Gravel Pit

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Versions vary on impact of gravel mining pit

By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors, convening in Batesville Monday, witnessed a display of starkly conflicting views, testimonies and evidence regarding a proposed mining operation in the Eureka community.

The county board heard a public appeal from Memphis Stone and Gravel Co., which had failed to receive a special exception permit from the Panola County Land Development Commission.

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Supervisors did not make a decision on overturning the land commission. 

A board motion from Supervisor Bubba Waldrup, which passed unanimously, announced they would resume the topic at the Second District meeting in August. That meeting is set for August 10 in Batesville.

Memphis Stone attorney Pat Lancaster, speaking first, reiterated his client’s past assurances that stipulations of operating hours and hauling routes, and requirements for berms and fencing, would be followed.

Regarding the operating hours, Lancaster announced the Eureka site would begin selling its materials at 7:30 a.m. during the school year, though the attorney indicated the mine itself would crank to life each morning before that time.

The gravel trucks would not be allowed to load before 7:30, he said.

Memphis Stone vice president Alan Parks also announced that the company would initiate a “good neighbor trucking policy,” meant to calm fears of speeding gravel trucks along hilly Good Hope Road.

The policy states, in part, that trucks would be required to drive five miles below the posted speed limit.

Parks also explained that a small portion of land in Panola County is suitable for gravel mining, and the proposed site is among the best site of 25,000 acres in the county that have been drilled and tested.

Supervisors also heard from Lim Couch, a DeSoto County resident who said he, too, was concerned when Memphis Stone opened a mining operation near his home.

“They did what they said they were going to do,” Couch told supervisors.

But Senatobia attorney John Lamar, hired by Eureka residents to fight the mining plan, zeroed in on Panola County’s zoning rules that regulate the appropriate use of land zoned agricultural.

“The question to consider is if your land use commission got it right,” Lamar said. “Did they do the right thing?”

According to Lamar, the land commission acted appropriately after it weighed Memphis Stone’s plans against concerns that are addressed when an applicant files for a special exception permits.

Traffic safety, and a change in the character of the neighborhood, are among several concerns that were noted by the land commission, he said.

“Mossy Oak subdivision backs up to the property,” Lamar said. “The property line is 90 feet from one residence.”

Lamar also alleged that Memphis Stone has failed to abide by several stipulations made by Tate County supervisors for a mining operation in that county. The company has failed to maintain a county road and failed to build adequate berms around the mining site, the attorney said.

Lamar submitted a 1999 board order from Tate County supervisors, and photos showing the condition of the county road, as exhibits.

Supervisors also heard from county planner Sam Russell, who testified that the mining operation would conflict with the county’s stated zoning plans.

Lamar concluded with testimony from Mossy Oak resident James Wright, whose home is located along Eureka Road.

Wright said he was undecided about speaking against Memphis Stone because he and his family are longtime friends with Lamar “Boss” Johnson, one of two landowners who own the property sought by the company.

Johnson once helped Wright’s mother find a place to live, and Wright’s mother had urged Wright to stay quiet, he said.

“But I kept asking myself what if a family member is killed by a gravel truck and I didn’t say anything,” Wright said.

“I hope Lamar Johnson forgives me, but I’ve got a family to look after,” he added.

Lancaster, allowed to rebut Lamar and his witnesses, told supervisors that Wright’s “what if” description of an automobile accident was “inappropriate.”