Lacey’s Spring community fighting proposed rock quarry
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
LACEY’S SPRING — The woman leading opposition to a rock quarry proposed in northeast Morgan County says it would disrupt her community’s tranquil lifestyle, but state and local officials that she’s asked to block the project say they may lack the means to do so.
Andrea Cantrell, 58, lives adjacent to the site of North Alabama Materials’ proposed quarry and said it poses multiple threats to the Lacey’s Spring community where she and her husband raise cattle part time.
She said the quarry could damage roads, pose safety hazards with large trucks traveling the same narrow county roads as school buses, pollute water sources and adjacent TVA wetlands, create air pollution and potential damage to vehicle paint with dust from the operation and cause foundation issues for nearby structures with blasting. She said the quarry also would lower property values.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management said it is studying those concerns, but Cantrell wants state lawmakers and county commissioners to join her effort to stop the quarry.
“The County Commission has failed us,” Cantrell said. “… People in Lacey’s Spring feel left out. I’ve got a petition with over 150 signatures. I have a feeling for how the community thinks. We haven’t been treated fairly by the county commission.”
Cantrell’s effort to block the quarry began after Darrin Isbell, president of North Alabama Materials based in Gurley, filed a permit application with ADEM in the spring to construct and operate a quarry at 206 Fields Road. The application said the quarry would “provide sand and clay for professional ballfields and mine limestone to make base stone and graded gravel.” About 100 acres of the 329-acre parcel will be mined, his application noted.
It would be the second quarry in the northeast portion of the county, with Rogers Group operating the existing one.
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said he understands the neighbors’ concerns but blocking the proposed quarry is difficult with the county having no zoning regulations.
“The commission certainly sympathizes with the homeowners in the area. Nobody wants a rock quarry in their neighborhood,” he said. “We’re looking into it. Our engineer and attorney are looking to see what we can do as a County Commission. (Isbell) has applied for his ADEM permit. It’s still our responsibility to see if there is anything we can do to help those citizens. It’s probably a little late in the ballgame to try to stop it. The guy has spent millions of dollars already. It’s really a state issue.”
Long said county residents have never supported having zoning regulations.
“That’s why many of them live in the county,” he said. “They don’t want regulations. It goes back at least 30 years when the county attempted to do zoning. Nobody wanted it. Nobody in Lacey’s Spring, Valhermoso, Somerville, Massey, Danville, nowhere. That is why we run into problems like this. Zoning is good sometimes and sometimes it is not.”
Limestone County law
In 2009, the Legislature passed a local law in Limestone County that stated no rock quarry “may be established nor any existing rock quarry be relocated outside the corporate limits of any municipality within 2.5 miles of a public school.” Cantrell has asked state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to consider a similar law for Morgan County.
Orr, who attended a three-hour public hearing on the quarry proposal at Lacey’s Spring School on Oct. 18, said the Legislature doesn’t reconvene until March and it could be too late to delay the quarry operations with legislation.
“ADEM has its permitting standards that have to be followed,” Orr said. “Of course, if the quarry creates a nuisance where adjacent property owners cannot enjoy their privacy, their property, there can be a private cause of action. A lawsuit can be taken. I have staff attorneys in Montgomery if there is any local legislation in place that could prevent a rock quarry in this particular set of circumstances.”
Orr said he, too, was concerned about safety issues near the site.
“The roads in the area are very narrow and the weight factor of the trucks is a concern,” he said. “Imagine if a school bus is passing by a dump truck on one of those roads. If there is something I can do legislatively to prevent this harm to the neighbors, I will certainly do what I can.”
County Engineer Greg Bodley said with no zoning in the county there is little his office can do to regulate the quarry and its activities.
District 4 County Commissioner Greg Abercrombie said his department constantly monitors road conditions throughout the district.
“Heavy trucks already drive on those public roads in that area,” he said. “We have another quarry a couple miles away (operated by Rogers Group). They have helped us when work has been needed. Hopefully, this owner will work with us too.”
Isbell said on Wednesday that he is expecting a permit from ADEM by “the end of the year.”
He also said he offered to “purchase (Cantrell’s) property.”
She said her family has lived there 15 years and has no plans to sell.
ADEM responded to questions about the quarry with an email saying it is studying comments about the proposed quarry.
“ADEM’s Land Division and Water Division is reviewing the comments received and the transcript from the public hearing held in Lacey’s Spring. An appropriate permitting decision will be made following the reviews,” ADEM said. The agency did not elaborate.
ADEM has strict regulations on water and air pollution control, Orr added.
In his ADEM permit application, Isbell said the quarry will provide 10 to 12 full-time jobs and pay roughly $350,000 in annual state and local taxes. “The material produced by the facility will be used for construction projects throughout north Alabama, and the new projects will bring a positive economic impact to the area,” the application read.
TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said the federal agency has not received a 26A permit application from Isbell, but one is not needed if the quarry will not have any direct use of the shoreline and wetlands.
“The wetland near the site is a bottom land hardwood forest with loblolly pines,” he said. “TVA doesn’t have authority to regulate property off public lands. North Alabama Materials is not requesting anything on that land.”
Cantrell said 37 of her family’s 72 acres touch Isbell’s property.
She said in March a tree line on Isbell’s property separated the two properties when he started clearing his land. “He later came back and took the tree line down and constructed a 15-foot-high berm,” Cantrell said. She remains unhappy with the result and dreads the future.
“They have raped all of the soil, the sand, the gravel and removing the last rock. There will be nothing left but a big hole on the property. It will be an eyesore for the entire community.”
According to the ADEM permit application, the property was utilized as a borrow pit — the site of surface digging — starting in the 1950s and continuing into the 2000s. The hours of quarry operation would be 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the application said.
ADEM said there are about 30 quarries in north Alabama.
The Rogers Group, which operates the rock quarry less than 2 miles from Isbell’s proposed site, and Vulcan Materials, which operates a quarry in Trinity, did not respond to questions on this issue.