DEQ OKs permit for gravel pit expansion

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A local contractor was given the go-ahead Tuesday to expandmining operations in southern Lincoln County, although there hadbeen strong opposition to the project from residents near thesite.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Permit Boardvoted unanimously to issue a permit to Oddee Smith and Sons Inc.that will allow the company to expand its less than 1-acre gravelpit in the middle of the Katie Trail community up to 22 acres. Thecompany has been mining legally from the less than 4-acre pit on anexemption for approximately one year.

Katie Trail residents united in protest at a public hearinghosted by MDEQ in June, claiming primarily the mining operationwould cause health hazards by the amount of dust generated bygravel trucks entering and leaving the site, environmental damagefrom rain runoff, road and safety deterioration from heavy trucksand the devaluing of property.

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However, MDEQ Office of Geology Director Mike Bograd said thepermit board reviewed all complaints lodged by residents at thehearing before and during the 20-minute meeting and found OddeeSmith and Sons Inc. to have met and – in some cases – exceeded allstate requirements for health and safety.

“The other issues dealt with were people just not wanting a minein their community, but state law does not allow that as a reasonto deny the permit,” he said. “Unless there’s some reason to denyit, unless we have grounds based on a very limited list availableto us from the law, we do issue permits.”

Bograd said the main issues that might cause the board to deny amining permit – if the pit were within 300 feet of a residence orexcessive dust was generated – have all been handled by Oddee Smithand Sons Inc.

The company has taken such measures as covering the mine’s haulroad with asphalt milling, dampening the road with a water truck onmining days and encouraging residents to report speeding dumptrucks.

“The company voluntarily put down this asphalt milling to keepthe dust down – we didn’t require it, but it was their suggestionand it sounded like a very good idea to us,” Bograd said. “If itdoesn’t work, we’ll take other actions.”

Bograd said both Oddee Smith and Sons Inc. Officers Joel and J.Ronny Smith attended the meeting in Jackson to speak to the board,while no members of the Katie Trail community were present tooppose.

Even though the expansion permit was awarded without opposition,J. Ronny Smith does not view MDEQ’s nod as a free hand on KatieTrail. He said the pit will only be used or enlarged as necessary,and such frequent usage may be a long time coming.

“It will all be determined by the size of any constructionproject we have in the Brookhaven area that needs material from thepit,” Smith said. “If we’re not fortunate enough to have largeprojects, it may be years before we reach even the 4-acre limit.It’s all in relation to how we’re able to acquire work.”

Smith said his company would strive to be a “good neighbor” inthe Katie Trail community and work with residents to meet anyproblems that may arise at the pit. He said the combination ofasphalt milling on the haul road and visits by water trucks havecut down dust problems.

The company has a water meter on site, Smith said, and companyofficials have discussed installing a sprinkler system along thehaul road if the dust cannot be otherwise controlled.

Smith said it was important for his company to keep the pitwithin the law and operating because the gravel being mined thereis a precious commodity.

“In the construction industry, quality gravel and fill materialis not easily found,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have thatquality of material within approximately 3 miles of Brookhaven.With the cost of fuel, the closer you have your materials, thebetter off you are.”

Despite Smith’s efforts to soften the gravel pit’s impacts onKatie Trail, the awarding of the permit was unwelcome news to somein the community.

Frustrated local resident Robert Newton said he had alreadygiven up on the possibility of MDEQ denying the permit.

“I already figured they would go with the construction companybecause the board always caters to big businesses,” he complained.”They don’t care about the landowners – no regard for us.”

Resident Vernell Qualls was pleased with the efforts to controldust at the site, but is still concerned about the furtherdeterioration of Katie Trail under increased traffic from heavytrucks, as well as simply the presence of the trucks on the windingroad to begin with.

Like Newton, Qualls also said he was not surprised by the permitboard’s decision, and holds no fault with any of the involvedparties.

“We just lost,” he said. “We lost from an environmentalstandpoint, an economical standpoint and a road and safetyconditions standpoint. But as a company, we have no complaintsabout Mr. Smith. I guess if a gravel pit is going to be here, we’drather have his company as anyone else.”