LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners, citing job creation and the need for economic growth, on Monday unanimously voted in favor of granting a conditional-use permit to Buie Lakes Plantation LLC to mine sand on about 125 acres off Buie-Philadelphus Road. The mining operation will be located in a Residential-Agricultural zone on property that abuts the historic Philadelphus Presbyterian Church.
About 125 people attended the public hearing that lasted for more than three and a half hours. Most of them opposed the developer’s plans to mine sand and construct a $22 million processing facility where the iron will be harvested and cleaned before it is transported by truck to various glass manufacturers, including Pilkington glass in Laurinburg,
According to the developers, only 125 acres of a 500-acre tract will be mined. The processing facility will create up to 36 permanent jobs and an estimated $1.6 million payroll. The county would receive from the developer an estimated $231,000 in county taxes each year.
Buie Lakes Plantation has held a 10-year mining permit from the state since Feb. 2, 2009, Grady Hunt, a Pembroke attorney representing the developer, told the commissioners.
“The real issue at the end of the day is that you are putting an industry in a residential area,” Gates Harris, an attorney representing a group of about 30 Philadelphus property owners, told the commissioners. “In addition to getting a room full of angry people, putting an industry in a residential area like this is going to destroy everybody’s property value.”
Harris, whose family owns about 10 acres across the road from the proposed mining site, said that he does not believe that the developers of the property plan to build the processing plant that is the key to providing job creation and generating tax income. He believes the property will be sold to another company that will mine sand but not construct the $22 million processing plant.
“I’m still not convinced this is a viable project,” he said.
But Kevin Mackey, a plant manager from Pilkington glass in Laurinburg, told the commissioners that his company has the first right to buy the sand that he said is used to produce high quality glass. He said that his company currently receives sand from Georgia, and a closer supplier would help keep the operating costs for his company down.
Mackey said that the high quality glass that could be manufactured from the low iron silica mined at the Philadelphus site would go a long way to help Pilkington keep it costs down. He said the company is struggling and considering cutting down part of its operation, a move which could mean the loss of about 100 jobs.
According to Mackey, low-iron sand glass production has the potential to grow in the future and create jobs locally.
“The potential is there for growth in the future,” he said.
That was good news to James Oxendine, of Lumberton, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in Material Science and Engineering. He was one a few speaking in favor of the commissioners granting the conditional-use permit.
“Speaking for the younger people, we need jobs,” he said. “There are no highly skilled jobs for young people in Robeson County. We have to move away to find work … but I could work at this site once they build the facility.
“I think the concerns addressed tonight should be considered,” Oxendine told the commissioners. “But these people (Buie Lakes Plantation) need to be considered also. They are taking a chance on Robeson County.”
Commissioner Raymond Cummings, who represents the district where the mining operation will be located, made the motion that the conditional-use permit be approved.
“We want to be pro-growth, and foster an environment for job creation,” he said. “ We’ve got a unique opportunity to save and create jobs here.”
Those opposing the mining operation raised questions about how the site would operate; how the natural habitat would be affected; how property values would be affected; possible damage to an area believed to be the burial site of Virginia Dare, the first child born in America to English parents; and possible health hazards.
There was significant concern raised by area residents about dust raised by silica sand.
But according to three expert witnesses familiar with the mining and environmental safety industry, “engineeringcontrols” now exist that can limit and prevent dust from being released into the air. Such controls, they said, include ensuring that the sand remains wet and is maintained in a contained area.
Chris Baxley, who said he owns a home on a 25-acre tract just across the street from the site of the mining operation, expressed concerns about increased traffic, noise, dust and possible contamination to the well that provides water to his home.
“We moved here for the peace and quiet,” he said. “… We are young and our intent is to raise a family here.”
At the recommendation of Cummings, the commissioners added several conditions to the permit. These included that the processing facility be built at the back of the property, about 600 feet from Buie-Philadelphus Road; that no truck traffic be allowed to operate before 8 a.m. to ensure school buses have concluded their morning runs; if any burial grounds are found on the property mining must stop in that area; and that there be security on the property 24 hours a day.
“We’re going to start moving ahead right away,” said Craig Brewer, a managing partner with the development company. “We’ve waited a long time.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.