• 66°

Beulah residents continue to battle incoming quarry

CUSSETA — In May, a rock quarry had planned to open in Lee County just north of the Opelika city limits. A private company was at the permitting stage when a massive community effort stopped them in their tracks, causing them to look elsewhere. The Beulah community is now in the same predicament but does not have the same kind of opposition Opelika could muster.

Opelika had more than 500 people at a meeting to express opposition to the quarry. On Thursday, leaders of the Stop the Quarry movement in Beulah had an estimated 50 people at a meeting at the Cusseta Event Center.

On the plus side, Beulah residents have more time to stop the quarry than Opelika did. There has yet to be a public hearing on it, and there are more hurdles to clear for the developer than when Opelika residents started a last-ditch effort to stop it. That site was near the much-beloved Storybook Farm, creating some emotional opposition to what was planned.

A rock quarry did open on the western end of Lee County several years ago and has been the subject of numerous complaints from nearby residents. Lee County Commissioner Richard LaGrand Sr., who represents that part of the county, was present at Thursday’s meeting and asked to correct a statement attributed to him.

“You said I was 200 % against this,” he said. “Actually I am 210% against it.”

Commissioner Robert Ham, who represents the Beulah area, said that he had recently visited the Loachapoka quarry site. He said that a gray film covers everything near the quarry. It’s what settles to the ground following the process when boulders of granite are blasted from the ground and pounded into smaller rocks.

While Opelika had Storybook Farm to defend, Beulah residents have Halawakee Creek. Quarry opponent Tara Brumfield noted that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) presently lists the creek as environmentally impacted. This will likely worsen if a quarry locates nearby. Halawakee Creek is roughly 16 miles long and has a watershed that covers approximately 96 miles. It flows into Lake Harding near the intake for public water that serves areas both in east Alabama and west Georgia.

Quarry opponent Danielle Ritch said she had gotten email communication from people who no longer live in Lee County but grew up here and loved spending time in the woods near the creek. They were very much concerned about the creek being environmentally impacted and were much opposed to a quarry being located nearby.

Creekwood Resources LLC, which has offices in Florence and Crofton, Kentucky, is seeking to develop a granite quarry in a location off Highway 29 and Lee Road 177 in the Beulah community not far from the Opelika city limits. Before, developers wanted to put a quarry on the north side of town; now they are trying to do it on the east side of Opelika.

They are trying to acquire land that could be accessed from Highway 29.

In addition to the nuisance problems of blasting, the increase of particulate matter in the air and possible problems with water, a quarry would place a large number of trucks on the road, increasing traffic on an already busy highway.

“It’s already a dangerous place to pull out on 29 from our farm,” Brumfield said. “It would be much worse if we had a lot of trucks hauling rocks.”

Brumfield is urging Beulah residents to sign petitions opposing this. They can do it by emailing protectbeulahstopthequarry@gmail.com.

The opposition group also has yard signs they intend to distribute through the community.

“I have about eight of them in front of our farm,” Brumfield said. “We have 40 or 50 more we’d like to get out there.”

The petition to be signed lists the following issues with a quarry:

•Infrastructure degradation and traffic congestion.

“US 29 is already a dangerous and highly-congested road with an average daily traffic count of 5,613 cars at Andrews Road,” the online petition reads.

•Damage to the local economy.

“There is substantial research to show that property values decline significantly when a quarry locates in a community. Not only will those in the immediate area see a significant decline in the value of their homes or businesses, it will also make it more difficult for Lee and Chambers counties to attract new businesses to the industrial parks located along I-85,” the petition reads.

•Air pollution and blasting noise.

“Quarries have a long history of releasing dangerous, disease-causing particulates into the air,” the petition reads. “This is especially dangerous for the old, young and those with respiratory problems. Noise from the blasting can interrupt daily routines for those in Beulah and Lee County. This disruption will impact educational instruction and individuals with special needs. Nearby are Jeter Elementary School, Morris Avenue Intermediate, Opelika High, a campus of Southern Union State Community College and the Harbor Senior Care Center.”

Brumfield said that the project will not create local jobs.

“It’s going to be their first quarry project,” she said. “They have no track record to compare their past promises to. They have no interest in protecting and growing Lee County and the surrounding area. They only want our granite. I urge you to stand with the citizens of Beulah, Opelika and Lee County to reject this quarry and Creekwood Resources.”

The quarry opponents have letters of support from the Lee County Commission and the Chambers County Development Authority. On Tuesday, Brumfield and Ritch will attend meetings of the city councils in Auburn and Opelika, seeking their support.

A big obstacle in being able to successfully fight a quarry involves cost. Ham, who supports the opposition effort, said it cost Opelika $100,000 to keep the quarry out on the north side of town.

The question now is can that kind of money be raised to fight a quarry on the east side of town?