Umstead Park advocates ask court to declare airport lease invalid; exploratory drilling could begin this week

The Umstead Coalition, a group of park lovers, mountain bikers and environmental advocates, oppose the quarry. In the background are signs posted by the RDU Airport Authority warning people on Old Reedy Creek Road not to trespass on its property. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

The Umstead Coalition, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and three more plaintiffs filed a complaint in Wake County Court today, asking a judge to invalidate a lease between the RDU Airport Authority and Wake Stone for a quarry on 105 acres adjacent to Umstead State Park. Of the  acreage nearly half would be used for the quarry, which would be about 400 feet deep.

The plaintiffs are also requesting that a judge temporarily halt all pre-construction activities until the legality of the lease is determined.

Exploratory drilling could begin this week and continue through the end of the month, according to a letter sent by Wake Stone to the state Division of Energy, Land and Mineral Resources. The letter states exploratory drilling would be conducted on up to an acre of land.

As Policy Watch reported last week, on March 1 the RDU Airport Authority Board voted unanimously to approve a lease with Wake Stone, which could quarry the land for 35 years. In return, Wake Stone would pay a minimum of $8.5 million to the airport, over 25 years, plus 5.5 percent of net sales in annual royalties. If the lease is extended to 35 years, which is a possibility under the agreement, the company could pay the airport a total of $24 million through 2055 — although that scenario is speculative.

Quarry opponents say the agreement is invalid because state law requires four local governments — the cities of Raleigh and Durham and the counties of Wake and Durham — to approve any lease in which the land would be used for non-aeronautical purposes. The FAA also must approve a long-term lease — longer than 25 years — of airport property for such purposes, an FAA spokesperson told Policy Watch last week.

Vinson Notification of Exploration Drilling (Text)

The FAA also told Policy Watch that the RDU Airport Authority has not asked the agency about the property.  with the possibility of extension, the Wake Stone lease agreement ranges from 25 to 35 years, potentially triggering the need for federal approval.

Opponents are also requesting “a public debate on the disposition of the property.”

Two of the plaintiffs are Tamara and Randall Dunn, whose property could be seized by the Airport Authority using eminent domain, for quarrying purposes. Another parcel, two acres owned by the Beasley family, could also be seized.

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