Mining Pit

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 17, 2009

Eureka residents criticize plan to open mining pit

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s land commission tabled action on approving a 200-acre gravel pit in the Eureka community, a decision that buys commissioners more time to weigh the merits of allowing the mining operation in the rural area.

The land commission, with county supervisors present to discuss building codes, met Monday night at the courthouse in Sardis.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Memphis Stone and Gravel Co. plans to purchase acreage in two separate tracts from two landowners, Lamar “Boss” Johnson and Martin “Slick” Willingham.

The property is located on the south side of Eureka Road, approximately a mile west of Good Hope Road, the planned travel route for gravel trucks that would haul the mined materials. 

Memphis Stone geologist Alan Parks, responding to a commissioner’s question, said the company would mine 95 acres at the Eureka site. At Memphis Stone’s current Highway 35 site, the company is mining 58 acres on 135 acres of leased land there, he said.

Memphis Stone’s current mining operation, located just south of Batesville, continues to be a controversial topic. A number of high-end homes are located across the two-lane highway from the mine, where residents’ view to the west is a towering, tree-covered berm.

Highway 35 homeowners Scott and Mona Harrison are suing the City of Batesville over its zoning allowance for Memphis Stone. A verdict is pending in Panola County Circuit Court.

At the Eureka Road site, Memphis Stone would operate next to a high-end subdivision called Mossy Oak Cove. One home and seven lots adjoin the Willingham property, and seven other homes and several dozen lots are located within Mossy Oak, many within sight of the proposed gravel pit. 

The homes presently located in Mossy Oak provide $14,350 annually in property taxes, according to figures provided by the Panola County tax assessor’s office.

The average home value is $164,179, with a combined value of $1.3 million.

The Mossy Oak property is owned by developer Tommy Florence, who was not present at Monday night’s public hearing.  

During the public hearing, Memphis Stone president Hal said the company plans to move its washing operation, from Highway 35 to the Eureka site. The washing cleans the mined materials, which are carried by a conveyor belt, for use. 

Memphis Gravel is seeking the Eureka site because of “depleted resources” at its Farrish Gravel Road site, he said.

Parks then followed his boss, explaining that mining would begin in about three years and continue from 10 to 15 years.

The company’s plans include constructing a process plant approximately 2,000 feet from Eureka Road, and building a 12-foot high berm along the west and north property lines to minimize noise.

Parks said Good Hope Road would be the “primary route” for trucks, though some trucks could travel Eureka Road to Highway 51.

Asked about the number of gravel trucks, Parks said the plant would average between 50 to 60 trucks per day, which he said is the average number at the Highway 35 site.

Williford, however, said later in the public hearing that 100 trucks a day could travel Good Hope Road during “peak” times.

Williford also said the company’s hours would be from “daylight to dark,” with work starting as early as 6:30 in the morning.

After the company representatives spoke, commissioners then heard from eight residents who used the public hearing to voice opposition to Memphis Stone’s plans.

“It’s my neighbors’ right to sell gravel, and I hope they get rich, but I don’t want a wash plant in my front yard,” said Perry Massey, whose home and acreage is located across Eureka Road from the site.

He then described the noise of the wash plant and its conveyor belt, and warning horns on heavy equipment.

Massey also informed commissioners that the Mossy Oak subdivision adjoins Willingham’s property line. The mining operation would back up to seven lots located on the south side, he said.

“They’ve got some nice homes there and don’t want this in their backyard,” Massey said.

Massey’s mother-in-law, Dot Watson, also spoke out against Memphis Stone’s plans.

“I don’t have a lot of years to live but I want to live in peace,” she told the commission.

Commissioners then heard from Mossy Oak residents, beginning with homeowner Dan Daugherty, whose home and two-acre tract backs up to the Willingham property.

“My home is for sale,” Daugherty said, “I don’t know anybody who would want to buy it with a gravel pit in the backyard.”

Commissioners then heard from Mossy Oak homeowners Richard Wilson, Vernon Griffin, Tony Wheatley, and husband and wife Reginald and Coretta Miller. All of them voiced opposition.

“I came out there for some peace and quiet,” said Griffin.

“They’re going to drive those trucks as fast as they can,” Wheatley said.

Williford, responding to a myriad of concerns, said a paved entrance will eliminate dust on the road, and the berm will all but eliminate noise. The beep-beep of equipment has been replaced by a quieter alarm.

Responding to a concern about property values, Williford said a company-owned site in Hernando is located next to high-end homes, a golf course, and a new elementary school.

“I don’t feel like it hurts the property values,” he told the commission.

But commissioners zeroed in on the danger posed by the gravel trucks, especially if the plant opens at 6:30, when South Panola school buses are transporting students in the pre-dawn darkness.

“I’ve got a problem with the trucks and the school buses,” said commissioner Bob Haltom.

Good Hope Road is “straight but hilly,” said commission Lana Douglas, who lives in the Mt. Olivet area.

As that topic bounced around the table, Williford announced that Memphis Stone planned to cooperate with county government, and bear some of the cost, to install warning signs and flashing lights along Good Hope Road.

A section of private property at Good Hope and Mt. Olivet roads, a dangerous intersection, would be cut down to improve the site line, he also said.

Commissioner Danny Jones said he was concerned that Good Hope Road residents are unaware of Memphis Stone’s plans, which would affect their community because of the gravel truck route.

“They should have read The Panolian,” said commissioner Johnny Fowler, referring to the public notice.

As the discussion continued, commissioner Donna Traywick, citing safety concerns over the number of trucks, abruptly made a board motion to turn down Memphis Stone’s request.

“You can’t protect everything in the world,” responded Fowler, who then cited his own concerns about turning down a new business during the bad economy.

With Traywick’s motion on the table, commission chairman Danny Walker then suggested “stipulations” such as a fence along the berm to protect children. He also suggested that Memphis Stone be required to open at 7:30, after the buses have dropped off students, during the school year.

Fowler then made a board motion to approve Memphis Stone’s application with Walker’s stipulations.

“Just because somebody says they don’t want it out there, that’s not a good reason to me,” he explained.

 “This area is heavily residential,” Jones replied. “This would be the biggest change in the Eureka community in 50 years.”

But Traywick agreed to withdraw her motion, ceding to Fowler’s mention of jobs and the economy, and Haltom seconded Fowler’s motion.

The motion to approve Fowler’s motion then failed with a 2-4 vote. Only Haltom and Fowler voted for the motion.

Jones then suggested that the commission table the issue to research the safety issue. Tim Holliday seconded that motion, which passed 5-1. Fowler recorded the only “nay” vote.

The land commission’s next meeting is scheduled for May 11 in Batesville. Walker said any public input from the public won’t be allowed at the May meeting since the public hearing has been held.