Friday, June 13, 2014

A Man Called NIMBY

Not in my back yard.  No, really.

There is a proposal for a limestone quarry on Furnace Mountain.  Last night there was a "permit conference" at the courthouse.  It was absolutely the worst run public meeting I've ever witnessed.  And I've witnessed a few.  It's kinda my thing now.

The community turnout was commendable.  Unfortunately the community wasn't served well by the agency (Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement) that organized the meeting and which is responsible for reviewing and making a decision on the non-coal mining permit.

The issues are:

1) The quarry will be in the upper reaches of Pecks Creek and will affect the entire watershed including many springs, a handful of caves, and most likely a number of domestic wells.

2) The quarry will necessarily employ a large number of heavy trucks to haul out the material.  The road—KY 213—is narrow, winding, and as I have written about many times there is an excessively steep hill that trucks would have to climb and descend fully loaded.  There is hardly room for school buses and passenger cars to pass much less buses and large dump trucks.

3) Potentially severe localized adverse effects on health and quality of life for the residents of Furnace Mountain.  Dust and noise trespass, damage from blasting operations, air and water pollution—all real and guaranteed effects of the approval of this permit. 

I said the meeting was poorly organized and run and what I mean by that is it fostered hostility instead of mitigating it.  First off, the meeting started out in a tiny room.  It was apparent someone didn't think many people would show up.  Then DMRE ensured it would all be recorded, but their camera had two dead batteries.  They got up, briefly introduced themselves and then called the first name on the sign-in list without so much as prefacing the meeting with a description of the application proposal or what exactly their role in the process was.  They didn't explain anything about the permit process, what our recourse was if we didn't agree with their findings, or much of anything else.  They just opened up the floor for public comment to a confused and ill-informed public.  

Immediately they reacted with hostility.  They: the state agency running the meeting.  As they were calling out the first name (my sister-in-law) a man tried to ask a question and was cut off.

"It's a procedural question," he countered.

"This isn't a hearing," came the curt reply.

"Then what is it?"

"A permit conference," as if anyone in our community had any idea what that meant and how it differed from a public hearing or public meeting.  Then, as if addressing first graders (there may have been one or two in the room in his defense) he explained what a permit conference is.  Sounded like a hearing to me.

And so I make my case for county wide zoning.  Zoning is not a perfect tool, but it would have given the county some direct influence on the outcome of this proposal.  It would have given those directly affected by this destructive process more empowerment.  I wouldn't have had to sit there feeling sick and helpless as the DMRE casually compared what's going to happen on Furnace Mountain with coal mining.  To be fair, this will simply be a 40 some odd acre limestone quarry, but many of the effects will be the same as if it was a strip mine for coal.

A few will profit and many will suffer.  The economic impact will not be positive for the community.  Oh, there'll be a severence tax.  That won’t be rolled directly back into the upkeep of the steep and already deficient road the trucks and heavy equipment will have to use.  There'll be a handful of temporary, if maybe long term, jobs as a result.  But the wholesale destruction of the fabric of the small community area of Knowlton will be sacrificed.  No, sacrificed isn't the right word, because the modern connotation is a willing loss for a greater benefit.  Those who are profiting from this are sacrificing nothing. Or is it the right connotation after all?  Is it simply the quiet innocence of a rural community stretched out under the knife to be bled in honor of the Gods of Capitalism?

My melodrama is justified.  This is not an appropriate place for any kind of industrial site.  The roads were not built to accept this kind of traffic, and the rape of the community becomes complete when the trucks start rolling up and down Furnace Mountain.

And when the few have become rich enough, or their precious stone is exhausted, they'll move on to endeavors elsewhere and impose their proven business model on some other helpless community whether it's more appropriate or not.  You see, there are plenty of inadequate sites through this region, this Pottsville Escarpment, to stoke their thirst for gain instead of simply slaking it.

Those standing to profit are sacrificing nothing.  Instead they will be robbing rural people of the wealth of place, and peace, and security, and home.  For those less directly involved (I live only a few short miles away as the crow flies under a similar limestone band) the negative impacts are clear, and we will all most assuredly be affected either by the truck traffic or by seeing the decline in health in our families and friends from "up on the mountain."

I cautioned my sister-in-law against making the case that people ride their bikes there.  The honest truth is there aren't enough cyclists to make that case.  The numbers don't stack up.  That doesn't mean I won't deeply feel the loss of one of the best cycling roads I've ever been on.  Furnace Mountain--KY 213 south of Stanton--is one of the best roads to ride anywhere.  Anywhere.  Having to share it with the same type of truck traffic that keeps me off of KY 11/15 will sour the taste for riding there.  Thick deposits of spilled gravel in many of the curves will make it dangerous for cyclists as well as motorists.  The sight of the open wound of this quarry will kill one of the more quiet and unspoiled sections of the ride.  This quarry will be below the road for all to see.

And what happens once all the dust has settled?  When Red River Materials, LLC moves on to its next big project what is left behind?  What do we have to look forward to?  It's a small site, so within a few years nature will be trying to take back over.  But we can look at other quarry sites and say for certain that even decades won't repair the damage.  There will be a long term burden on the state to monitor the environment around the site.  Who pays that cost?  There will be a spiritual burden on the people who are directly affected by this and it will most certainly outlive them.

What is the community left with?  A dangerous abandoned quarry that will probably be posted "no trespassing" and left naked to the sky as a memorial to the wealth that was taken away.

Maybe they'll let us turn it into an ATV park.

Another Furnace Mountain quarry

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