Tuesday to write a letter to the Department of Transportation in support of Snowshoe Resort-area property owners who fear that a proposed quarry on U.S. Rt. 219 will devalue their investment and ruin the areaﾒs tourism industry.
The vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Reta Griffith in opposition. Griffith said the letter would be written in haste since the commission has heard only from one side of the issue and not any proponents of the quarry.
Waco Oil and Gas proposes to open the now-idle property and haul limestone to points north using an abandoned rail line that will cost about $20 million to repair. Waco would be expected to come up with about $8 million to help repair the lines.
Some of those funds would come from stimulus money, according to SRA executive director Cindy Butler.
Commissioner David Fleming said he wanted the letter to address the quarryﾒs potential impact on the areaﾒs common vision, environmental issues and more public input into the process.
Stump said the issue of the quarry and the railroad go hand in hand, but his main concern is the quarry. The homeownerﾒs association he represents has just spent about $1 million to renovate its properties, including building decks that would overlook what would, in Stumpﾒs words, become a ﾓhuge strip mine operation.ﾔ
ﾓThis is clearly a case of follow the money,ﾔ Stump asserted. ﾓAnd if you follow the money, Waco stands to make a lot of money at the expense of the federal taxpayers.
ﾓI find this an atrocity.ﾔ
Stump said the area had spent years building the tourism industry and the quarry would ﾓdevastate the area.ﾔ
Michael Hughes, of ReMax in Slaty Fork, said the commission had just spent more than an hour discussing how to allocate Hotel/Motel Tax funds between county agencies.
ﾓThe county commission needs to take a hard look at what this does to tourism,ﾔHughes said. ﾓIt might create 75 jobs, but it wonﾒt put heads in beds.ﾔ
ﾓI donﾒt think anyone in this room needs to address who butters the bread in this county,ﾔ Stump said.
Commission president Martin Saffer said he was worried about potential groundwater contamination. Stump said dye studies on the Elk were inconclusive about the waterﾒs path and destination. We had no idea where the water was going, he said.
The community is no stranger to controversy surrounding development. A proposed wastewater treatment plant still raises hackles of Elk River valley residents. This issue, too, brought out some familiar faces to stave off unwanted development.
Tolly Peuleche said the grant proposal has no cost-benefit analysis and bypasses all local entities. And Peuleche said as far as she can tell, Waco and the SRA do not have the state permits they allege they do.
Peuleche and Elk River Touringﾒs Gil Willis brought up the issue of flooding in the area and how a high water event could destroy any improvements done to the railroad line, which will take extensive work to be ready to haul large amounts of stone.
Willis speculated that the stone would reach the west side of 219 and the railroad by trucks and a conveyor belt. He said his first instinct was to pack up his three locations and leave, but he said, if he did that, the county would lose 21 jobs.
Stump said he was looking for the commission to stand with the area property owners.
Griffith said that the issue a decade ago had commissioners siding with the quarry owner, as did many longtime residents. Opposition to the quarry then came from resort property owners, many of whom did not live in Pocahontas County, she said.
Stump said Snowshoe Mountain Resortﾒs only position thus far is that they are investigating it.
Others in the group said they hear from visitors that access is Snowshoeﾒs biggest detriment. Bob Forrest, who owns property on the mountain, said the number of trucks estimated to be used to move the stone would mean every visitor was behind at least two dump trucks on their way to their vacation.
Other issues were :
ﾕ the effect of declining property values on the county budget
ﾕ the possibility of noise from the quarry at Snowshoe
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕ allocated Hotel/Motel Tax money in the same percentages as last year. Although the financially ailing PMH administrator made a plea for more, the hospital was funded at last yearﾒs amount, as well.
ﾕ heard an update on historic records preservation from Rebecca Clayton.
ﾕ appointed Peggy Brill to the Pocahontas County Landmarks Commission to replace Ruth Morgan, who resigned.
ﾕ appointed Caroline Sharp to the Parks and Recreation Board.
ﾕ heard about courthouse parking lot concerns, but came up with no quick solution to the problem made worse by impounded vehicles taking up five spaces.
ﾕﾠ spent 30 minutes in executive session with Sheriff David Jonese on a personnel matter.
ﾕ discussed a USDA Rural Development Grant with county coordinator Jay Miller, who will attend the Create Pocahontas meeting next Monday at 3 p.m. at the Snowshoe Career Center, to share what he has learned with others interested in the same thing.
ﾕﾠ discussed the proposed courthouse annex with other elected officials. Magistrate Kathy Beverage and County Clerk Sandra Friel expressed their needs for more space and better access to their offices.