LUMBERTON — The mayor of Red Springs and Robeson County’s manager appear to have conflicting opinions on granting a conditional-use permit to a development company that wants to mine sand on 120 acres off Buie-Philadelphus Road.
County Manager Ricky Harris says that a mining operation proposed by Buie Lakes Plantation LLC offers several “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.”
Harris cautions, however, that his opinion is not necessarily that of the county commissioners, who will make the decision.
John McNeill, mayor of Red Springs, doesn’t think the company will construct a proposed $22 million processing building on the property that will clean and dry the sand before it’s transferred by truck to various glass manufacturers, including Pilkington glass in Laurinburg.
“This is nothing personal,” McNeill said. “My opinion is based with our experience with this company over the past four or five years.”
The county Board of Commissioners is expected to consider Monday a request by Buie Lakes for a conditional-use permit to allow sand mining on 120 acres in a Residential-Agricultural zone. The 120 acres, which abuts Philadelphus Presbyterian Church, are part of a larger tract encompassing a little more than 500 acres.
Craig Brewer, a managing partner with the development company, said Buie Lakes received a 10-year mining permit from the state on Feb. 2, 2009. He said that a rare crystalline silica that is low in iron and used for such purposes as making solar panels will be mined at the site.
“This is a great project. There is a market for low-iron sand,” Brewer said. “It is used in the glass of skyscrapers, cars and every kind of building. It is also used to make solar panels.”
The processing facility would create up to 36 permanent jobs and an estimated $1.6 million annual payroll, Brewer said, and the company would pay $231,000 in county taxes and $30,000 in fire district taxes each year.
Brewer said site would be screened and buffered so it would not be an eyesore, and insists that the millpond on the property will not be disturbed. But McNeill told The Robesonian on Friday that the county commissioners should be careful.
“First, the project is not real. Second, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners needs to ask for verification — perhaps by the N.C. Department of Commerce — on the feasibility of this group developing this project,” McNeill said. “Last, the Board of Commissioners needs to take a long and hard look at this, and if they do pass it, they need to have every possible safeguard in place to protect the residents in that area and the county.” McNeill said that the property was annexed by Red Springs in January 2008 after the developers proposed an upscale subdivision.In October 2010, the Red Springs Board of Commissioners 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. The commissioners voted 3 to 3, with McNeill casting the fourth negative vote. The propery was later de-annexed. McNeill said that during his town’s dealings with Buie Lakes, questions surfaced about the company and its plans for developing the property.
“First, we learned in Red Springs that this group plans on selling this project to an investment group in Florida once they obtain the zoning changes,” McNeill said. “Buie Lakes Plantation never volunteered this, but the attorney from the Florida group called me prior to our public hearing and informed me that the current shareholders would be only minority shareholders after the buyout with no control of the project.”
Brewer, however, said Friday that his company doesn’t plan to sell the property and is moving ahead to develop the $22 million processing facility.
“Advertisements for selling the property were placed three to five years ago, before we knew what we were going to do with the property,” he said.
McNeill also questions why the developers aren’t seeking economic development incentives from the state and county.
“They are not asking for any economic incentives when they potentially could obtain $4 million in incentive,” he said. “That’s unusual. With the incentives they could fund up to 20 percent of their project’s cost.”
Brewer said that his company had applied to the state for incentives, but was told it did not qualify.
“Our type of project is not funded by the state,” Brewer said. “We would have to fill up bags of concrete, like those they sell at Lowe’s, in order to be eligible for incentives.”
Commissioner Raymond Cummings said Friday that the sand-mining operation “sounds interesting.” The property to be mined is in his district.
Cummings didn’t say if he plans to vote in favor of the conditional-use permit, but said that construction jobs and permanent jobs created by the project “might be significant.”
“I know the community has some concerns,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing the proposal and concerns of the citizens.”
Last month, the county Planning Board approved the developer’s request for the conditional-use permit. During a public hearing, 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 what would be the 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.
In other business, the commissioners on Monday will:
— Hold a public hearing on a request by Helping Hands Ministries for a conditional-use permit that will allow for the establishment of a church cemetery in a Residential-Agricultural district.
— Designate a voting delegate for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners conference.
— Consider the annual contract between the county’s Department of Social Services and the Southeast Area Transit System.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the commissioners room of the county administrative building on North Elm Street.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.