About that asphalt plant

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When Highland Paving Company of Fayetteville decided to spend over $5 million to build an asphalt plant outside of Lillington, that sounded like good news. Thirty or so jobs initially, I hear, and 40 within 90 days.

But back in April, Angier turned down the company’s request for a special-use permit to build the plant there. Opponents feared the plant would release toxic emissions.

Highland then chose its site outside Lillington.

The location has been zoned for heavy industrial use since the ’80s. Also since the ’80s, Lillington has had another asphalt plant, operated by Johnson Brothers Utility & Paving. There are several homes within spitting distance of that plant.

“I’ve never had any complaints whatsoever about the existing plant,” Town Manager Joseph Jeffries told me.

Still, a group called Harnett County Residents Against Concrete & Asphalt Plant is hoping to prevent a second asphalt plant. The group has a private Facebook page with over 500 members. Organizer Marge Moreton told The Daily Record that no one from Highland has contacted her group.

“Nobody has returned any calls,” she said.

If that’s the case, Highland is making a mistake. Silence won’t assuage opponents’ fears.

I can’t pretend to know if those fears are justified. But several officials told me there will be significant regulatory oversight, including from North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality.

If there is an environmental reason to block the new plant, it doesn’t look like Harnett County government can do it.

Highland is operating within the county’s zoning laws, and the county can’t arbitrarily pick and choose which companies can come.

As Mark Locklear, the county’s director of development services, told me, “We have to treat everybody the same, as fairly as we can.”

But that won’t stop opponents of the project from showing up at Monday’s commissioners meeting to voice their concerns.

The Daily Record has reported on the planned asphalt plant all along. On Tuesday, we reported on emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request made by Managing Editor Emily Weaver [article, “The hunt for a site started in May”].

The story shed light on Highland’s search for a site here. But it would have been a better story if we could have spoken with some of the commissioners about questions we had.

For example, the story told of a May 4 email exchange between Mr. Locklear, the county’s director of development services, and Highland’s field operations manager, Brian Raynor. Mr. Locklear mentioned a meeting set between Assistant Harnett County Manager Coley Price and Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon.

“I spoke with Coley [Price] and he’s meeting with Lew [Weatherspoon] today and he says he has a potential site location,” Mr. Locklear wrote to Mr. Raynor.

But it wasn’t until after the story was published that Mr. Weatherspoon told us that the site mentioned in the email was not the site Highland ultimately selected. (The site mentioned in the email wasn’t already zoned industrial, so the company would have faced a rezoning fight.)

The emails obtained by The Daily Record do paint a picture of Mr. Weatherspoon trying to help Highland find a site. And in his defense, county officials are supposed to help potential employers come here.

But after the battle they waged to stop the plant in Angier, opponents are not happy to learn that the former Angier mayor then tried to help the plant come to another part of the county.

Still, even if opponents convince the county board that the plant is a bad idea, it doesn’t look like commissioners can legally do anything about it.

That means opponents will have to look elsewhere – maybe to environmental regulators or to the courts – if they want to stop the plant.

Contact Bart Adams at
badams@mydailyrecord.com.

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