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Large crowd turns out to oppose asphalt plant

Opponents of an asphalt plant line up to make comments at Thomas Auditorium on Tuesday. Opponents of an asphalt plant line up to make comments at Thomas Auditorium on Tuesday.

Close to 150 people converged on Bo Thomas auditorium on Tuesday afternoon to ask questions about and air objections to a proposed asphalt plant in East Flat Rock.

In the first public airing of a zoning application to allow the plant on Spartanburg Highway at the U.S. 25 Connector got off to a raucous start when a resident from Zirconia asked about odor and called the plant an inappropriate use for the area.

“Y’all come in here and you want to put something that’s not supposed to be there. It may be commercial (zoned) but it’s residential (in use)," he said.

Saying she represented "about 12,500 neighbors who are opposed to this," Michelle Tennant said the Friends of East Flat Rock had submitted 43 questions last year that remain unanswered. She then proceeded to ask each question one by one. They were highly technical questions about capacity, burn rates, hours of operation, temperature of the process, noise levels of the plant and trucks serving it, stormwater, containing spills, lighting and other details.

Tennant asked the applicant, Jeff Shipman, why he had already cleared the site.

"We thought we would get in there, clean the site up and grade it out so we could invite the community to see what a small footprint" the plant would occupy, he said.

Three hours after the meeting got under way, around a dozen people were still standing in line to ask questions and at 7:30, seven speakers remained.

Greg Renegar, of the asphalt equipment company, Astec Inc., of Chattanooga, Tennessee, told the residents that he understood their concerns.
“If all I knew was the words asphalt plant, if I didn’t know what I know I would feel the same way that you feel," he said. "I wouldn't want to live around an old rundown, ill maintained plant that wasn’t operating correctly. Would I mind living around a new facility like Astec? I would live right next to one of those only because I so familiar with them."

Bruce Griffin, the owner of a small trailer park across Spartanburg Highway, told Shipman that the plant would hurt his business and others around him, depreciate property values and become a blight on a gateway to Hendersonville. A little over an hour into the meeting, more than 25 people stood in line to ask questions. Those who spoke raised concerns about pollution and health, noise, traffic, light, property values. Shipman expressed exasperation with the barrage of criticism.

"The people that come up and say this is going to make everyone so sick and there's going to be black everywhere and the world is going to come to an end as they know it," he said. "Everybody comes in and says all these negative, nasty things about this company and about me, that I don't care about the elderly, I don't care about schools, I don't care about nursing homes, which could be the furthest from the truth, they have nothing to back up what they're saying."

More than one resident noted Shipman and Renegar were ignoring a mask requirement and asked what that said about their commitment to ensuring that their neighbors would be safe. Neither offered a response.

When one speaker urged Shipman to work on his "people skills," he responded: "When I've tried to be a good neighbor, I get stopped because everytime I tried to answer something I'm so rudely interrupted."

A representative from MountainTrue suggested that after a deluge overnight Thursday last week the stormwater had caused erosion. She said "those weren't unseasonable rains."

"These are unseasonable rains when get four and a half inches in less than eight hour," he said. "It's called an act of  God when you have that much water coming down."

Stephen E. Stark, a developer and urban planning consultant who lives on Estate Drive, said: "This project is not well-suited to that location. ... As a professional, I will offer to work with you absolutely free to find another location."

Residents several times became emotional, telling the applicant and his attorney, engineer and the asphalt equipment representative that they feared the plant would jeopardize the lifetime savings that they had sunk into their homes.

"You can make money. Most of us are going to be losing collectively millions of dollars," one homeowner said, repeating a statistic from the Blue Ridge Defense League showing that residential property values typically fell by 56 percent when an asphalt plant comes in. Shipman said his studies had debunked the statistics.

She asked Shipman whether he thought of the neighbors and their quality of life.

"Absolutely," he said, "which is why we had studies done before it's done. I'm a life-long resident. I was born and raised here. I was born in Pardee Hospital. I went to Hillandale. My office has been where it is right now for 21 years. This is about trying to grow a business, create jobs, more than just for Southeastern Asphalt, it will create jobs on a state level, it will require outside dump truck drivers. ... If I felt that I was going to truly harm anyone's life in any way I would never have tried this to begin with."

"I'm just an old redneck that's trying to survive," he said later. He promised to bank up and landscape property around the plant to make it invisible from the road. "We truly truly are trying to be a good neighbor," he said. "I get everyone's concern about, Is it going to make you sick. I get all that."

Michelle Johnson credited Shipman for sitting in front of dozens opponents "knowing the vitriole that you were going to face."

Johnson joined others who had peppered Shipman with questions about why he had spent money to clear and grade the land.

"How do you have the audacity to invest so much on a property you don't have permission to build on?" she asked.

He said he had hoped that he and the community could work out an agreement that all would support.

Nancy Wilson, co-owner of Camp Wayfarer, ticked off more than summer camp names. "Henderson County has one of the oldest, greatest concentration of children's summer camps in the world," she said. "We are famous for the legacy that camps bring to this area. We support our local economy. We support Henderson County tourism. ... These camps are concerned. My main question, What would your asphalt plant bring to me personally as the owner of a summer camp right down the road other than asphalt?"

Shipman repeated his view that the plant would not harm "anyone's home or health or anything so I'm not sure how it would affect your camp, nor would I want it to."