WILMINGTON – A proposed sand-mining operation on land where a plume of toxic chemicals is migrating underground from a neighboring industry has been approved for a special use permit.
New Hanover County Planning Board members on Thursday unanimously voted to grant Hilton Properties Limited Partnership the permit.
The company’s request for a special use permit, or SUP, must go to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for final approval.
Hilton Properties’ 4,100-acre tract in Castle Hayne is next to a GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy site where, during the 1970s, waste disposed from the facility contaminated groundwater with levels of uranium and vinyl chloride in excess of federal standards. GE Hitachi, which is based in Wilmington, provides reactors, fuel and nuclear services to the energy sector.
A plume of contaminated groundwater from the GE Hitachi site has since migrated onto Hilton Properties’ land.
Residents whose properties abut the land worry that mining could draw the plume closer to them and contaminate their drinking water wells.
Hilton Properties representatives testified at a planning board meeting earlier this year that GE’s most recent water samples showed no uranium above the applicable standards. GE is required by the state to monitor the plume.
The representative also said that area where Hilton Properties wants to mine sand is clear from the path the plume is traveling. The contaminated groundwater is migrating about 400 feet every 10 years in a northerly direction on the property, according to an attorney representing the company.
Mining would occur in the westernmost portion of a little more than 63 acres rezoned in January from rural agriculture to heavy industrial.
It was at that Jan. 10 meeting that the planning board voted 5-1 to rezone the land, but continued the SUP request.
The board asked the company to make modifications to its permit applications to address concerns from neighboring residents about truck traffic and other mining operation impacts.
In a show of solidarity, dozens of people packed into a meeting room in the New Hanover County Government Center on Thursday wore white shirts and held signs expressing their opposition to the proposed mining operation.
Poster boards with black lettering bore the messages “No Sand Mine,” “Health Risk? Sand Mine” and “Noise pollution = health risk.”
Waylon Webbon, a civil engineer, lives in a home that abuts Sledge Road, the private, nearly 2-mile-long gravel road that would be used as the access to the proposed mine from Castle Hayne Road.
“Some of us have trouble seeing the Sledge Road sand mine as a public necessity,” he said. “Sand, yes, but not that particular sand mine.”
— Waylon Webbon, nearby resident
— Waylon Webbon, nearby resident
Webbon argued the noise from dozens anticipated to use the haul road to and from the mining site throughout each week will negatively affect neighbors.
Hilton Properties has failed to present any evidence it would mitigate the potential health impacts from dust and diesel exhaust.
Kole Van Heuveln, whose property abuts the haul road, raised concerns about runoff from the 2,500-foot section of the gravel haul road the company plans to pave in an effort to reduce dust.
“What kind of stormwater are they managing? Are they managing stormwater just from the rain? Is the water from their road possibly full of oil going to be running onto private properties? Is it going to affect our ecosystem in the area that we live in?” Van Heuveln asked. “That’s a biggie.”
The proposed mining site is about a half mile from the Wooden Shoe subdivision. Residents in the neighborhood have expressed concerns for several years about whether mining operations would expose their drinking water wells to the contaminated groundwater.
Neighbors filed a series of lawsuits after the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, issued a permit to Hilton Properties in 2014. The lawsuits were eventually dropped.
DEQ issued on Dec. 15, 2017, a modified permit that included groundwater contaminant levels. The permit expires Feb. 25, 2024.
In addition to agreeing to pave a portion of the haul road, Hilton Properties modified its original SUP request to include the installation of a 10-foot-high fence and plants to create a buffer between Sledge Road and abutting private properties.
Mining would occur , 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. The operation would be closed on major holidays and weekends. The access road would have a posted speed limit of 15 mph.
“Overall, I feel like the applicant has made a pretty good attempt here to address some of the concerns along the road,” said Jeffrey Petroff, a member of the planning board.
Before casting their vote, board members asked Hilton Properties to add to the conditions of the SUP an assurance the haul road will be paved at a slant away from private properties to prevent runoff from going to residential lots.
The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will tentatively consider the SUP application request at its meeting April 1.