RED SPRINGS — Although construction of a sand-processing plant won’t begin for about six months, a managing partner with Buie Lakes Plantation LLC says that his development company is now working to make sure that the plant and mining operation that will operate on about 125 acres off Buie-Philadelphus Road meets all requirements included in the conditional-use permit granted by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners early this month.
“We’re excited and want to get the project moving as quickly as we can … . We’re going to do a good job. We will make sure this area stays beautiful forever,” Craig Brewer, of Charlotte, said. “We’re trying to move forward, but we are committed to making changes to our plans. We are now working with our engineers to build the most efficient plant we can within the boundaries of the conditional-use permit.”
But the Red Springs mayor says seeing will be believing.
“My opinion is based with our experience with this company in Red Springs,” John McNeill said. “There was no consistency in what they showed us or told us.”
The commissioners on July 2, after a public hearing that lasted more than three and a half hours, granted Buie Lakes Plantation the conditional-use permit to mine sand on the property located in a Residential-Agricultural zone that abuts the historic Philadelphus Presbyterian Church. The commissioners cited job creation and economic growth as the basis for their decision
About 125 people attended the hearing, with most of them opposing the developer’s plans to mine sand and construct a $22 million processing facility where iron will be removed and the sand cleaned before it is transported by truck to various glass manufacturers.
The developers actually own a 500-acre tract, but their plans call for only 125 acres to be mined. The processing facility, according to the developers, will create up to 36 permanent jobs and an estimated $1.6 million payroll. The county is expected to receive an estimated $231,000 in county taxes each year.
Brewer told The Robesonian that his company is now at the “mercy of engineers.”
“To build something this big there is a lot of internal stuff that takes place behind the scenes before the actual construction can start,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot of game planning. On a project of this size we don’t want to make a mistake. That can cost us money.”
Brewer said that engineers are now re-doing the processing facility design to meet a conditional-use permit requirement that restricts the height of the structure to no more than 50 feet. A design that moves the plant to the back of the property, another requirement of the conditional-use permit, is also being prepared, he said.
Brewer said that hopefully “we can start moving dirt” within six months. It will take a year to 18 months to complete construction of the plant once construction gets under way, he said.
Those at the hearing opposing the mining operation raised questions about how the site would operate; how the natural habitat would be affected; how property values would be affected; possible damage to an area believed to be the burial site of Virginia Dare, the first child born in America to English parents; and possible health hazards.
Brewer said when there is action on the site and benefits of the mining operation can actually be seen, many of the public’s concerns will be eased.
“When jobs start being created, there will be excitement,” he said.
County Manager Ricky Harris said before the conditional-use permit hearing that the mining operation proposed by Buie Lakes Plantation offers several “positives” for the county.
“They will create 36 good-paying jobs. They are asking for no tax relief. They are asking for no free land,” Harris said. “They would start paying taxes the day they start doing business.”
McNeill believes that before long Buie Lakes Plantation will sell the property. It will then be up to the new property owner, the mayor said, to honor or not honor the agreements Buie Lakes made with the county in order to obtain the conditional-use permit.
McNeill said that when the developer was seeking zoning changes to allow mining on the site it was learned that the company planned to sell the property to an investment group in Florida.
“Buie Lakes Plantation never volunteered this, but the attorney from the Florida group called me prior to our public hearing and informed me that the current shareholders would be only minority shareholders after the buyout with no control of the project,”
In October 2010, while still an annexed part of Red Springs, the board of commissioners in Red Springs denied the development company’s request for an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance that would allow mining as a conditional use on land zoned Agricultural-Residential.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.