A sand mine operator was granted two more years to finish digging out his property, after county commissioners voted to deny a rezoning application but allow the extension.
Several residents along Pine Street voiced their objections to the existing permit.
Under the county’s regulations, the sand mine needs to be under an industrial zoning. The property currently is zoned AR-1, or agricultural-residential. Commissioners voted 3-1, with Reggie Loper casting the lone no vote, to deny the rezoning request and extend the original agreement by two years.
Robert Oglesby of East Coast Utilities said the company has not been able to complete the sand mine as a result of the economic downturn.
“We just want an extension on it,” he said.
But neighbors voiced a litany of complaints against the sand mining operation and asked commissioners to halt the work.
“They have had more than enough time,” said Pine Street resident Nina Dasher. “They have taken over our community. They have stolen our neighborhood. We want our neighborhood back.”
Dasher also said the company had a list of items with which it would comply but it has failed to do so.
“Everything on that list they have stomped all over,” she said. “They have not been good neighbors at all.”
Dasher also said the dump trucks coming in and out of the pit speed, and it’s only her picture taking of the trucks that causes them to slow down.
“The dust has been horrible. The traffic has been horrible,” Dasher said. “The roads are in terrible shape.”
Dasher also said Oglesby refuses to take any responsibility for the road’s condition.
“We pay taxes,” she said, “a lot more taxes than Mr. Oglesby. I am here begging you — give us back our neighborhood.”
Digging out from under the economy
Commission Chairman Wendall Kessler agreed with the planning board’s recommendation to deny the rezoning request, but he supported allowing Oglesby two years to complete the sand mining operation. Kessler, who votes only in the case of a tie, said he supported Oglesby’s wishes to recoup his investment in the land. He also backed tying the sand mine’s permit into the extension approval, though commissioners acknowledged they have no control over the permit. Sand mine permits are granted through the state Environmental Protection Division, and inspections of sand mines also are a state function.
Commissioner Forrest Floyd, whose district includes the Pine Street neighborhood, said most of the calls he received concerned the request for rezoning to I-1.
“If the economy hadn’t turned, he would be complete,” Floyd said.
Added Kessler: “Nobody knew 12 years ago what the economy was going to do. However, it does make me more amicable to work with people.”
Attorney Noble Boykin also tried to convince the commissioners to close down the sand mine.
“It is a heavily-residential neighborhood,” he said. “Most of them moved out to Effingham County so their kids could have a place to play. Its use is incompatible with this residential neighborhood.”
Boykin also pointed out the company signed an agreement to have the mine open for 12 years. The agreement was the result of a lawsuit settlement. The county turned down the original zoning request, made in 1998, and the out-of-court agreement said the mining activity — with its permit granted in 2002 — would be closed within 12 years. County documents show mining operations started Nov. 14, 2002, and county zoning administrator George Shaw wrote the mine operators a letter in 2012 stating they had until Nov. 13, 2014, to close out the mine, under the terms of the settlement.
“They agreed to that. They negotiated that,” Boykin said. “Now, they want more time. After 12 years, they want to come back and say, ‘give us another two years.’ They had lawyers. They backed the county into a corner. For once, let somebody accept responsibility for what they said they’d do.”
Residents also offered concerns on children playing on Pine Street with dump trucks using the road to get to and from the sand pit.
Floyd also backed allowing the sand mine to continue to operate for another two years.
“I feel this is a property rights issue,” he said. “If we shut them down now, how many people will that impact with their jobs?”
But Boykin and others contended that the Pine Street residents also have property rights. A petition with 44 signatures opposing the rezoning request was presented to the planning commission and forwarded to the county commissioners.
“There’s a lot of people with property rights out there,” Boykin countered.
Residents in opposition
Oglesby said he didn’t think it would take 12 years to finish the sand mine beyond the extension.
“There are days we don’t haul out of there,” he said. “I’m not here to hurt nobody. If I could find another piece of property, I’d be out of there in a year.”
The tract itself is more than 200 acres, but the rezoning request covered only 32 acres.
Oglesby also told commissioners he would not ask for more time to complete the mine.
“You won’t see me back up here on this subject no more,” he said.
Assistant county attorney Elizabeth Pavlis said the original agreement could be extended for two more years. Kessler said the two years under consideration was actually a compromise from a request for five additional years.
“You go ahead and give him two years,” Bonnie McIver said to commissioners, “and see if he’ll not try to get five years.”
“They don’t need any more time,” said Todd West. “They don’t need to haul any more dirt out.”
In a letter to commissioners, Dasher outlined what she alleges are lies from the company and the continued vibrations from passing dump trucks have damaged her home. The repairs will cost $17,000, she said.
She also charged that the sand mine operators have not adhered to the out-of-court settlement that allowed for its start, particularly the dump trucks traveling in excess of 15 mph. A 2007 inspection of the sand pit revealed the use of diesel pumps to remove water from the pit, rather than the agreed-upon electric pumps. The settlement also called for a 100-foot buffer, but a September 2008 inspection stated the company was digging into as much as 67 feet of that buffer.
A 2008 letter to East Coast Utilities also said a fence around the property was never installed as agreed and a silt fence shown on the plans was never put in place. County zoning administrator George Shaw warned that if the conditions were not met, the county could shut down the sand mine.
An inspection a month later showed that the company was complying with most of the stipulations that were not being followed previously.
Kessler said rezoning the property to industrial would open up “a whole different can of worms.” He asked other commissioners to consider granting a two-year extension and tie it to the existing permit.
“If we do nothing, we’re sitting here with maybe another court action,” he said.
Loper asked if the company could be granted just a one-year extension.
“I know that’s not making most of you happy,” Kessler said to the large audience to hear the matter. “I’m sorry. So vote me out of office in two years.”
The chairman also offered a warning to Oglesby after commissioners approved extending the standing settlement.
“Don’t disappoint me,” he said.