LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners will decide July 2 if a conditional-use permit will be granted to Buie Lakes Plantation LLC to mine sand on property located in Philadelphus.
The county Planning Board on Monday approved a plan by the developers of Buie Lakes that would allow sand mining on about 120 acres located near the Philadelphus Presbyterian Church that are zoned Residential-Agricultural. The 120 acres are part of a larger tract encompassing just more than 500 acres that Buie Lakes owns on Buie-Philadelphus Road.
Grady Hunt, an attorney from Pembroke, outlined the development company’s plans to mine what it contends is a rare crystalline silica that is low in iron and used for such purposes as making solar panels.
The property, which includes a millpond, was annexed by Red Springs in January of 2008, when the developers proposed an upscale subdivision. Later, at the request of the developer, the property was de-annexed, according to Mayor John McNeill.
At Monday’s meeting, Hunt told the Planning Board that the developers received a mining permit from the state on Feb. 2, 2009. The permit, which extends through Feb. 2, 2019, allows for mining of more acreage than the developer is requesting to be covered by the conditional-use permit, Hunt said.
According to the developer’s plans, a $22 million building would be located on the property to clean and process the sand before it is transferred by truck to various manufacturers. Hunt said that after construction, the facility would create up to 36 positions earning an estimated $1.6 million a year in salaries — an average of about $42,000. These jobs, he said, do not include truck operators.
Hunt told the Planning Board that the operation would generate a significant amount of tax revenue for both the county and the local fire departments. He said based on current tax rates, Buie Lakes would be paying a total of $231,000 in county taxes and $30,000 in fire district taxes each year.
The attorney also outlined how the site would be screened and buffered so as not to be an eyesore, and assured the board and concerned property owners that the existing millpond would remain undisturbed.
During Monday’s meeting, 17 property owners raised their hands when asked by the Planning Board chairman if there was any opposition to the developer’s proposal. Concerns of property owners included how the site would operate; how the millpond and surrounding natural habitat would be affected; what would the effect be on property values; and possible damage to an area believed to be the burial site of Virginia Dare, the first child born in America to English parents. Health questions were also raised.
“We’re talking about an industry, not mining,” Gates Harris, who said he owns property across the street from where the mining operation would be located, told the Planning Board. “This is someone talking about putting an industry in one of the most beautiful spots in Robeson County … We’re just asking that this be put somewhere else. There are other areas in the county where they can get and process sand.”
Harold Thrower, who owns about eight acres a couple of miles from the site of the proposed mining operation, said that he is concerned about such an industry encroaching on the adjacent property, where the historic Philadelphus Presbyterian Church is located. He said he believes it is a “deception” that there will ever be a job-creating facility for processing sand on the site.
“What there is going to be is just a sand pit with new homes built around it,” Thrower said.
McNeill told The Robesonian last week that over the past several years plans for developing the site have changed a number of times. He said he has doubts that the development company will ever put a processing facility on the property. It will be nothing but a sand mining operation, McNeill said.
“If they are serious about investing more than $22 million in the county, why haven’t they asked for any economic incentives? Any business making that kind of investment would want some kind of incentives, ” McNeill said.
This is not the first time that Buie Lakes has sought permission from a Robeson County governing body to pursue sand mining on its property. In October 2010, while still an annexed part of Red Springs, the Board of Commissioners in Red Springs denied the development company’s request for an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance that would allow mining as a conditional use on land zoned Agricultural-Residential.
Ricky Harris, Robeson County’s interim manager, told The Robesonian on Friday that the proposal by Buie Lakes appears to offer a number of “positives” for the county.
“They will create 36 good-paying jobs. They are asking for no tax relief. They are asking for no free land,” Harris said. “They would start paying taxes the day they start doing business.”
— Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.