The Pulse

Caswell County residents to DEQ: Carolina Sunrock mine will ruin our land, our lives

By: - November 7, 2019 10:45 am
A standing-room only crowd assembled earlier this week at the Caswell County Courthouse to oppose a proposed granite and sand mine in Prospect Hill. Seventy people signed up to speak before state environmental officials. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

New to the Carolina Sunrock mining issue? Catch up with this Policy Watch story.

[dropcap] J [/dropcap] ames Painter eased his walker to the podium and in a voice as strong as a mule’s back, told state environmental officials of what matters: for him, his neighbors, community and a time-honored way of life.

A retired cattle farmer, Painter has lived in Prospect Hill for all of his 97 years, except for a spell when he served in World War II. The proposed Carolina Sunrock mine and asphalt plant — consuming 425 acres of an overall 630-acre tract — would lie a half the length of a football field from his property. The facility, which could operate until 2070, would likely choke his land with dust, possibly bombard it with flyrock, and could taint his water supply.

“The runoff from South Hyco Creek will run into my creeks,” Painter told officials from the Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources — DEMLR.

But Painter had equal concern for “the young farmers,” he said, who are carrying on a long Caswell County tradition of coaxing a livelihood from the land, as well as “for people raising their own food.” 

“It will displace some of these farms,” Painter said, “the livestock, the poultry and the beehives.”

A lengthy public hearing earlier this week about the Carolina Sunrock proposal brought opponents out in force. They are distressed about the potential environmental and health threats the mine could present: dust from the mining, airborne rock from the blasting, and toxic air pollutants from the asphalt operation; contaminated runoff into streams, lakes, groundwater and private drinking water wells. 

“Nothing you hear tonight should surprise you,” said Sharon Williams, who has lived in Prospect Hill for 18 years. “It should impress you. Sunrock reaps all the rewards and Caswell County residents bear all the risk.”

Send comments by email to Samir Dumpor, DEMLR regional engineer, [email protected] or via postal mail to Dumpor: DEMLR Washington Regional Office 943 Washington Square Mall Washington, NC 27889. Please send three copies. Deadline for comments is Thursday, Nov. 14

Yet beyond the bulleted list of concerns, those who gathered beneath the vaulted ceiling of the historic Caswell County Courthouse often told stories. Poignant stories that made clear what is beloved and what is at stake.

“I’m deeply worried our church will no longer be a peaceful place for worship,” said Bruce Pleasant of Bethel United Methodist Church. Established in 1874, the modest church sits on the corner of Ridgeville and Wrenn roads, on the edge of the proposed mining site. 

Two of the church’s congregants carry portable oxygen to services. Silica dust from the mine could worsen their respiratory illnesses, Pleasant said. And the 3 million gallons of water per day that Carolina Sunrock proposes to suck out of the ground could deplete the church’s drinking water well.

“Where do we as a church get clean air and clean water?” Pleasant said. “We will forever lose our quality of life.”

Carolina Sunrock has left old equipment for an asphalt plant on property at NC 49 and Wrenn Road. Several Prospect Hill residents told state environmental officials that the company has a history of ignoring, and even fighting against, community complaints. “Their words are as hollow as the holes they leave behind,” said Graham Zimmerman.

The Piedmont Progressive Farmers Group helps small farmers who sell their free-range beef, meat goats, poultry and vegetables at farmers’ markets and food cooperatives. The appeal of their products is that they are sustainably grown, humanely raised and adhere to federal Good Agricultural Practices. “We have to be GAP certified,” said Michael Graves, co-founder of the group. He raises chickens and laying hens, hops and lavender, and installed beehives on his family farm. “That means the water has to be tested.”

Jeff Kirby was born on Ridgeville Road, as were generations of his family, and, he said, “grew up respecting Mr. James Painter.”

DEMLR can deny Sunrock’s permit application on any of seven criteria. Among them is that the operation “will have a significantly adverse effect on the purposes of a publicly owned park, forest or recreation area.”

Kirby said that a consultant for Sunrock, Tracy Davis, told him that no public recreational areas were near the site. (Davis was the director of DEMLR until December 2017; he now consults for industry.)

Yet the mine would be within a quarter-mile of Roxboro Lake, a supplemental drinking water supply for the City of Roxboro. It is also a fishing and boating destination. In fact, Amy McCauley, whose yard abuts the lake, said she pays boat and dock fees to the city in order to use the lake for recreation.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Progress is a great thing, but not at the expense of the environment. — Caswell County resident Burt Lee[/perfectpullquote]

Because the creeks, streams and lakes in and near Prospect Hill are classified as WS-II, High Quality Waters, state rules prohibit any new discharge from homes or industry. “The mine would be close to many, many streams,” said Mark Zimmerman. “They couldn’t have chosen a worse place to site it.”

DEMLR does not consider traffic impacts in its permitting decisions because they are outside the purview of the state Mining Act. However, the trucks — making an estimated 75 round trips per day — are also a pollution source, and not only because of their diesel emissions.

William Shapiro has worked in the transmission business for 43 years. “Most trucks release or leak oil, antifreeze, hydraulic fluid and other bad stuff,” which could enter streams, creeks, and groundwater, he said. “You don’t want these in your drinking water. Please don’t allow this community and the environment to be destroyed.”

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.