Environment

In Kittrell, 83 acres of forest near Tar River targeted for “clearing and inert debris” landfill

An 83-acre Land Clearing and Inert Debris landfill is proposed for this forested tract in Kittrell. (Photo courtesy Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper)

Egypt Mountain Road is like many rural byways: lovely, peaceful and rarely traveled by anyone without a reason to be there. 

Off US 1 in Kittrell, in Vance County, the two-laner passes through hilly land owned by families for more than 100 years. Tucked among the knolls and woods are small farms and modest homes, and on the shoulder a yellow road sign tells motorists to slow down for cattle.

That’s Angie Garrett’s farm. “Fifth generation,” she said. “It’s where we live and where we make life.”

Life on Egypt Mountain Road could drastically change if a proposed “Land Clearing Inert Debris” landfill — an LCID — is built on 83 acres of forest. The property also contains wetlands, flood plains and Long’s Creek, a tributary of the nearby Tar River. 

Although these landfills aren’t permitted to accept trash, they are unlined repositories for millions of tons of dirt, trees, unpainted wood, concrete blocks and brick, hauled in by dump truck after dump truck.

Neighbors already know how disruptive an LCID can be. Shortly after Kenneth Harrison III, who is behind the proposal, bought the property in 2017, trucks began streaming in and illegally dumped debris.

“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Garrett, who reported the activity to the county, after which the dumping stopped. “I followed the trucks and they came from Franklin County. That let us know who we’re dealing with.”

Harrison did not respond to an email seeking comment, but he and his attorney, Tom Terrell Jr., are scheduled to present their proposal, as well as new information not included in the application, before the Vance County Board of Adjustment today at 4 p.m. The meeting will be held in person at 122 Young St., in Henderson; it won’t be live-streamed. 

Long’s Creek, shown on the left side of the map, would run through the landfill property. Tabb’s Creek would abut it. (Map: DEQ)

If the Board of Adjustment green-lights the Conditional Use Permit, the project still faces many hurdles, including approval by state regulators. But if it clears those hurdles, state law allows the landfill to have a “life-of-site” permit. These permits don’t have to be renewed. The public can still file complaints, but a life-of-site permit essentially exempt it from further public hearings.

Harrison lives in Wake Forest near Falls Lake. He owns a land development company Pearces Road, as well as K&K Organics, which would operate the landfill, according to state and county documents. 

“He didn’t buy the property to live here,” Garrett said. “He bought it to dump into Vance County.”

The proposal also has environmental justice implications. According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Community Mapping System, 38% of the census block that includes the proposed landfill is low-income; 42% of residents are from communities of color; both figures are above the state average. Everyone in the area relies on private drinking water wells.

Photos included in the permit application insinuate that the neighborhood is unkempt and neglected. A landfill then, would “be in harmony with the area,” the permit states. 

But the photos are misleading. Whoever took them chose only to show a mobile home and junk cars; the person did not photograph the tidy lawns, gardens, farms, and pristine land that is rule, not the exception. 

“It shouldn’t matter, that’s people and they live there,” said Jill Howell, the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper.

Another photo shows the sign to Carolina Sunrock’s rock quarry, noting that it is “just across Highway 1 from this site.” In fact, the quarry lies a mile south. 

The application also asserts that the landfill will only receive materials “it would be licensed to receive … most of the materials can be described as organic materials cleared from the same forests that we hunt and hike in.”

It is true that LCIDs are permitted to receive a limited type of material. But it’s also true that contaminated material can enter these facilities. Earlier this summer, Chemours, the company responsible for GenX contamination the Cape Fear River and drinking water supplies, sent potentially tainted tree roots and other “organic debris” to an LCID. After a citizen watchdog reported the dumping, state regulators forced Chemours to retrieve more than 30 tons of the material.

“Someone from the state isn’t going to inspect every load,” Garrett said. “Too much can go wrong for too many people.”

Howell is concerned that deforestation will exacerbate flooding, and allow soil and other debris to enter Long’s Creek, which runs through the property. That waterway feeds Tabb’s Creek, which flows into the Tar River. “When the trees are cleared, everything that’s been holding that soil and sediment will be gone, Howell said. 

Smaller creeks in the Upper Tar River Basin have better water quality than their counterparts downstream. Freshwater mussels have been found in Long’s Creek, and the habitat in Tabb’s is  healthy enough to support them, Howell said.  

The Tar River travels across eastern North Carolina and flows into the Pamlico Sound. Even 100 miles away, upstream pollution can harm sensitive estuaries near the coast.           

“These things add up. You can’t evaluate this in a vacuum,” Howell said. “There’s a need for an LCID landfill, but this is very close to a water resource. This is how you end up with degraded water quality.”

Garrett remembers raising children on the family land, and now her grandchildren enjoy those same traditions. “We taught our children to respect the land and it will continue to give to you,” Garrett said. “And if you’ve not caught a gar out of Tabb’s Creek you’ve not lived.”

Environment

After gasoline spill, Colonial Pipeline offers to connect some Huntersville households to public water

Erin Cohen (left) and Rick Lyke live in the Pavilion, about three-quarters of a mile from the spill. Their respective properties adjoin the pipeline right-of-way. “We’re looking for transparency from local, county and state officials and for the company to be held accountable,” Lyke said. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Five households along Huntersville-Concord Road have received offers from Colonial Pipeline to cap their private drinking water wells and connect them to a public water system, after at least 63,000 gallons of gasoline spilled in the area.

The release occurred on Aug. 14. A breach in the pipeline, which is nearly 60 years old, caused the spill. Colonial has been working since then to clean up soil and groundwater, as well as conducting monitoring.

NC Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Laura Leonard told Policy Watch that company representatives notified staff in the Underground Storage Tank Section this morning about the proposal.

Although the private drinking water wells have been sampled at least twice with no detections of petroleum or related compounds, the shallow aquifer at these properties has been contaminated at a depth of 30 feet, according to a constituent update from State Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat representing Huntersville.

Colonial Pipeline could not be immediately reached for comment. A company representative is scheduled to speak at tonight’s meeting of the Huntersville Town Board at 6 p.m. It will be streamed live on Facebook.

One resident who lives south of the spill, Shannon Miller Ward, posted on Facebook that “Colonial is strongly encouraging me to allow them to cap my well and immediately connect my home to city water. I have told them that I would like to delay this for at least a few months, but ideally for a few years to see if the well will become contaminated. While not said, it was implied, in my interpretation, that I will need to accept the offer or forfeit compensation of any sort.”

Sen. Marcus wrote in her update that she and State Rep. Christy Clark spoke with Colonial last Friday. The amount of the spill is likely an underestimate, Marcus wrote, adding that company representatives said that the number is “likely to increase, perhaps significantly.”

Colonial is recovering gasoline now that it “didn’t know was there after the first 48 hours,” she wrote.

According to Marcus, the company told her it has hauled 12,881 gallons of  gasoline and 798 tons of excavated soil off site. They have also removed 2,873 gallons of water.

Colonial has completed a third round of testing of all the drinking water wells within the 2,000-foot radius of the leak, plus a few in the Pavilion neighborhood. Results of the third round of testing are being delivered to landowners in the next few days. So far, no petroleum or its compounds have been detected in the wells.

Environment

Carolina Sunrock’s proposed quarry, asphalt plant is a no-go, says DEQ

Crowds packed the Caswell County Courthouse last fall to speak against Carolina Sunrock proposal to build a 420-acre quarry in Prospect Hill. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The state Department of Environmental Quality has denied two permit applications submitted by Carolina Sunrock, which had asked to build a proposed asphalt and concrete plant on Highway 62 in Anderson, north of Burlington, and a quarry in Prospect Hill, in Caswell County.

The Division of Air Quality found that the facilities would have violated National Ambient Air Quality Standards for nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide beyond the respective property boundaries.

Policy Watch reported last fall about strong citizen opposition to the quarry. Of the 630 acres, 420 would have been mined. Not only were there concerns about air quality, but also about the effects of the mining operation on water quality and quantity. The mine would have operated less than 1,000 feet from Hyco Lake, which is used for recreation and a supplemental water supply for Roxboro.

Fifty residents live within 1,000 feet of the proposed quarry and another 70 reside within a mile.

The public hearing, scheduled for Sept. 10, has been canceled.

Carolina Sunrock can appeal these decisions and.or submit new applications with sufficient information to demonstrate compliance with air quality standards.

Environment, public health

Here’s something else to worry about: more mosquito days

It’s not your imagination. Mosquitoes are worse than they used to be.

In central North Carolina, mosquito season is nearly two weeks longer now than it was 35 years ago, according to a Climate Central report.

In Asheville, there are 18 more mosquito days; Greensboro has an additional 16.Climate conditions in Greenville add 12 days to the season, and an extra week in Charlotte. In Wilmington, where it is already warm and humid, there are just three more mosquito days per year, for a total of 214.

Almost half the year is now suitable for mosquitos to thrive in western North Carolina, and 59%  along the coast.

The number of mosquito days was calculated based on studies from the National Institutes of Health, which found mosquitoes survive best at temperatures between 50-95 degrees and a relative humidity of at least 42%.

According to Climate Central, these conditions are increasing in nearly two-thirds of the 239 sites analyzed in the contiguous US, from the 1980s to the 2010s.

Mosquitos aren’t merely an annoyance. They can carry diseases, such as Zika, malaria, Chikungunya virus, dengue and West Nile.

West Nile virus, in particular, is projected to spread with climate change, as temperatures increase and warm seasons lengthen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the rate of disease in humans as a result of mosquito, tick and flea bites tripled in the US from 2004 to 2016. Researchers have identified nine new germs carried by mosquitoes in the last 15 years.

Environment

In 7-page letter, DEQ wants more answers about Wake Stone’s plan to mine next to Umstead State Park

Wake Stone has proposed building a controversial mine on the 105-acre Odd Fellows Tract next to Umstead State Park. (Map: Umstead Coalition)

The proposed Wake Stone mine in Raleigh has encountered another setback as state environmental regulators have returned the company’s application because it lacked key information.

In a seven-page letter dated July 23, the NC Department of Environmental Quality asked for key data:

  • the amount of air and noise pollution from blasting;
  • the potential for light pollution because of nighttime work;
  • the effects of a proposed bridge over Crabtree Creek on water quality, wildlife and endangered species;
  • how the overburden — or unusable material — will be disposed of;
  • and multiple design specifications for the pit that were not in the permit application.

As important, though, are questions of whether the RDU Airport Authority, which is leasing the 105 acres to Wake Stone, can legally do so. The cities of Raleigh and Durham, and Wake and Durham counties hold the deed to the land, but tax maps show that the Airport Authority owns it.

Opponents of the project have consistently argued that the Airport Authority hasn’t the legal right to lease the land.

DEQ also requested information about whether the project is receiving any public money “or other assistance,” and if more than 10 acres of public land is within proposed mine.

The property is known as the “Odd Fellows tract,” and lies adjacent to Umstead State Park, as well as two homes along Old Reedy Creek Road.  Wake Stone proposes to timber the land and then on at least 45 acres, blast a pit 40 stories deep to extract the minerals, crush them and sell the material for road-building and other uses. The mining could continue for at least 25 years.

Hundreds of people have commented on the proposal, most of them in opposition. In June the turnout for a virtual public hearing was so high that DEQ opted to hold a second one.

The proposed fence perimeter that DEQ rejected this week (Map: RDU)

Earlier this week DEQ rejected the Airport Authority’s request to build an 8-foot fence around its property, which cuts through Umstead State Park, ostensibly to prevent trespassing. State environmental officials said the fence would violate riparian buffer rules. The state Division of Parks also opposed the fence, calling it a “permanent eyesore.” Officials said it would not only diminish park visitors’ experience but also block crucial wildlife corridors.