Quarry concerns: Local residents take their case to quorum court
By Scott Loftis
Local residents are angry and frustrated at the possibility of a limestone quarry operating near the Kings River, and they made their feelings clear at Monday night’s meeting of the Carroll County Quorum Court.
A standing-room-only crowd jammed into the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville. Seventeen citizens addressed the court during the time reserved for public comments — an unusually high number — and 16 talked about the quarry that they say is already conducting exploratory drilling on a 629-acre tract of land off of Rock House Road.
Those citizens expressed their concerns about the potential impact to the environment, including sediment runoff that they believe could have an adverse effect on water quality, as well as noise generated by mining operations, declining property values, damage to roads that weren’t designed to accommodate heavy equipment and other adverse effects. One speaker said she has heard what “sounds like muffled explosions” coming from the site of the potential quarry, and another presented what she said was a core sample that she found while hiking in the area. Another speaker said he was told by a driller that limestone had been found “100 feet down.”
At one point, the audience clapped loudly at the conclusion of a speaker’s remarks and County Judge Sam Barr, who presides over the quorum court meetings, banged his gavel and threatened to have the sheriff remove anyone else who caused a disruption during the meeting.
After the public comments were finished, local resident Chris Fischer made a longer presentation on the topic as part of the meeting’s regular agenda. Fischer spoke at the invitation of District 4 Justice of the Peace Marty Johnson.
Barr stopped Fischer to tell him he had reached his 10-minute time limit.
However, when Barr asked for questions from JPs, District 3 JP Harrie Farrow asked Fischer what other concerns he had on the topic, and Fischer spoke for another 45 seconds.
“I would like to know what Legacy Mining has in mind,” he said. “I don’t understand why they haven’t posted any information on their property with contact numbers so that we can communicate with them if we have a problem.”
The operation has already been cited with one violation of state law. In a June 5 letter to Scott Moore — who is named as a consultant to Keels Creek Property LLC of Woodstock, Ga. — field inspector Skyler Schlick of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Water Quality writes that he investigated a complaint regarding the drilling activity on May 29 and observed sediment runoff in an unnamed tributary of Keels Creek from road widening activity on an existing access road.
“This is a violation of the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Act … which states ‘It shall be unlawful for any person to place or cause to be placed any sewage, industrial waste or other wastes in a location where it is likely to cause pollution of any waters of this state.”
Schlick instructs Moore to provide a written response for the violation by Tuesday, June 19.”
Carroll County Newspapers, which publishes the Carroll County News and the Lovely County Citizen, obtained a copy of the letter from the ADEQ after filing a request for public records under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. The request sought all ADEQ records related to Keels Creek LLC, Shady Grove Property LLC and Trigger Gap Property LLC — the three holding companies that own the land where the exploratory drilling is being conducted.
Included with Schlick’s letter in ADEQ’s response to the records request was an ADEQ Water Division Complaint Report describing a total of nine complaints received by the agency from May 23 to May 25. In a portion of that document describing the “Investigation and Action Taken,” Schlick writes that he met with Moore on-site, and that Moore was aware of the permits that would be necessary to use the site as a rock quarry.
At Monday’s meeting, local resident Lisa Price-Backs was the first speaker to address the quarry issue during public comments, urging the quorum court to contact state officials and a county land commissioner who she said was appointed in 2012. Later, Price-Backs began to speak from her seat in the audience, prompting Barr to bang his gavel and ask Sheriff Jim Ross to remove Price-Backs from the courtroom.
“I will remove myself, thank you,” Price-Backs responded.
As she left the courtroom, Price-Backs said: “You can enforce this. The Carroll County Comprehensive Land Plan. The Carroll County Comprehensive Land Plan.”
Johnson encouraged residents to write registered letters to executives of the mining company expressing their concerns and later said he would organize a meeting to further discuss the issue.
“If nothing else you could slow the process down and grind it to a halt, maybe,” Johnson said. “Maybe not.”
Johnson said mining company executives had asked to meet privately with him and Fischer.
“The three top dogs wanted to meet with Christopher and I, just the five of us,” he said. “I told Christopher we can’t do it without the press, because they’d be blowing smoke. … They’re going to do what they want to do, they think. But if there’s enough of us making a stink, you know, that’s all you can do.”
The next regular meeting of the quorum court is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, July 15, in the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.