FAYETTEVILLE—The Washington County Quorum Court found itself between a rock quarry and a hard place Thursday night (Aug. 23) as the justices of the peace heard an appeal over a conditional-use permit for expanding a rock quarry.
By the end of the meeting, the JPs agreed on one thing: they didn’t have enough information to decide on the appeal and the issue would have to go into three meetings.
The court members could have voted to suspend the rules and approve the conditional-use permit on first reading but when the vote to suspend the rules failed for lack of a second; it forced the issue into the originally required three hearings.
The Northwest Arkansas Quarry is located east of Springdale with an entrance off of Parsons Road. Washington County granted a large-scale development permit to the quarry when it opened in 2003. Since that time, the quarry expanded its boundaries to include approximately 118 more acres to the north, south and southeast of the existing mining area.
In 2006, the county introduced zoning and all large-scale developments were grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating, including the quarry. The expanded areas include two large areas that contain stockpiles of rock and a small area where the mining was expanded.
The quarry’s new compliance officer, Chris Godsey, realized that while the quarry had adequate permits and approval from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), it had failed to get the proper permits from the county for the expansion.
He filed the necessary paperwork to get the expansions that had already happened approved, a process which includes having to notify surrounding neighbors and allowing for them to voice concerns. The conditional-use permit received Planning Commission approval in June but a group of residents with homes in the area appealed that approval. The Quorum Court is responsible for hearing appeals on such matters.
If the conditional-use permit is not granted, the stockpiles will not be allowed to remain. This would mean that instead of crushing rock six months out of the year, the quarry would have to crush rock throughout the entire year, said Juliet Richey, Washington County planning director.
The crushing is what causes the dust and the dust would be a problem for a longer period of time if the crushing is done all year. Richey added that the noise from blasting would continue because the original mining area is still under the grandfathered permit.
Those speaking in favor of the expansion gave their arguments first. Godsey and Steven Beam, vice president of Crafton Tull & Associates, spoke to the court regarding the quarry. Crafton Tull performed the survey work in preparation for the conditional-use permit application. The men said that the quarry had already started processes to reduce the dust from the quarry, which was one of the neighbors’ biggest complaints.
They also said it’s a “misnomer” that the quarry will expand as the conditional-use permit was seeking permission retroactively for an expansion that had already taken place.
“What you see now will not increase. This just lets the existing operations to continue,” Beam said. “It’s not true that we’re trying to mislead anyone.”
Several area residents spoke against the quarry being allowed to continue its current operations with the expanded land, citing health concerns and frustrations over how the expansion has been handled in the last decade.
Resident Brett Ralston showed aerial photos of the land dating back to 2003 that shows some levels of expansion beyond the originally-approved boundaries.
“They have been out of compliance pretty much the whole time,” he said. “That’s not a miscalculation, that’s blatant disregard (for the rules). They decided it’s better to ask forgiveness, not permission. If you reward them, what does that say to other businesses in the county about your (guidelines)?,” Ralston continued.
Ralston added that there are large, unused areas in the already approved parts of the quarry where he believes the stockpiles could be moved.
The JPs expressed concern about the evidence they heard, including the idea that the quarry had nearly doubled in size starting almost immediately and never got the right permits from the county, even though state approval was obtained.
Several JPs also asked what could be done to the quarry for failing to get the right permits.
County Attorney George Butler said that civil and criminal actions could be taken. The Quorum Court could pursue civil action and the prosecuting attorney would be able to see if criminal actions took place.
Butler also said, however, that technically being out of compliance should not be considered in deciding if a development plan qualifies for a conditional-use permit.
If the permit is granted, the punitive actions could be taken against the quarry to account for the non-compliance.
The quarry being out of compliance was discussed during Thursday’s meeting.
JP Tom Lundstrom wanted to know if the original large-scale development permit only included mining. That would mean stockpiling the product for mining might not be considered within the limitations of the permit. The JPs asked Butler to examine that issue in time for the next hearing.
The Quorum Court will hold the next hearing at its regularly-scheduled meeting in September.