RED SPRINGS — Chris Baxley says he has always been a country boy.
When Baxley got the chance three years ago to buy 25 acres of farmland in the Philadelphus community near Red Springs, he jumped at it. His dream had been to build a home there and start a family.
But with the prospect of a multi-million dollar sand-mining operation across the road from his property, the 29-year-old electrician believes his plans for a “quiet place in the country” have been squashed.
Baxley and a group of residents living near the proposed mining operation are afraid of what it will do to their community in terms of noise, traffic and health. The $22 million facility, Buie Lakes Plantation, would clean sand on about 120 acres that would be used to make solar glass.
“I really don’t want a sand mine at the end of my driveway,” Baxley said. “It is going to be a giant headache with trucks coming in and out every day. You’re going to have excavators digging 50-foot holes to get that sand out and I’m going to have to hear that every day.”
Supporters of the project say the operation will bring jobs that pay well to a county that sorely needs them. They say there are safeguards in place to deal with many of the concerns expressed by residents opposed to the operation.
“We’ve tried to balance what will be helpful to the county without hurting that community and the residents living there,” Commissioner Raymond Cummings said. “I think the positives far outweigh any negatives.”
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court denied a request for a discretionary review requested by Philadelphus Presbyterian Foundation Inc. and nearby property owners. Opponents sought the review after losing their case at the Court of Appeals in January.
The decision could bring closure to a nearly two-year court battle that began when the Robeson County Board of Commissioners approved a permit for the operation in July 2012. The county has said the operation will create about 36 jobs with an average salary of $44,000. It is also expected to pay as much as $200,000 a year in property taxes.
“Our goal is to try and create quality jobs that pay well in Robeson County and from all that we’ve heard, that plant will do that,” Cummings said.
Cummings said that the conditional-use permit issued by the county to Buie Lakes Plantation includes a number of measures to address residents’ fears about the operation.
“We know that people had issues with this project,” Cummings said. “That is why the conditional-use permit requires the company to place the operation back off the road and to be designed to be as quiet as possible. We also asked for vegetation buffers and modified the truck traffic after 8 a.m. during the school year and on weekends.”
Cummings said the conditional-use permit also prohibits trucks going to and from the plant to use major highways and stay off secondary roads.
“All those things were done based on community concerns,” Cummings said.
But Baxley is not impressed with the talk of jobs or any of the limitations that may be placed on the plant.
“It is not going to benefit me a bit,” Baxley said. “I didn’t move out here in the country to have some giant industry as my next-door neighbor. I’m not against jobs, but you shouldn’t put an industry in a residential area.”
Deborah Locklear, who lives about a mile from the proposed plant, agrees.
“I moved here from Florida where they do not put sand mines in residential areas due to the hazards they produce,” Locklear said. “I think homes will provide a longer standing tax base and a much safer base than this facility will.”
Locklear said residents would continue to oppose the facility.
“We will fight it,” she said. “I moved here to retire, not to live next to a sand mine. The community was never contacted about this project. What upsets me the most is that our county commissioners seem more concerned about business than the people they represent.”
Craig Brewer, a managing partner in Buie Lakes Plantation LLC, said the company has tried to address concerns expressed by residents, including safety issues.
“We have bent over backwards to listen to every concern,” Brewer said. “This will be an expertly built, first-rate facility. There will be no chemicals in the water system and the plant will not cause any problems.”
Brewer added that he was pleased with the recent court ruling, but was concerned with residents’ pledge to continue to fight the project.
“My plan is to get together with our attorney and see where we are,” Brewer said. “I want to make sure everything is 100 percent and we are clear to go. Just when we think every thing is fine, there is a setback and we’re in court again.”
Brewer said the court battles have made some investors leery of the project. Pembroke attorney Grady Hunt is representing the developers.
“That kind of constant back and forth doesn’t look good to investors,” Brewer said. “It is hard to do business and instill confidence in your project when you have that kind of uncertainty.”
Brewer said that once the plant is operational, it should alleviate some of the issues associated with it.
“The county, our investors and even the residents will see how beneficial this operation can be,” Brewer said. “This is an industry that we think will enhance the area, not detract from it.”
Baxley is not sure how to proceed with plans to replace his mobile home with a stick-built house.
“They should give me the option of leaving … buy my land … so I can move somewhere else,” he said. “It had been my dream to have a quiet place in the country. That’s pretty much gone for now.”