Gravel Pits

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Commission finds middle ground over gravel pits

By Billy Davis

A leading critic of Memphis Stone and Gravel’s 2008 plan to operate a mining operation in the Eureka community said she was pleased with a new plan that allows limited gravel mining in the area.

“I feel it is a workable compromise,” Martha Lynn Johnson said shortly after the Panola County Land Commission approved a motion with a 6-2 vote, with one abstention.

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The land commission’s approval included several rules for operating the Eureka Road gravel pits, including limiting commercial traffic to 10 truckloads per day on each of three tracts of land.

The commission’s vote means landowners Lamar Johnson, Clay Baker, and Martin and Rita Willingham were granted a special exception permit from Panola County government.

A fourth applicant, Bud Ford, had pulled his application for nearby Cosby Road.

The three tracts, which together total about 200 acres, are zoned agricultural. The permit allows a commercial operation while the zoning designation remains the same.

The landowners must obtain the county permit before they can apply for a state permit from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Martha Lynn Johnson and other Eureka residents had organized to oppose Memphis Stone’s plan to move its current mining operation from Highway 35, south of Batesville, to the Eureka area.

Memphis Stone, which had also sought a special exception permit, was seeking access to 95 acres owned by Lamar Johnson.

A spokesman for Memphis Stone revealed at one point that as many as 100 trucks could visit the mine in a day, setting off the dispute over property rights versus public safety and property values.     

Martha Lynn Johnson and husband Harold had told the commission they were concerned with truck traffic along Good Hope Road, where they live. Other opponents said the mining operation would harm property values in the rural farming community and truck traffic would endanger the community.  

Rules put in place

At the land commission meeting, the trio of special exception permits, although allowed, came with several stipulations. The landowners must now return to the commission with:

•Maps that show entrances to each of the three tracts

•Written plans for buffer zones, including berms and trees, to shield the pits from nearby residences

•Maps that show pit locations inside each tract.

The land commission’s motion for approval also included a daily limit for truck traffic — 10 commercial loads from each permitted gravel pit. That load limit evolved from a suggestion to allow 20 loads per day — total — from the three permitted tracts.

The rules also limited the routes of loaded gravel trucks, keeping much of the truck traffic off Good Hope Road, a straight but hilly route. Much of the truck traffic was required to use Eureka Road to reach Highway 51 instead.

Traffic at the gravel pits must also cease when South Panola school buses are on the roads before and after school.

Another stipulation is that a granted permit would be in the name of the current landowner. That condition likely stems after one landowner told the commission in December that he had not ruled out selling property to Memphis Stone.

Commissioners also discussed leasing the pits, stipulating that the leaseholder must appear before the land commission.

Any murmuring of the landowners’ intentions was scuttled early in the meeting, when commission chairman Danny Walker said the commission is tasked with reviewing only what is known.

“We are here to discuss the information before us,” he said.

Commissioner came


Commissioner Danny Holland came prepared with the list of suggested rules written on yellow legal paper.

He told The Panolian, after the meeting, that he had penned the rules earlier that day in the hopes that a compromise could be reached.

After 40 minutes of discussion, Holland read the list aloud for other commissioners. He then read the list a second time, which allowed commissioners to discuss each one.   

Discussion of the maximum load numbers — then set at 20 — gobbled up most of the discussion.

“That’s not fair to the next person with the next tract,” commissioner Tim Holliday said of the 20-load limit.  

“All of them came to us at one time,” replied Walker. “They all signed the same document.”

Walker then asked the applicants if it was “acceptable to be grouped together.” He got “no” in response.

As the discussion continued, Holland suggested allowing 10 loads per day from each property.

The land commission also set a five-year limit for the three permits, a standard requirement for commercial applications.