Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Linda McKinnish Bridges: Why I oppose asphalt plant

The Reverend Harold L. McKinnish, my Dad, was the designer and stonemason for the entrance sign to the community of Highland Hills, off the Spartanburg Highway, on Oak Grove Road.

This community of more than 40 families is one of several communities in the East Flat Rock, Flat Rock and Green River area potentially impacted by the proposed rezoning and building of the Southeastern asphalt plant.

Bro. Harold, as he was called by many, went Home in 2013 and left a tremendous legacy in the lives of people and in the places he loved. Gifted to preach and sing, his calling was to speak holy words to help shape holy space into lives of the dear people of Henderson County. Almost as powerful as his words were his strong hands that created special monuments to the people and land in the Highland Hills neighborhood. Stone walls, stone driveway pillars, stone waterfalls — he created monuments to the beauty of the landscape of Reed Drive, Highland Hills, East Flat Rock.
My Dad’s family came to Howard Gap Road from McKinnish Cove in Leicester in 1920, where the McKinnishes have lived for five generations. Mom and Dad built their first and only home, in Highland Hills, where my mother, age 87, still lives. Prior to that, we lived in Baptist parsonages.
Harold was pastor of Tuxedo Baptist Church, just a short drive away down Highway 25. Lois would later become founding librarian at Blue Ridge Community College. The Highland Hill location was perfect for travel in both directions.
Right there on top of the continental divide, with the help of Ted Reed, builder, educator, preacher and friend, they built a home, raised their children, filled the yard with azaleas and mountain rhododendron, and loved their neighbors. Watching the sun rise from this ridge are still ritual moments for our family and for the entire neighborhood.
Bonds of friendship grew deep. R.L. and Sara Levi, now Home too, were dear friends who helped build the neighborhood sign. Alda and Bob, Ralph and Gail, Mac and Judy, Gladys and Bruce, just to name a few, shared life’s sorrows and joys as they shared the same street address for over 50 years.
Some of these families have remained in Highland Hills to “age in place” because the quality of life is so good and bonds of the neighborhood so strong. The “Highland Hills Walkers,” several young 70-80-year-olds — Grace, Gladys, Lois, Judy, Genevieve — have walked around the neighborhood at least twice every day for years. Every Thursday morning, a group of neighbors walks down to Orr’s Restaurant, a crowd sometimes needing more than four tables for breakfast, celebrating birthdays and family milestones together.
This community is now facing a tremendous challenge—a challenge to their quality of life and perhaps a challenge to their very existence. SE Asphalt Company, Mr. Jeff Shipman, wants to purchase 13½ acres on the property next to Highland Hills community for the purpose of building a plant to produce asphalt. The Henderson County Commissioners must approve the rezoning of this property from residential/commercial to industrial in order for this plant to be built. Asphalt production plants do not belong in residential areas.
My dear friends, this simply cannot happen. While we believe in the free market and the opportunity for strong business to grow thriving communities and nations, the desire to maximize profit cannot and must not override the needs of our mountain people and our mountain land.
In less than one week after learning about this proposal, over 1,000 citizens of East Flat Rock, led by Michelle Tennant Nicholson, have gathered on social media, socially distancing in the roads, and in neighbor’s yards to say NO, this cannot happen. Signs have been posted. A protest walk through the neighborhood is being planned.
This rezoning will be detrimental to the community for the following reasons:
• Quality of air. The production of asphalt releases toxins in the air that cause cancer, respiratory problems and other major illness. Many of the residents are over 80 years of age. “Fugitive emissions” are released into the air as the asphalt is moved around in trucks, conveyor belts, and stored in stockpiles. Stagnant air and weather patterns of this mountain ridge increase the harmful exposure.
• Quality of water. The safety of the water is a tremendous risk with the daily cleaning of truck beds. To place the water table at risk for both drinking and recreational use is a huge price for the citizens of both East Flat Rock and Green River to pay. Green River Gamelands and the tributaries to the mighty Green River will be greatly impacted.
• Sound—Asphalt production produces large sounds; asphalt trucks coming and going produce huge sounds. The tranquility of this neighborhood would be lost to both humans and animals.
• Traffic. The owner plans to produce 200 tons of asphalt per hour, as stated by Mr. Warren Sugg, proxy for Mr. Shipman, at the citizens’ meeting on June 8. That would require approximately 185 loads/trips in dump trucks to move that much asphalt per day, calculated Terri Reed, whose great-grandfather owned the property as a large farm, and whose father, Ted, developed the homes and roads in the late 1960s. Imagine the traffic flow; imagine the damage to existing roads; imagine the potential traffic accidents; imagine the deaths on the Spartanburg Highway.

No advantages to the proposal can been seen—no, not one. Not even possible employment opportunities for the community. Shipman projects that only 6-7 new employees will be hired (although only three parking spaces are stated in the design plan). He refuses to give a projected salary range and makes no pledge to hire from within the community.
Furthermore, Shipman refused to speak directly to his potential neighbors during the four-hour neighborhood compatibility meeting via Zoom on June 8. He used his proxy, Sugg. While we understand that arrangement is not uncommon, a common courtesy would have been to at least introduce himself, his company, and his vision to the community residents before his proxy responded to the questions from his potential neighbors.
And I and a host of others are hoping to keep the air as clean as we can and the water safe to drink for Mom and her elderly neighbors to continue to age in place on the beautiful ridge.

* * * * *

Linda McKinnish Bridges traces her Henderson County roots on the maternal side to the Revolutionary War, through the Griffin and Jones families to John Peter Corn. Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Salem College in Winston-Salem, she was previously president of Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.