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Some Raleigh leaders don’t want a quarry at RDU, but they may not have a say

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.

Some Raleigh leaders don’t want a quarry on airport land, but they don’t really get a say, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority voted Friday to lease 105 acres of airport property to Wake Stone Corp. over the objections of some who wanted the land to be used for recreation.

Opponents of the deal argue the airport can’t lease the property without approval from the FAA or the four local governments that appoint members to the Airport Authority: Raleigh, Durham, Wake County and Durham County.

Four Raleigh City Council members wanted the authority to reconsider its lease with Wake Stone until the city knew whether it had a say.

In a motion, Council member David Cox asked for three things:

A letter from the council asking the authority to reconsider its vote on the lease

A promise from the authority not to remove any trees from the land

A letter from the FAA clarifying whether the authority needs approval from the four local governments.

The board split, with council members Kay Crowder, Stef Mendell, Russ Stephenson and Cox voting for the motion, and council members Corey Branch, Nicole Stewart, Dickie Thompson and Mayor Nancy McFarlane voting against it. Thompson is one of the council’s two representatives on the Airport Authority.

Raleigh leaders did follow-through on the last part and asked the FAA for a letter clarifying whether local government approval was needed. Thompson was the lone vote against.

But the FAA may have already provided its answer.

In a statement Tuesday, the FAA said it considers the Airport Authority the airport’s sponsor, meaning the airport board doesn’t need approval from the four local governments to negotiate and sign a lease.

RDU officials also say they are confident that Wake Stone can begin seeking permits for the quarry without the airport needing any additional approval from the FAA, according to a statement released after the lease was approved.

The FAA said it must approve a long-term lease of airport property for non-aeronautical purposes, which would include a quarry.

But RDU says that under FAA regulations, Wake Stone Corp.’s 25-year lease of mineral rights on airport land would not be a “long-term lease.” FAA regulations say long-term leases “are normally those exceeding 25 years.”

When Wake Stone president Sam Bratton described the company’s quarry plan to Wake County commissioners last fall, he said it wanted to lease the airport land for 35 years. That is still possible under the lease agreement worked out between Wake Stone and RDU. It says if the company doesn’t finish mining the property at the end of 25 years, the lease can be extended year to year for an additional 10.

City attorney Robin Currin told council members Tuesday that the city can’t prevent the lease from moving forward.

“You don’t have any authority to stop it or change it,” she said. “There is nothing illegal about stating an opinion or making some sort of request.”

If Raleigh leaders ask the Airport Authority to reconsider its position, Currin said it would be nothing “more than a political opinion.”

“Which you can make on Facebook,” McFarlane said, adding she wasn’t ready to weigh in on the issue. That was a sentiment shared by Branch and Stewart.

But Mendell said what some council members wanted was clarification about whether they could influence the lease decision and to ask that the land not be disturbed in the meantime.

“I don’t see how anybody can be against more transparency (and) more inclusiveness,” she said.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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