Opinion

Officials should block RDU’s quarry lease

Cyclists and half-brothers Brian Maxwell of Knightdale, left, and Derek Hansen, right, of Benson prepare to bike the popular mountain bike trails on RDU Airport Authority’e FATS tract leased by the Lake Crabtree County Park Wednesday, October 8, 2014.
Cyclists and half-brothers Brian Maxwell of Knightdale, left, and Derek Hansen, right, of Benson prepare to bike the popular mountain bike trails on RDU Airport Authority’e FATS tract leased by the Lake Crabtree County Park Wednesday, October 8, 2014. tlong@newsobserver.com

The RDU Airport Authority voted on March 1 to grant a minimum 25-year “mineral lease” on 105 acres of forest so Wake Stone Corporation can put a private rock quarry on public lands. The site, known as the Odd Fellows tract, is located next to William B. Umstead State Park.

We contend that the lease is invalid, in part because it was not approved by the local governments as required by RDU’s charter. Our local elected Raleigh, Wake, and Durham leaders have a right and duty to stop this abuse of public lands for private gain.

RDU needs additional revenue to help fund its Vision 2040 Plan, including a new runway capable of accommodating aircraft for direct flights from as far away as China. This deal, however, will provide only a small fraction of the $2.7 billion necessary to fulfill their plan, trading the permanent destruction of an important natural public asset for no meaningful contribution toward the effort. A competing proposal from the Conservation Fund that included a full appraised value cash offer, should be given strong consideration.

It’s important to understand the implications of RDU’s action. This tract of heavily wooded land, teeming with wildlife, will be quickly deforested, the land scarified, and the mineral resource extracted with heavy equipment and blasting, then trucked away over a 25-35 year period. The resulting hole in the ground, some 40+ stories deep, will revert to the public along with indefinite and unknown liabilities.

The estimated revenue is misleading. RDU says this will provide $24 million over 25 years, and implies this deal will allow Vision 2040 implementation to be accelerated. Yet, according to the agreement, Wake Stone will pay a minimum of $8.5 million. The estimated $24 million is paid only if 100 percent production is maintained. The payments are back-loaded, with only 18 percent due to the airport during the first 10 years. Meanwhile, the Conservation Fund’s cash offer provided RDU a better financial position.

Wake Stone has committed $3 million toward reclamation at the end of the lease for permanent fencing, trails, overlooks, and other amenities. The $3 million is capped and, when applied over 105 acres 25 years in the future, is unlikely to afford many “features.”

Wake Stone offered an additional $3.6 million to reserve another 151-acre adjoining site, restricted to recreational uses only. This has been described as a mountain bike center, but hinges on securing a third party to negotiate separately with RDU, and reserves the property for only 10 years.

After that time, the third party could continue to use the site, provided they assume full payments. This provision restricts activities to low impact uses, effectively reserving the land for additional mining. Meaning Wake Stone can seek yet another quarry pit on that land in as little as ten years. This is the same land Wake Stone sought for mining in the 1980’s–90’s (including the Odd Fellows tract), when RDU faced similar challenges keeping pace with our area’s growth. These efforts were rejected by previous RDU administrations, who still managed to achieve their goals.

There is another option. The Conservation Fund has made an offer to purchase this land for permanent preservation and inclusion into Umstead State Park. We are hopeful that RDU will choose to work with their neighbor, and feel this is the better path forward for the Triangle. Both State Parks and Wake County have endorsed a trail center that would be a contributor to the area instead of a liability.

Dr. Jean Spooner, is chair, of The Umstead Coalition. David Anderson is a board member of Triangle Off Road Cyclists

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