By Michelle Key
More than 100 Beulah residents and concerned citizens turned out for Monday night’s Lee County Commission meeting to voice their concerns and opinions on the proposed granite rock quarry that has its sights set on property near Highway 29 in the Beulah community.
State Representative Debbie Wood and opposition organizers Tara Brumfield and Danielle Ritch addressed the county commissioners asking them for their support in fighting the proposed quarry.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions a limited number of people were allowed inside the commission chambers, but others were allowed to watch the proceedings via a live-streamed video from the C.S.M. Bennie Adkins Meeting Center or could congregate outside the courthouse.
“There is a movement of people that love their community, and they do not want to see it changed,” Wood said. “There are people that are here tonight, and they are here because they are fearful, they want to protect their rights, they want to protect their property and their values. I was really excited to see this many people show up.”
“Since Thursday night there have been more than 500 people that have signed a petition to stop the quarry. Online, there has been more than 1,500 that have signed a petition.”
Wood distributed copies of a map showing the area where the quarry is proposed to be located.
“There is currently some testing going on this site,” she said. “I know that there is definitely a place perhaps for this quarry, but we don’t want it in Lee County. We don’t want it here. The people don’t want it here.”
Probate Judge Bill English explained that the commission and the county do not have zoning similar to what cities have, and they don’t have the authority to zone or regulate private use of property. They do not have the authority to “just say no to permits.”
Brumfield explained in detail why she is opposed to the potential quarry.
“Once I joined this fight, I found out that it is not just my story, it is for all the other members of this community that is spread out through the Beulah area, and since this property is on Lake Harding, it will also potentially affect the Lake Harding community as well,” she said. “My children are now old enough that we are hoping that in the next five or 10 years, that they will be able to take over [our family] businesses. But if there is a quarry there, those businesses may not exist in five or 10 years.”
The quarry poses a threat of pollution and air problems, such as dust and silica as well as noise and water disturbance, Brumfield said.
“I beg you to please do whatever it takes to help us to stop this effort form happening,” she said. “Find a way. We stopped it once, we can stop it again.”
Ritch said that she has heard rumors of a potential quarry since March and has since been working on obtaining more information.
“I have been gathering information from landowners that say that they feel like they are being bullied by the quarry to sell their land,” she said. “There are properties that are not [marked] on this map that make that piece of property touch Highway 29 and they are in legal battles right now and they are afraid to speak up. Ever since then, I have wanted to speak for them. That is why I am here today. I wanted to make sure that we spoke up early so that we could act and the community could have a voice.”
She echoed Brumfield’s concerns and said the quarry could lead to carcinogens in the air and nearby water sources.
“The traffic on Highway 29 is a major point for us,” she said. “It is a main access for the Beulah residents that go into Opelika and Auburn. We have been told that there will be [as many as] 60 trucks a day pulling out onto Highway 29. We are also very concerned that Hwy 29 is our main route for EMA services. Also, in the same general area, LifeSaver 3 takes off over Exit 60 which serves all of East Alabama and West Georgia.”
English sympathized with the opponents of the quarry, but said that by law there are only certain things that can be done.
If the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is asked to review permits for the site, they will consider air and water pollution, but they will not take into account the noise or traffic problems, he said.
“I don’t disagree with anything, anything that you said,” he said. “I am a lawyer though and I have to deal in this world of law.”
English told the opponents to focus on water and air problems when talking with ADEM.
“Of course, the water is a big deal to us,” Ritch said. “Halawakee Creek is very important to our area. As you can see on the map, the creek basically runs around the backside of the property. This Halawakee Creek feeds Lake Harding right beside Princess Bridge. Princess Bridge is where Opelika and Beulah Utilities have their raw water treatment plant [that treats] all of our drinking water. We need y’all’s support. It may be a long road.”
English presented the commissioners with a draft of a resolution formally opposing the location of quarries in Lee County for their review, although it had not been presented to the commissioners before the meeting.
District 1 Commissioner Shelia Eckman made the first motion to move the resolution to a vote with District 3 Commissioner Gary Long seconding the motion. The commission voted to approve the resolution.
A New Threat:
The commission voted to support the City of Opelika in their opposition to another proposed quarry in Feb. 2020. That quarry proposal, by Creekwood Resources, LLC, was eventually abandoned when Creekwood withdrew their permits and application to ADEM.
Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said he has known about the quarry for two or three weeks.
“If the Lee County Commission makes that request [to formally oppose the quarry] to our city council, I would support the council formally opposing the quarry,” he said. “It will be a city council decision.”
Fuller said that the quarry could pose additional traffic on Highway 29 toward exit 66 on I-85.
“[I’m] not sure of what, if any, impact this would have on our Northeast Opelika Industrial Park,” he said.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper spoke out on the issue to the Lee County Commissioners in a letter.
“Creekwood Resources LLC is the proposed operator of the planned quarry,” Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Middle Chattahoochee Director Henry Jackson said. “The site in question is situated adjacent to Halawakee Creek, a tributary to Lake Harding and the Chattahoochee River. CRK believes there is potential for this project to significantly impact Halawakee Creek, which flows adjacent to the location of the proposed quarry.
“As such, CRK has concerns about the potential water quality impacts from construction activities and quarry operations, as well as concerns about the impact of the proposed quarry operations on recreational uses in Halawakee Creek and Lake Harding.”
Jackson said he is also concerned that excavation on the quarry could pollute the water in Halawakee Creek with silt.
“Additionally, there is potential for initial and ongoing quarry activities to lead to erosion and sedimentation issues in the creek, which abuts the property,” he said. “At this point, there are no details on what best management practices and controls will be in place to prevent the release of stormwater potentially laden with silt, sediment or other materials to Halawakee Creek and subsequently Lake Harding and the Chattahoochee River.”
The Opelika Observer reached out to representatives from Creekwood Resources, LLC.
“I have no information regarding current Creekwood interests,” said Elizabeth Revell, community relations representative for Creekwood Resources, LLC.
More information on the proposed quarry can be found at a Facebook page, ‘Protect Beulah Stop the Quarry,’ created by Ritch (https://www.facebook.com/protectbeulah/).