Eureka mining permit 12/14/12

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2012

‘Compromise’ permit granted to latest Eureka property owner

By Billy Davis

A property owner in the Eureka community has been ordered to limit gravel hauling to 10 trucks per day, the same load limit neighboring property owners were granted last year.

Panola County’s land commission voted 6-1 to place the load limits on applicant Mike Havens, Monday night in Sardis, after more than 90 minutes of public input and discussion.

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Havens, a Batesville physician, was seeking a special exception permit to mine sand and gravel, and to operate a wash plant and asphalt plant on the property.

His company is RockCo Mining, LLC.

The 99-acre tract contains approximately 50 acres of mineable sand and gravel.

Applicant:  $3.2 million investment
Havens told the land commission his own financial review shows he must sell 40 loads per day to break even on the mining operation, which he said would be a $3.2 million investment.

This week’s public hearing mirrored past hearings that have been civil but pointed, pitting property owners and their supporters against neighbors who oppose the light industry in the rural community.

The hearing also included attorneys for the applicant and for his opponents, mimicking the months-long fight in 2009 that pitted Memphis Stone and Gravel against Eureka residents.

Havens reminded the land commission that it had granted special exception permits to the Baker and Willingham families, and the doctor shared a map showing his property that borders Eureka Road and sits between the other two properties. 

Eureka farmer Lamar Johnson was also permitted almost two years ago to haul up to 10 loads per day, but Havens said Monday he has since purchased the land from Johnson.

It was that same deal from January 2011 — seen as a compromise at the time — that commissioners decided to allow for Havens Monday night.

Commissioners recalled during their discussion that the Board of Supervisors overruled their decision and allowed unlimited loads of gravel to leave the three properties.

No mining has taken place since the permits were granted, commissioners said.

Roy Percy, an Oxford attorney representing the opposition, said that decision is now before the Mississippi Court of Appeals in Jackson.

Among the stipulations voted for two years ago is that a new landowner must apply for a county permit, which is why Havens was standing before the commission Monday.

Havens: ‘harmony’ needed

The Batesville doctor and his attorney, Mike Graves, took turns speaking to the land commission during most of the public hearing.

Havens read from 16 pages of prepared text for at least 20 minutes, recalling that past debates over the heated issue have affected his own patients, some of them neighbors on opposite sides of the issue.

After a history of angry debate over the mining issue, the doctor said he was standing before the commission “hoping to foster harmony and peace.”

“I believe that life is way too precious and short to destroy relationships over such insignificant circumstances,” said Havens, reading from his text.

A few minutes later the doctor drew the ire of commission chairman Danny Walker, when the doctor noted that some opponents of Memphis Stone allowed the company to drill their own properties to test the soil.
Those same opponents wanted to own Johnson’s land and pursue the same mining operation, Havens claimed. 

“I want to hear what you plan to do. What are your plans?” Walker interjected. “I don’t want to hear your opinion of the neighbors.”

“I want to pop this sore that keeps festering,” Haven replied, returning to his notes.

Havens continued reading for several more minutes until commissioner Sledge Taylor stopped him again.
“I don’t need a lecture. I don’t need sermonizing,” said Taylor. “Get to the facts and speed things up.”

Road and traffic safety, job creation and property values were other issues mentioned by Havens.

The mining operation would employ 20 to 30 workers, Havens told the land commission, and he claimed the business would not impact property values, citing the opinions of local real estate agents.

Attorney: conflict with community
Percy, the second attorney, said the land commission was eyeing a similar permit request when it granted permits for the three applicants, though this time Havens was also requesting an asphalt plant, he said.

The asphalt plant would add more truck traffic coming and going to what is already a gravel mining operation, Percy claimed.

Answering a pointed question from Walker, Percy said Havens’ commercial mining operation would conflict with the rural character of the community, doing more harm than the other permit holders.

One ‘nay’ vote
The land commission voted to remove the asphalt plant from Havens’ plan but allow him the same load limit originally approved in 2011. 

The lone “nay” vote among the commission was from Tim Holliday, who also voted against the motion two years ago.

Others who spoke during the public hearing were Harold “Pee Wee” Johnson and wife Martha Lynn, who led the 2009 effort against the mining operation, and Mossy Oak resident Audra Wheatley.

Wheatley said she and seven other residents, all minorities, had built their “dream homes” at Mossy Oak and all of them opposed the adjacent mining operation.

The land commission grants special exception permits but their action can be appealed to the Panola County Board of Supervisors.