Local News

Story published: 06-26-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Many feel action on asphalt plant is too little, too late

By: David Walter

Freelance Writer

Construction has begun on a new mining and asphalt plant in Trade, TN after the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) granted permits to Radford Quarries of Boone, Inc. last year. The new plant, known as Appalachian Materials Inc., has become a controversial issue not only for the Trade community, but for many across Johnson County. The chief concerns among those opposed to the plant are environmental impacts and pollution and possibly an exaggerated sense of the boost the plant could be to the economy to gather public support.

Many are worried because of the ecological impact associated with asphalt plants. Asphalt production has been attributed to the leakage of lead, arsenic, mercury, and carbon monoxide in the air and ground water. Byproducts of asphalt plants can have detrimental effects on wildlife and livestock, but also have been known to affect children and adults. The location of the new asphalt plant drains directly into Roan Creek, which causes immense concern to local fishermen. While not every asphalt plant has violated environmental standards designed to provide basic protections to the public, this particular company has.

In 2008, under suspicion of direct violation of Tennessee’s Water Control Act, the TDEC’s Division of Water Pollution Control mandated a director’s order against Radford Quarries. From their Doe Creek facility in Butler, TN, Radford Quarries reported 71 permit parameter and 42 pH violations. Additionally, the company failed to report required monitoring data 30 times, and failed to report any sort of storm water discharge measurement data. Because of these violations, Radford Quarries received a civil penalty of $89,000 from the state. There have already been complaints from the Trade community and even from the plant’s neighbors. Assistant Chief Shawn Henson of the Trade Volunteer Department was quoted in The Tomahawk this February as having personally seen potential contamination and violations at the construction site. The Tomahawk tried on several occasions to reach a representative at Radford Quarries; they have not returned any phone calls so far.

Johnson County government has been subjectively quiet on the issues at hand and the feeling throughout the community is that most of the county commission doesn’t necessarily want to move on any action to hinder the plant. Some also blame the county for disregarding the plant’s primary proposal. TDEC originally issued the permit; but general consensus among those opposed to the plant is that no one seemed to know about it until Radford Quarries began construction.

Arguments from some commissioners included one from a previous article describing Jack R. Proffitt’s statement on how impeding Radford Quarries from conducting business could hinder economic growth. The county mayor’s office could not provide a figure on what sort of actual increase in jobs would be provided to the county. In addition, several of the county commissioners could not be reached for comment. Regardless, economic growth is a valid argument for proponents of the plant, except that the plant will probably only hire several employees, many of whom will most likely be from the company’s home location in Boone, NC. Furthermore, the area’s stunning beauty and incredible natural resources serve as an attraction for thousands of visitors, especially now with the introduction of the Doe Mountain Recreation Area. With all the recent tourism development, opponents of the plant believe that the benefits of curtailing the plant’s construction in Trade exponentially outweigh the economic benefits from it being there.

Further compounding the issue is Johnson County attorney Bill Cockett’s conflict of interest. Cockett has previously compiled deed work for Radford Quarries, which forced the county commission to obtain outside legal representation at a maximum of $5,000.

County commissioners have so far not come to any agreement on what to do about the asphalt plant. They had the opportunity to pass a moratorium, but failed. Under advice of Gary Davis, the lawyer chosen to assist the county in this matter, Johnson County would have been able to use a law titled Chapter 29 to pass that moratorium which would have given the county an additional 60 days to halt the construction and investigate options further. It would seem that with the exception of a few, the majority of the county commissioners are not as concerned with the effects of this project as the general public or the dozens of members of the Trade community who have actively spoken out against it.

Readers of The Tomahawk recently had an opportunity to fill out an online survey asking whether or not participants were in favor of an asphalt plant opening in Trade, TN. Out of 258 people, 87 percent said no. Twenty-five percent said no because asphalt plants are harmful to the environment. Sixty-two percent said no because it would ruin Trade’s most valuable asset – its natural beauty. Eleven percent said yes because Johnson County needs jobs. Two percent said yes because asphalt mining is not harmful to the environment. If you are part of the overwhelming 87 percent, a list of all the county officials and their phone numbers can easily be found at - http://johnsoncountytnchamber.org/johnson-county-officials/.