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Opponents fire questions at asphalt plant applicant

Signs have sprouted on Spartanburg Highway opposing an asphalt plant at the U.S. 25 interchange. Signs have sprouted on Spartanburg Highway opposing an asphalt plant at the U.S. 25 interchange.

The most controversial land-use proposal since the Balfour Parkway and the Duke Energy transmission line proposal is shaping up like those earlier fights — with a massive and energetic opposition aggressively involved in every opportunity to make public comment.


Even under coronavirus restrictions that forbid large assemblies of people, opponents of an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock flocked via Zoom to a first public airing of a rezoning request to permit the plant.

Henderson County Planning Director Autumn Radcliff opened the neighborhood compatibility meeting on Monday afternoon by explaining the staff's role and the process for a rezoning request to allow an asphalt plant on Spartanburg Highway at the U.S. 25 Connector. The meeting attracted 115 people, watching and listening via Zoom, in a meeting that lasted more than four hours. People submitted more than 160 questions and comments covering everything from traffic, to air quality, to noise. One resident predicted that pollution from the asphalt plant, if built, would kill her six parrots.

Southeastern Asphalt has filed an application for a conditional use permit on 6½  acres of a 12-acre site at the northwestern corner of Spartanburg Highway and the U.S. 25 Connector. Citing what she described as inaccurate reports on social media and the news media, Radcliff said, "Staff is not for or against the project nor are we for or against any proejcts that are submitted." The conditional use zoning the applicant is seeking allows the Board of Commissioner to place conditions on the plant.

The public can submit comments at a page specially set up with frequently asked questions and an explanation of the rezoning application process.

Warren Sugg, an engineer with Civil Design Concepts in Asheville, explained the plans for the asphalt plant. The applicant, Jeffrey B. Shipman of Southeastern Asphalt, has been in business for decades, Sugg said.

"With the amount of projects DOT is working on and the amount of asphalt going down not only in Henderson County but Buncombe County" and surrounding counties. "It's a nice central location that is directly off of 25. From a transportation standpoint this is certainly ideal." Given the proximity to I-26, the plant could produce asphalt for the interstate widening project.

Here are questions posed by homeowners and others and responses by Sugg:

What about traffic impact? "This falls well below the threshold of what the state would require," he said. "It's probably 50 trucks or less per day at a peak time."

What kind of odor control will the applicant provide? "As far as odor, we will have to meet the state requirements for all the air quality control" and will do "ongoing monitoring and reporting throughout the life of the project."

What kind of protection of streams and creeks and the Green River? The contractor will control silt runoff during construction. "There are limits that are set and we have to comply with those limits."

What are plans for traffic and how would you prevent truck drivers from using Roper Road as a shortcut? NCDOT will look at conditions before it issues a driveway permit.

What about air quality at nearby schools and parks? The county regulations spell out how far from parks, schools and churches an asphalt can be built.

Property depreciation. "I can't speak to property values anymore than someone who owns property. Appraisers can speak to that sort of thing. I'm not expecting any kind of property damages."

What are hours of operation? Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.-7 p.m. with night work only if a contract required it (such as potential I-26 work).

The questions were general and soon repetitive, many of them asking Sugg to describe air quality, public health effect, water quality and other environmental effects.

Is it needed? "My client feels like it's a much needed asphalt plant in a great location that serves not only this community but also the surrounding counties."

What about wastewater? The developer plans to serve the operation with a septic tank.

Why was location chosen, considering its proximity to the Green River Gamelands? Air quality will be monitored as state law requires.

Will a noise study be conducted and will the plant be visible from U.S. 25 and U.S. 176? "I don't know about noise ... but we will look into it."

Will Southeastern Asphalt put up a bond to treat people if they develop health problems attributable to the plant? No answer.

"I'm not answering some of them not because I'm not answering but because I've kind of said it," Sugg said.

Why did Southeastern choose this site? "Specific to this site, the proximity to 25, the proximity to the off-ramp and on-ramp, the location to surrounding counties and the ongoing projects over the next decade to two decades make it a great fit." It's also adjacent to industrial zoned land to the northwest and to industrial zoned land to the southeast, he said.

Is the plant intended to be temporary to supply asphalt for the I-26 widening and are there plans to expand it? It's intended to be permanent. The plan is to build what the applicant has submitted, not to expand.

Would the plant adhere to design standards recommended in the East Flat Rock Community Plan? "We want to comply with as many of these as we possibly can."

After she read written questions, Radcliff called on people, who asked their questions live.

Lois Pasapane asked how the plant will benefit the community. The plant will make asphalt available for upcoming infrastructure, Sugg said. The company will add employees to operate the plant.

A participant identified as Reid asked Sugg if he would object to an asphalt plant if it was proposed near his home. "Doing what I do for a few decades now, I certainly get that question a lot. I certainly hear and understand the question. No one really likes development in their backyard. I appreciate your question and thank you, Reid, for bringing it up."

Will engineers do a groundwater study? "We'll do a phase 1 environmental study that will look at what's there as far as pollution." There are numerous studies required before construction could begin, Sugg said.

Gordon Smith asked whether the applicant had looked at social justice related to property values? "As far as social values, that probably falls outside" his engineering role. "We're going to have a number of folks that are going to be looking at this from all sort of different angles. We will cetainly look into it further."

How many employees and what are salaries? "Six to seven employees. I don't know the exact dollar figure" but they will be "well paid workers."

Erik Reiwerts asked, What is the decibel level and frequency of noise from the plant, loading operations and hauling? It may be below the noise level of U.S. 25, Sugg said.

The U.S. 25-Spartanburg Highway intersection is called "a gateway into the community" in the East Flat Rock community plan, Reiwerts said. "In terms of the visibility, coming down the ramp, with this site to your right, I'm wondering how visible it will be and coming up Spartanburg Highway," he said.

What about the high-pitched backup alarms of front-end loaders, trucks and other heavy equipment? "We'll look into the equipment to be used and I don't know what the decibel level is of a backing up loader is but we can look into that."

Michelle Tenant Nicholson asked that the planning department postone the neighborhood compatibility meeting for a couple of reasons.

"We're not hearing from applicant directly," she said. And several people tried to get in to ask questions and could not. "These are neighbors who don't have access to this digital connection that we're requiring of them right now."

"I'm happy to answer additional questions if they're submitted to the county," Sugg said.

John Mitchell, the county's director of business and community development, apologized for any technical issues people were having.

"Our purpose is to try to get as much community comment through this process as is possible," he said.

Gary Steinberg, an employee at GE, asked what emissions the plant will monitor and how often. Regulations require monitoring hourly, annually, every 24 hours, depending on the chemical, Sugg said. Regulations require monitoring of "at least 20-plus different items" and require modeling that has to happen even before the plant gets a state permit, Sugg said.

How far will sound travel? "I don't think you're going to hear anything a half mile or more away," Sugg said. As far as backup alarms, they're required by OSHA.

One participant said the Tarheel Paving Co. had brought pollution problems that reduced property values and  home sales in the Grimesdale neighborhood. She asked how the Southeastern plant would differ from the asphalt plant on Asheville Highway. Sugg said company officials were aware of the Tarheel Paving Co. plant and said the new plant would avoid any problems.

Participants throughout the meeting objected to the fact that the engineer was on hand to respond to questions and not Southeastern owner Jeff Shipman. Two hours and 15 minutes into the meeting, one participant asked who else was in the room with Sugg. The engineer answered that Shipman and an attorney for the applicant, Brian Gulden, were present in the conference room with him.

Sugg bristled when a questioner asked whether his wife was the real estate agent for the sale of the property. His wife is in residential real estate. "My wife and her real estate has nothing to do with this project," he said. "Please respect me and my family. My wife and my kids have nothing to do with this project. I'm an engineer, I'm here to represent clients."

Ben Rogers said whatever positive economic impact the plant's six jobs would bring would be dwarfed by economic damage throughout East Flat Rock in property depreciation and other consequences.

Terri Reid seconded that.

"Can you please tell me how the creation of six jobs trumps the drastic drop in hundreds of our residential property values," she said.