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Katie Tr. residents oppose expansion of gravel pit

The pending enlargement of a small gravel mining operation inthe southern part of the county has put much of the neighboringcommunity on the defensive.

Residents of the Katie Trail community are banding together inan attempt to stop a 4-acre gravel pit, mined by Oddee Smith andSons Inc., from expanding 22 acres with a depth of 28 feet. Aspokesman for the company, though, questioned whether the pit wouldever need to reach its maximum acreage.

At a public hearing Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Brookhaven HighSchool auditorium, residents will make their case to theMississippi Department of Environmental Quality for barring theexpansion. Residents have expressed concerns over several potentialnegative economic and environmental impacts the bigger pit couldhave on what is largely a retirement community.

“We’re concerned, as citizens and as homeowners, about what thiscommunity is going to be like with a 22-acre gravel pit in there,”said Vernell Qualls, a recently retired Air Force veteran whosehome is just down the road from the pit’s entrance. “We view agravel pit as something significant.”

Qualls said Katie Trail residents are afraid the pit’senlargement will result in unsafe travel conditions, due toincreased traffic and deterioration of the road under the weight ofthe dumptrucks; the environmental impact on the Bogue Chitto River,which is fed by a tributary that flows close to the pit; and thedevaluing of homes and property due to the pit’s proximity.

“We don’t believe the project is environmentally sound,” Quallssaid. “There’s the possibility of pollution seeping into the river,as well as into well water. There’s a lot of wells out here. Theroad is not conducive to supporting regular traffic in the areanow, and then you’re gonna add convoys going in and out of here? Wedon’t think so.”

Resident Wesley Kerr said a 22-acre gravel pit was neversupposed to be in the cards for the community. He said the acreagecurrently being mined was scheduled to be sold in plots for theconstruction of new homes before it was foreclosed and sold to itscurrent owner, Trj Investments, and mined by Oddee Smith andSons.

Kerr said the larger gravel pit could damage any futuredevelopment of the community, which residents say has risen to abudding retirement village.

 

“This will have adverse effects on our property value,” he said.”Who wants to live next to a 28-foot deep hole?”

Ken McCarley, who works for MDEQ in the department of mining andreclamation, said he would be on hand in Brookhaven Tuesday nightfor the public hearing.

McCarley said such opposition to a mine is not common inMississippi.

He said of the 773 mining permits on file in the state, anaverage of only three such hearings are conducted each year.However, McCarley pointed out, the rarity of these hearings doesnot guarantee their success.

“There’s only a short list of reasons to deny a mining permit,and not wanting one near your house is not one of the reasons,” hesaid. “Danger to public health and safety, endangering roads ormining in an area of historical importance – something like that isamong the reasons. It’s not very often that these permits aredenied.”

McCarley said the presence of the Bogue Chitto River tributarywas probably not enough to strike down the permit for environmentalreasons, adding that Oddee Smith and Sons has submitted all thenecessary plans for storm water drainage control.

J. Ronny Smith of Oddee Smith and Sons said his company willcontinue to follow rules. He said the gravel pit has currently noteven reached one acre, and an expansion to 22 acres would take along time – if ever – if the MDEQ grants the permit.

And no matter the size of the pit, Smith said, it would remainhidden behind a wall of trees and would not conflict with propertylines.

“It won’t touch anyone’s property – the law won’t allow that,and neither will we,” he said. “We can’t infringe on someone else’sproperty. You don’t even have to apply the law to something whenyou’re dealing with a neighbor – you apply the right thing todo.”

Smith said the gravel pit would be reclaimed, per state law,once the gravel pit was exhausted. He pointed out that Oddee Smithand Sons operates under MDEQ guidelines – not their own – and theiroperations are monitored from beginning to end.

Seemingly, the only hangup to the gravel pit’s expansion couldbe the condition of Katie Trail, which is already deteriorated.District Four Supervisor Doug Moak said he had no influence on theoperation, save ensuring the dumptrucks coming in and out of thepit follow the county’s heavy hauling ordinance.

But that would be after the fact.

“One of the things about being out in the county is that wedon’t have any zoning ordinances,” he said. “Whenever somebody buysland, they can pretty much do whatever they want with it.”

Moak pointed out that good quality gravel – like that existingin the Katie Trail pit – is a “precious commodity,” and is crucialin many types of construction. He said quality gravel was growingmore scarce, and Oddee Smith and Sons have a right to dobusiness.

“To me, it’s not a whole lot different than people havingchicken houses or logging operations,” Moak said. “People have gotto get their product to market. I understand how the people onKatie Trail feel about this, but it’s that company’s land and theyhave to get their product out.”

Any county resident wishing to speak at Tuesday night’s meetingwill be given the opportunity to do so by registering for commentupon arrival. Addresses to the MDEQ permit board will be taken inthe order in which they are received.