The RDU quarry lease dispute – an explainer
Opponents of a planned quarry on property owned by Raleigh-Durham International Airport are asking Wake County Superior Court to stop the airport’s governing board and a private stone company from starting the project.
Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, the Umstead Coalition — an advocacy group for William B. Umstead State Park — and three individuals filed a request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday to prevent Wake Stone Corp. from beginning work on the quarry.
The RDU Airport Authority approved a 25-year lease with Wake Stone on March 1 that would allow the company to quarry stone on 105 acres of airport land that abuts the state park. The new quarry would be across Crabtree Creek from the company’s existing quarry, on the north side of Interstate 40.
The cyclists group, known as TORC, and the Umstead Coalition are asking the court to declare the lease invalid and require the airport authority to go through the process again. They maintain that the four governments who appoint members to the airport authority — Raleigh, Durham, Durham County and Wake County — should each have to approve a lease or sale of airport property for non-aeronautical purposes.
“We should take a pause and make sure we get this right, given the irreversible path and the concern expressed by local governments and the public,” David Anderson, a member of TORC’s board, said in a statement.
The lawsuit also charges that the airport authority violated the state’s open meetings law by giving the public only two days notice for the special meeting at which the lease was considered and by not allowing the public to comment. The authority did not make the terms of the lease available before the meeting, and voted to approve it without discussion.
A spokeswoman for the airport authority declined to comment Tuesday, saying the board would respond in court. But RDU officials have said they believe Wake Stone can begin seeking permits for the quarry without additional approval from the local governments or the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The Airport Authority has done due diligence related to its approval of the agreement with Wake Stone, and is confident that the permitting and approval process to determine the feasibility of the expansion of the existing quarry can begin,” the airport said in a release after the authority approved the lease.
Sam Bratton, Wake Stone’s president, said it could take more than a year for the company to get the permits it needs to begin digging.
Airport officials say they expect to received between $20 million and $25 million in royalties from Wake Stone over the lifetime of the lease. Though nominally for 25 years, the lease can be renewed year-to-year for an additional 10 years if mining operations have not ceased.
When the lease is up, between 2044 and 2054, Wake Stone pledges to spend $3 million on parking, trails and overlooks on the property, if the airport authority decides to make it available for public recreation.
Critics of the quarry say the property, which lies between Umstead State Park and Lake Crabtree County Park, should be used for off-road cycling and hiking now. They note that The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, offered to buy the property from the airport for $6.46 million and make it available for the park.