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DEQ denies mining permit for quarry next to Umstead State Park

This is a developing story.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has denied a mining permit for a controversial quarry next to the 5,600-acre Umstead State Park in Raleigh, citing “significantly adverse effects” from “noise, visual and truck traffic impacts” that would interfere with the park’s purpose.

The proposed quarry has been contentious since 2019, when Wake Stone leased the “Odd Fellows tract” from the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. Quarry opponents unsuccessfully fought the legality of the lease in court, but have relentlessly pressured state officials to reject the mining permit.

Wake Stone planned to timber 105 acres of the Odd Fellows tract, and use 45 of it as a rock quarry. The company would have blasted a pit 40 stories deep to extract the materials, then crush and sell them for road-building and other uses. While Wake Stone agreed to invest millions of dollars in adjacent natural areas and mountain bike trails, the mining could have continued for 25 years or more.

The person answering the phone at Wake Stone’s corporate headquarters said the company’s public relations firm would be issuing a statement. Update Feb. 18 : The News & Observer quoted Wake Stone president Samuel Bratton as saying the company would appeal the decision. An administrative law judge would hear such an appeal.

Jean Spooner of the Umstead Coalition, a citizens’ group that fought the quarry, said “it was the right decision by the state.”

Umstead State Park is one of the most popular in central North Carolina, with 1.1 million visitors last year, according to the state Division of Parks and Recreation. Areas immediately surrounding it “have experienced tremendous growth,” according to a DEQ summary of its decision, which demonstrates not only the importance of the park but also its “sensitivity to outside development pressures.”

The Mining Act of 1971 requires the Division of Energy, Minerals and Land Resources to consider seven criteria in approving or denying a permit. In a written summary justifying its decision, DEMLR noted an increase in noise levels, even with the construction of a sound barrier wall, would be unacceptable. Likewise, parts of the quarry operation would remain visible from the park, as would the sound barrier wall. The proposed expansion would also add truck traffic and create safety hazards for park-goers, the document read.

Spooner told Policy Watch that the proposed quarry would have also disrupted wildlife corridors and aquatic life in Crabtree Creek. There were also concerns about the affects of the blasting on the Dunn residence near the park entrance on Reedy Creek Road. That house is on a private drinking water well, which could have also been affected by the quarry operations, which in general pump millions of gallons of water from the pits and can draw down aquifers.

Wake Stone has operated another quarry near the park since 1980; that too, proved controversial. State environmental regulars denied the permit, also based on adverse effects to the purposes of the Park, but the Mining Commission overruled the department, and the permit was issued in 1981.

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DEQ denies mining permit for quarry next to Umstead State Park