Environment

Caswell County paid $13K to mining attorney who advised repealing environmental impact ordinance

Tom Terrell Jr. (Photo: Fox Rothschild law firm)

Caswell County paid $13,000 to mining and land-use attorney Tom Terrell Jr., ostensibly for his unbiased legal opinion about a mining company’s property rights. But invoices show that he was asked to also consider the repeal of the county’s environmental ordinance, which would have directly benefited Carolina Sunrock, a mining company.

Not surprisingly, Terrell advised the Caswell County Commissioners to repeal the ordinance. However, facing significant opposition, at a September meeting they declined to do so.

The money was paid for roughly 46 hours’ worth of services from late May through late August, according to invoices obtained from the county under the state’s Public Records law.

Carolina Sunrock has proposed building a 426-acre, 550-foot-deep stone mine in Prospect Hill and a separate asphalt plant in Anderson Township, a primarily Black community. Those projects, which face vigorous local opposition, are on hold because of a county-wide moratorium on polluting industries that extends through mid-January.

Terrell, who works for the Greensboro firm Fox Rothschild, is not representing Carolina Sunrock in these proceedings. However his clients include other mining interests, including Alamance Aggregates, which is behind a controversial project in Snow Camp, in Alamance County. He is also representing a property owner who wants to build a Land Clearing and Inert Debris landfill in rural Vance County.

Like many rural counties, Caswell County doesn’t have its own attorney. Instead, the county manager hires outside counsel. Since July 2019, the county has contracted with Brian M. Ferrell of Kennon Craver as its attorney for a rate of $185 an hour.

But the legal services agreement states that the firm can refer cases to other lawyers and consulting professionals — such as Terrell — “with the consent and approval of the County Manager,” currently Bryan Miller.

Invoices from May 2020 show that Terrell and colleague Hayes Finley reviewed documents provided by the county, including the environmental impact ordinance. At Terrell’s instruction, Finley specifically researched the preemption of the ordinance; Terrell then held a conference call with County Manager Miller as well as Ferrell, the designated county attorney.

The review of the ordinance and the company’s property rights during the moratorium continued through July. According to notes in the invoice, Terrell discussed with the county attorney “regarding strategy for presentation, when to communicate with counsel, etc.”

It appears that Carolina Sunrock was also considering suing Caswell County. On June 1, Terrell called the company’s attorney Bill Brian “to ask him not to initiate any action in the interim.”

In late August, the NC Department of Environmental Quality denied the company’s air quality permit application. Carolina Sunrock has has appealed the decision. An Administrative Law Judge is scheduled to hear the case Jan. 25, 2021.

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