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Residents air pit expansion concerns

Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality officials saidTuesday night the proximity of a gravel pit mine on Katie Trail toarea homes is a concern that will be checked thoroughly before theMDEQ Permit Board approves or denies a requested expansion ofoperations at the pit.

The board is expected to take up the issue in one of its nexttwo meetings, on either July 8 or Aug. 12.

Despite a wide range of health, safety and economic concernsraised by Katie Trail residents during a required public hearing onthe matter, MDEQ officials said the procedural concern was the mostpressing of only a few factors the department has authorityover.

“The strongest argument we heard (was) if the mine is less than300 feet from a house, then we can do something about that,” saidMike Bogard, director of MDEQ’s Office of Geology. “That issomething we will have to look into. If it’s less than 300 feet,(the contractor) would have to move the digging back.”

Bogard said the only way Oddee Smith and Sons Inc. could extractgravel from the pit within the 300-foot range was if it acquired awaiver from the property owner, which he indicated is notlikely.

During a concise, prepared list of points against the expansionof the currently less than 4-acre pit into a 10- to 12-acre site,Katie Trail resident Wesley Kerr said Oddee Smith and Sons Inc.violated the MDEQ requirement that the mine not be within the300-foot limit.

“Upon reviewing the application and plans, (Oddee Smith and SonsInc.) clearly failed to meet the pre-permitting requirements,” Kerrsaid. “Had we all moved into an area with a 22-acre mine, thatwould have been one’s choice – but we were here first.”

Oddee Smith and Sons Inc. officers Joel and J. Ronny Smithcountered the accusation, saying the mine would be sloped away fromany adjoining property per state law and personal experience.

“We will not be allowed to mine next to anyone’s property,” saidJ. Ronny Smith. “We wouldn’t think of mining up to someone’sproperty – it’s not legal, it’s not right and we wouldn’t evenconsider it.”

Afterward, Smith said he was uncertain if the edge of the pitwas actually within the 300-foot boundary, but noted that hiscompany would comply immediately if found to be in error.

“That wouldn’t be a problem – we’d be glad to do that,” he said.”We want to resolve all the things we can.”

Katie Trail residents pointed out other concerns with the miningoperation, such as increased asthma among children in the area,caused by dust kicked up by the mining; safety conditions thatcould arise from heavy trucks using a deteriorated Katie Trail; andpollution from storm water and mining equipment that could slipinto ground water.

MDEQ officials, however, said last week the company’s stormdrainage coverage plan was sound, and Smith said his company’sdumptrucks would always meet the county’s heavy haullimitations.

On the issue of dust spreading across the community from themine and its potential to aggravate asthmatic children and adultsin the area – one of the biggest and most-mentioned concerns fromKatie Trail residents at the hearing – the beginnings of acompromise were announced.

J. Ronny Smith said his company would use an existing supply ofasphalt milling – stripped from existing roads during otherprojects – to blacktop the road that accesses the mine and reducethe amount of dust kicked up by the company’s equipment.

“We will bring that asphalt milling in, and hopefully that willreduce the amount of dust – that’s what we want to do,” Smith said.”We’ll take it down there and spread it, and we’ll continue tomonitor the situation and do whatever we can to resolve theproblem.”

Katie Trail resident Robert Newton said paving the pit’s entryroad is a “great compromise” between company and community, but forhim the final issue rests on Katie Trail.

“Blacktopping the road in and out of the mine is great, but thenyou still have to come out on Katie Trail, and some points on thatroad are barely wide enough for two cars to meet each other,” hesaid. “And when a dumptruck meets a car, the car will have to pullover – a dumptruck can’t pull over.”

Vernell Qualls, who lives very close to the gravel pit, echoedNewton’s concerns.

“Katie Trail is far below the standard to have gravel truckstraveling that road regularly,” he said. “The compromise to pavethe pit’s road was great, but the residents of Katie Trail want asafe traveling environment whether that mine is there or not.”