Wake Stone sweetens proposal for quarry on RDU property, but opponents aren’t biting

This conceptual plan shows how two Wake Stone quarries adjacent to Umstead State Park might be redeveloped as recreational land after mining is completed. Wake Stone is proposing to lease 105 acres from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to develop the mine on the left.
This conceptual plan shows how two Wake Stone quarries adjacent to Umstead State Park might be redeveloped as recreational land after mining is completed. Wake Stone is proposing to lease 105 acres from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to develop the mine on the left. Wake Stone Corp.

The Wake Stone Corp. has made a new proposal for developing a quarry on 105 acres owned by Raleigh-Durham International Airport that the company hopes will win support from people who think the land should be used for recreation instead.

It doesn’t seem to be working. Opponents, led by The Umstead Coalition and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, had already written out their reasons for opposing the plan before Wake Stone aired it publicly for the first time at a Wake County commissioners work session Tuesday.

Wake Stone proposes a 35-year mining lease on what’s known as the Odd Fellows property that the company says would generate an estimated $24 million for RDU. The property is across Crabtree Creek from Wake Stone’s 36-year-old open pit mine between Umstead State Park and Interstate 40.

In return for the lease, Wake Stone pledges to contribute $3.6 million to help Wake County lease 151 acres of airport land across Reedy Creek Road from the Odd Fellows property. Airport officials have agreed to lease that property to the county for mountain biking and other recreation, but the terms of the deal have not been negotiated.

Wake Stone also says it would build parking, trails and overlooks around the quarry on the Odd Fellows property after mining there and at its existing pit are complete, potentially making it available for public use if the airport agrees. It also says it plans to develop 77 acres of its property near the North Harrison Avenue entrance to Umstead that could be used for brew pubs, shops and lodging in support of the nearby bike trails.

“I know there are a lot people that don’t want us on the property for any amount of time,” Sam Bratton, Wake Stone’s president, told county commissioners Tuesday, referring to the Odd Fellows land. “But if they’d hit the pause button, after we finish mining, there’s going to be the ability to have a really unique piece of property that could have recreational opportunities on it.”

Wake Stone has been working on its proposal for months and has shared it privately with airport and local officials and other interested parties. That allowed opponents to craft their response before Tuesday’s meeting, said Jean Spooner, who leads The Umstead Coalition, an advocacy group for the park. Despite Wake Stone’s offer of financial support for the county’s lease of nearby land for cycling, they still think quarrying the property is a bad idea.

“A new quarry pit would destroy the natural beauty of the Odd Fellows tract, permanently obliterate the dense hardwood forest and rolling terrain, pollute the waters and leave the community with an unwanted second pit (a permanent liability),” opponents wrote in a four-page position paper they presented to commissioners.

RDU Forest

Cyclists and others have been pushing a concept they call RDU Forest, which would expand hiking and off-road cycling on airport land and in a portion of Umstead park nearest the airport. RDU owns 256 acres of forested land between the western end of Umstead and Lake Crabtree County Park, where bike trails on a section of land the county leases from the airport are already popular.

RDU acquired the land years ago for a planned third runway that never materialized, and now airport officials are looking to generate income from the property for other projects. It put the 256 acres up for lease last year and last October agreed to lease 151 acres to Wake County for hiking and mountain biking trails.

But RDU took the Odd Fellows property off the market, after receiving two offers: one from Wake Stone to lease it for a quarry and one from The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, to lease/purchase the land over five years and then donate it to the state to add to Umstead Park.

Airport officials cited a long-standing policy against selling property when they turned down The Conservation Fund offer. But opponents of a lease to Wake Stone say that a quarry would so change the property that it amounts to a sale — a position echoed by outgoing Wake County commissioner Erv Portman on Tuesday.

“I would argue that you can’t lease something that’s going to be removed,” Portman said. “If you’re leasing it to be trucked away, truckload by truckload, so it’s a pit, it’s not a lease. It’s a sale.”

Bratton replied that mining leases are common around the country. He also tried to dampen concerns raised by other commissioners that a new quarry on the Odd Fellows property would harm either Umstead or Crabtree Creek.

“There has been no impact to the Crabtree Creek from our existing operations,” he said. “We’ve been great neighbors to Umstead State Park. “

There was some question among commissioners Tuesday about their authority over a potential lease between RDU and a private company. The county appoints two members to the eight-member Airport Authority; Durham County and the cities of Raleigh and Durham each appoint two members as well.

“There’s confusion that we are meddling in a transaction that should be between the airport and Wake Stone,” said chairwoman Jessica Holmes.

But other commissioners noted that Wake County has a special interest in what becomes of the airport land because of its plan to lease some of it for recreation. And Wake Stone’s offer to help make the county’s lease payments as part of its development of a quarry on the Odd Fellows property makes it a party to the deal, said another outgoing commissioner, John Burns.

“If there is an opportunity to provide a stream of rental payments for the county, we need to know where that’s coming from, how it’s coming about and what would be the tradeoff of that,” Burns said.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer