RED SPRINGS — Robeson County commissioners are under fire from a recently organized group that says it wants to see more fiscal accountability from their elected officials.
The Friends of Philadelphus, a group of residents united in opposition to the establishment of a sand-mining operation on 125 acres off Buie-Philadelphus Road, have posted a petition on the Internet urging people to sign on as supporters of their cause for term limits and fiscal responsibility from the county commissioners.
“We, the communities in Robeson County, want the commissioners to be held accountable for the outrageous salaries they are paying themselves. The taxpayers have a right to know where the dollars are being spent,” the petition reads. “Robeson County citizens, if you agree that the commissioners should have term limits and all tax dollars accounted for, sign this petition. Make a stand for honesty, integrity and change!”
The reference to “outrageous salaries” is a response to the fact that the county commissioners are the fourth-highest paid in the state when combining salaries and stipends for travel.
As of early Friday, 55 people had signed the petition. The petition was posted Sunday by Lynn Locklear, a Red Springs resident and member of the Friends of Philadelphus.
“We feel that there needs to be higher standards set by our commissioners,” Locklear said. “In the petition we are asking people if they agree or not agree.”
Despite strong local opposition for the plans by Buie Lakes Plantation LLC to establish the sand mining operation in a Residential-Agricultural zone, the county commissioners on July 2 granted the developers a conditional-use permit to pursue the mining operation. Plans include construction of a $22 million processing facility to clean and remove iron from the sand that will be used to make glass for solar panels. It is estimated by the company that the county could collect more than $200,000 in property taxes annually, and that 36 permanent jobs could be created.
Buie Lakes Plantation in the past proposed to develop a subdivision on the property, Locklear said, but now the community group believes the intent of the developer is only to mine sand and that it will never develop the processing plant that would create the proposed jobs.
Locklear told The Robesonian that the Friends of Philadelphus believes the commissioners should have held off granting the conditional-use permit while the state Department of Commerce did a feasibility study.
“That’s what we requested in July,” he said.
Friends of Philadelphus has appealed the commissioners’ decision to Robeson County Superior Court. Gates Harris, the group’s attorney, said that the case probably won’t be heard until at least January. The county has until Dec. 1 to provide the court a record of all hearings regarding the mine.
“This lawsuit is going to be a long, tough process,” Harris said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t know how any judge after hearing the evidence will be able to justify putting an industrial use in a Residential-Agricultural Zone.”
Deborah Locklear, who owns property adjacent to the mining site and is a member of the community group, said the reason there is opposition to the actions of the commissioners is simple.
“They are not listening to us,” she said. “We are against this sand mine and we are looking for someone to represent us as a community.”
Locklear also said that the petition is an effort to encourage other county residents to make it known to their commissioners that they want to be heard on issues important to the community.
“If something like this can happen to us, it can happen to others in the county,” she said.
Members of Friends of Philadelphus say they are especially disappointed with Commissioner Raymond Cumming, who voted in favor of granting the conditional-use permit. Cummings, they said, ignored their wishes and failed to review information they supplied him supporting their argument that the mining operation would not be in the best interest of their community.
Cummings told The Robesonian he was not familiar with the petition and would not comment on something he does not know about.
Commissioner Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, said that he was not aware of the petition and did not want to comment. Woods did say, however, that the commissioners listened to the concerns of community members when they held the hearing on July 2.
“Everybody had the chance to speak,” he said.
Lynn Locklear said that one of the organization’s goals is to get Robeson County residents involved in community affairs.
“I talk to a lot of people and they say there can be no change. They say this is the the way things have always been done,” Locklear said. “But we’re trying to prove that people can bring about change.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.