Eureka mining permit 1/15/13

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eureka deja vu: supervisors drop daily load limits

By Billy Davis

For the second time in two years, Panola County supervisors dropped a load limit for a proposed gravel mining operation in the Eureka community.

District 5 Supervisor Cole Flint motioned to drop the 10-load daily limit on RockCo Mining, LLC after supervisors listened to more than an hour of debate at their Second District meeting in Batesville.

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Batesville physician Mike Havens was appealing to the county board after the county land commission imposed the load limit, the same requirement for two adjoining properties. Supervisors dropped those two requirements in 2012 after hearing a similar appeal.

Flint’s motion also suggested dropping any requirement that RockCo Mining would cease operating when South Panola school buses are operating.

Left untouched was the doctor’s request, denied by the land commission, that a hot-mix plant be allowed to operate on the same property. Flint said he was hesitant to discuss that issue, citing unfamiliarity with environmental regulations.

After Flint’s motion and a second from James Birge, the county board voted 3-2 to drop the load limit and school bus requirements. Vernice Avant also voted in favor of the motion.

Board president Kelly Morris and John Thomas voted “nay.”

Morris represents the Eureka community in District 4 and has vocally opposed gravel mining in the area, citing the rural farming community and concern for property values.

Before supervisors voted, Havens made a last-minute request that Morris recuse himself from voting, since Morris’s home is in the general area of the property.

“That’s like asking me not to vote on issues that affect Panola County because I live in Panola County,” Morris responded.

The board then voted on Flint’s motion and recorded what appeared to be a 4-1 vote. But Thomas clarified that he voted against the motion, making it 3-2.

Havens and his attorney Mike Graves took turns speaking for about 45 minutes to lay out their appeal after the land commission’s action last month.

Havens cited traffic counts for Eureka Road and others to suggest there would be little truck traffic, reminding supervisors that his company would not operate trucks, only sell materials.

Operating the hot-mix plant onsite would also eliminate some truck traffic, he suggested.

Both Havens and Graves argued that the 10-load limit was likely illegal and unconstitutional, because it limited the company’s ability to make a living. Havens has said he needs 40 customers daily to break even.

Graves suggested the load limit could also be “discriminatory,” claiming 30 other permits have been granted in recent years without load limits.

Graves also complained that the 10-load limit had been suggested as a compromise with opponents of the mining operation.

“Either you meet those standards or you don’t,” he told supervisors.

Roy Percy, attorney for opponents of the mining operation, suggested supervisors table the issue until the Mississippi Appeals Court rules on a motion currently before it about the same mining operation.

The attorneys’ back-and-forth debate revealed that a motion is pending from former property owner Lamar Johnson. Johnson has since sold the property to Havens, and the current motion requests that Havens’ name be substituted for Johnson in the current appeal.

“There’s no sense in taking up the issue now,” Percy suggested. “It would just be a big mess.”

Percy, who spoke for 20 minutes, asked supervisors to impose a bond on RockCo Mining if the gravel mining operation is permitted to operate. The bond for Memphis Stone and Gravel had been $750,000, he said.

Havens said he did not oppose a road bond but suggested it would be lower, reminding the board that he does not own a fleet of trucks unlike Memphis Stone and Gravel.

Board attorney Bill McKenzie reminded supervisors of Flint’s motion and suggested the board could revisit the bond issue after the board votes on the motion.

If the Board of Supervisor’s 3-2 decision is appealed by Percy’s clients, it will be heard in circuit court.