Tuesday, July 07, 2015

How Is Maymead Asphalt Like a Bakery?

"And we know you love them too!"
It was a packed house at this morning's Watauga County Commission meeting. Maymead Materials Inc., the asphalt producer that wants a new plant on the Doc & Merle Watson Scenic Byway, asked and received 20 minutes of the commissioners' time to present their side in the fight over whether the county should allow them to set up in near proximity to many residences and two schools.

I was expecting a legal argument from Maymead ... that the company is already "vested" in that property and therefore can't be stopped, or that the county's 30-day moratorium is illegal, or that proposed changes to the High Impact Land Use Ordinance are arbitrary and capricious.

Instead, the audience got a dog-and-pony show -- a bunch of assertions offered by a Greensboro lawyer and a female project manager that asphalt is a naturally occurring substance and is perfectly harmless and that a bread bakery emits as many volatile compounds as an asphalt plant and if asphalt fumes are harmful then why doesn't OSHA make workers wear protective gear, and what's all the fuss any way?

The Maymead female project manager was the comic highlight of the morning. She actually showed slides of herself posing with her two small children with various Maymead asphalt facilities in the background, trying to prove (we assume) that asphalt is tee-totally safe for small children, or at least a convenient backdrop for company-inspired photo ops, but really proving that some professionals will use their own children as cynical props for company P.R. It was enough to make your skin crawl.

This combined assault by Maymead on the audience's logic and its patience reminded me very much of the current incessant TV ads produced by Sea World to convince us all that keeping killer whales in confinement really expresses love for the animals. Those creepy ads have set a new benchmark for industry hypocrisy, and they fool no one. Same for Maymead this morning.

On the other side of the issue, the Commission heard from more than a dozen speakers who pointed out the glaring holes in the county's current High Impact Land Use Ordinance, particularly its lack of public notice/public hearing when a proposed polluting industry wants to locate here. County Planner Joe Furman can very quietly approve those applications -- as he did for Johnny Hampton several years ago, the permit that Maymead has been trying to ride to glory by simple transference of name. The first thing anyone knows who lives nearby is that work has begun. That sick, sinking feeling can visit any homeowner at any time in this county.

The Commission took no action after the public hearing, and one wonders what the three-Republican majority will do, because they hold the power. Can't help but note that circulating among them this morning was former Commission Chair Nathan Miller, who's on record as opposing any government regulation over any land use that a land owner can think up. He was there, perhaps, to jerk a knot in his former obedient followers, commissioners Perry Yates and David Blust, who in a moment of weakness voted for the present moratorium. Nathan Miller will put an end to further and future weaknesses if he can.

Oops. Left the meeting early. The Commission did vote 4-1 to add a 750-foot buffer from residential property lines and a 1,500-foot buffer from scenic byways and the Blue Ridge Parkway to the High Impact Land Use Ordinance. They did not add a provision for public notice/public hearing to the ordinance. The single no vote was Commissioner John Welch, who thought the amendments to the HILU ordinance did not go far enough.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The new HILU ordinance is a good step forward - but it does NOT go far enough. The county provides NO buffers between a home and a chemical manufacturing facility or explosives manufacturing facility - why not? A mystery!

Come to the public hearing on Tuesday, 7/21 at 5:30pm at the county building - where the commissioners will be considering a moratorium on category 2 & 3 permits in order to hash out the proper regulatory response to these dangerous industries.

Seems Maymead sent its lawyer to deliver a tired PPT that had info not really relevant to the site at 421. The Maymead employee who loves letting her child play at the asphalt plant has that as her choice. The residents of Watauga County had no choice in the location of Maymead's 421 site - until the public woke up to the fact that Maymead was getting away with a sweet deal that could trash home values and the very strong tourism industry here in the county.

It is very wrong to allow a high impact facility the freedom to set up shop without EVER applying for a high impact land use permit from the county. It's also very wrong to let a company like Maymead thumb its nose at Watauga's minimal regulations - Maymead chose NOT to develop the land covered by Hampton's permit - they went off and applied for an air permit for a location NEVER permitted by Watauga County - and apparently, they can do that with NO penalty at all. Commissioners need to provide teeth to the HILU ordinance to add consequences that could prevent companies from doing whatever they feel like doing at a high impact site.