FAYETTEVILLE — A long appeal process came to a somewhat unusual end Thursday night (Oct. 18) as two opposing sides came to an agreement regarding an expansion at Northwest Arkansas Quarries. The Washington County Quorum Court then voted to approve the quarry’s conditional-use permit.
The CUP was granted with the understanding that the quarry owners would develop a landscape plan that requires that trees are planted to create a visual screen when the trees are mature.
This arrangement was crafted not at the Quorum Court’s horseshoe of seats, but in the back of the room between those who have been very vocal against the expansion and the owners - J.B.Hunt LLC which includes Johnelle Hunt and Tim Graham.
Graham presented the idea to the court along with Bret Ralston, who had spoken several times against the quarry.
“It’s amazing what can happen when neighbors actually talk,” said Justice of the Peace Candy Clark.
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 expansion includes two large areas that contain stockpiles of rock and a small area where the mining increased.
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.
The Washington County Planning Commission approved the conditional-use permit in June but area neighbors appealed the decision saying that the quarry caused noise and dust problems, and it was sending the wrong message to approve an expansion that was done without permission.
The Quorum Court heard the appeal and had the option to approve the CUP in a single meeting but it did not pass, forcing it into three readings. Court members had concerns about how the quarry expansion was handled and wanted more research.
If the conditional-use permit had not granted, the stockpiles would not have been allowed to remain. This would have meant 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 would present a problem for a longer period of time if the crushing is done all year. Richey said in a meeting in July and again Thursday that the noise from blasting would continue because the original mining area is still under the grandfathered permit.
One issue that County Attorney George Butler researched on request from the Quorum Court was if they could even legally vote against the CUP based on the fact that the quarry had not handled the process correctly and according to some of the nearby residents, dishonestly.
Butler concluded that CUPs can only be denied if they don’t fit the qualifications and that the company’s perceived character is not something that can be considered.
Although they expressed concerns about how the expansion permitting process was handled, several JPs said they thought it was respectable that once the problem was realized by the company’s new compliance officer, the company took it upon themselves to do what is right.
Those who opposed the quarry had also voiced concerns over the dust but that is a matter for the ADEQ, not the Quorum Court, the JPs agreed.