By Hannah Lester
Three Lee County residents attended the first Lee County Commission meeting of 2021 to ask the commission for help opposing the potential Shady Grove Quarry.
The quarry in question would be located in Beulah (Lee Road 177, off Halawakee Creek) and owned by Creekwood Resources, LLC.
Tara Brumfield and Danielle Ritch have been fighting this quarry since the very beginning, months ago, when they held community meetings in August and September.
“Two entities have come into this county and have played havoc on the people of this community,” Brumfield said. “The two entities are Creekwood Resources, represented by Jeff Major, and Warehouser.”
The group has tried to obtain signatures from community members for a zoning petition against the quarry. They have sent letters to legislators, attended city council meetings in Auburn and Opelika and have asked the commission for help.
City Council governments, along with the County Commission, have passed formal resolutions opposing the quarry, but the residents said they need more help.
The zoning petition needs 15% of registered voters for that zone, Ritch said, which would be 396 signatures. However, there are only 862 people who are both landowners and registered voters in the area.
This means they need roughly 46% of that population to sign the petition. It has been hard to receive signatures, Ritch said, because of COVID-19.
Ritch asked the commissioners Monday night if they would consider hiring legal counsel and ask ADEM for a public hearing for the quarry.
“The citizens of Lee County have worked hard to do everything we can to fight for our own land,” she said. “We’re limited in what we can do.”
Commissioner Robert Ham asked the commission if they could consider hiring the legal counsel Opelika used when it was fighting another potential Creekwood quarry in early 2020.
Probate Judge Bill English said he has already reached out to that attorney to ask what the county’s chances are in opposing the quarry.
“I think the first thing we need to find out, what are our chances, what are our prospects,” he said. “If somebody that’s professional, that knows this business and looks at this and says, ‘Ya’ll don’t have a prayer,’ then let’s not waste a bunch of money. And on the other hand, if they think we’ve got reasonable chances of success, let’s do what it takes.”
Both Ham and Commissioner Gary Long said they believe the county should consider legal counsel.
“We understand that a lawyer would be very expensive,” Ritch said. “But if we allow this quarry to proceed then we will have to use that money on repairs to our road and lost revenue to our homesteads.”
Ritch also asked the commission to ask other legislators to help fight the quarry.
Brumfield spoke after Ritch and questioned the help that Ham has given the community members so far.
“We have asked our local commissioner for help,” she said. “He has done little or nothing to help the very community that helped elect him to the very position he currently fills.”
Brumfield said that he did not provide much advice and he did not go door to door with them for petition signatures. Additionally, she said that he has provided information from Major.
“Several questions have come up from the community on the ‘Protect Beulah’ page and need to have the opportunity to be addressed,” she said. “‘Why is Mr. Ham speaking with Jeff Majors?’ ‘Why is it Mr. Ham knows so much about the quarry?’ ‘Why does it seem he plays the role of a liaison for Jeff Majors?’ “Why would anyone call him when all he has to say is negative things about our cause?’”
English gave Ham a chance to respond to the accusations.
“Would everybody in the room who has put at least $1,000 or more into helping this cause raise your hand?” Ham asked, and both he and Brumfield raised their hands. “Well, I guess we’re the only two. Young lady, you’re a hard person to help.”
Brumfield interrupted Ham and said he has never called her. English ended the discussion and said there would not be an active debate.
Lynne Abernathy spoke last for the group and brought each commissioner both a map and bag of cookies.
She told the commissioners that the cookies were made by her neighbor, the best chocolate chip cookie maker.
“But do you believe it?” she asked. “Are you going to open up that bag and stick your hand in there and chew on a cookie? I’m giving you a choice. We weren’t given a choice … as demonstrated with the cookies, we are skeptical when presented with new foods, companies, people, etc. especially if we don’t know anything about them.”
Abernathy said she was told by Major that the quarry would only operate during business hours of the work week. She said the website now says the quarry will work on weekends with the potential for 24/7 work hours.
“[Major] doesn’t tell the truth,” she said. “And his company is the same way.”
The commission made no formal action during the meeting, but the ‘Protect Beulah Stop the Quarry’ Facebook page later said that the commission decided to hire legal counsel, ask ADEM for a public hearing and request help from other legislators.
“We are not just up here for us, but we are the voice for the hundreds and thousands of people who live in that community,” Brumfield said.
The commission heard an Environmental Services Holiday Update.
The commission heard a Rebuild Alabama Fund Annual Report.
The commission voted for final approval of the Eddins Creek Subdivision.
The commission heard concerns of fraud at EAMC by a resident, Peter Byrd.
The commission approved a professional services agreement for Beulah parks projects.
The commission approved educational reimbursement requests.