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Coal ash landfill application withdrawn

JACKSON – A plan to develop over 800 acres of Northampton County property into a facility to store and recycle coal ash has been put on hold.

At Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Northampton County Board of Commissioners, C. Wood Beasley III announced that he is withdrawing an application submitted by his company, VistaGreen, that served as a request for a special use permit to operate the facility, located off NC 186 between Seaboard and Margarettesville near High Bridge Road.

He added the decision to withdraw the application at this point is based on what he deemed as “misinformation being spread around the community.”

“Everyone is thinking that this is a done deal, that my partner and I are involved in some sort of conspiracy to ensure that this project will be approved,” Beasley said by telephone late Monday afternoon.

“We’ve heard that we purposely chose this particular property because it’s located in a minority neighborhood,” he continued. “That’s totally untrue. We chose the property because of its isolation from residential neighborhoods and due to its easy access to rail.”

Beasley noted that during one of the outreach meetings his company conducted last week in Seaboard to share the facts of the project with local citizens, State House Representative Michael Wray was there and said he read on Facebook that he (Wray) had sold the property to VistaGreen.

“That’s absurd; that’s about as far from the truth as you can get,” Beasley stated.

He added that other misinformation he has learned of since last week’s outreach meeting includes his company is in a conspiracy with the railroad company, with the Northampton Board of Commissioners, and with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

“It’s been said that we already have a permit to operate through DEQ,” Beasley said. “That’s another misstatement; we first have to go through the permitting process with the county before we get to the state level. It’s also been stated that CSX (rail) is already begun the process of expanding its tracks. Again, that’s totally false.”

He added that a Facebook site, allegedly put up by a group opposing the landfill, was scaring people into believing that coal ash causes cancer and birth defects in children. He also said that page contained aerial photos of unlined coal ash landfills that spilled into rivers in North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Those landfills did fail because they were unlined; our will be lined with proven technology that prevents leakage into river basins or groundwater,” Beasley noted.

Beasley said this misinformation needs to be clarified before he moves forward with the local permitting process.

“I’m not comfortable moving forward right now; I have family and business reputation to protect and I will do so by withdrawing the application at this time and countering all this misinformation with fact-based evidence that this facility will be environmentally sound,” he stressed. “We’re not giving up on this project, rather taking the extra time needed to address any and all concerns residents may have.”

Northampton County Planning & Zoning Director William Flynn said by telephone on Monday had Beasley kept the application on file it would have been addressed at a scheduled meeting of the Northampton Planning Board tomorrow (Wednesday).

“Even if Mr. Beasley did not choose to withdraw the application and went forward with it, the job of the Planning Board is only to make a recommendation to the commissioners to grant or deny the application,” Flynn stated. “It’s left up to the commissioners to approve or disapprove the application.

“Since it did not reach that point, VistaGreen can reapply for a special use application at any time. Had it gone before the commissioners and they voted to deny it, VistaGreen would be required to wait one full year before making a re-application,” Flynn added.

On Jan. 17, VistaGreen filed for a special use permit on an 804 acre tract of land located southeast of NC 186, between High Bridge Road and Tower Road. That property is now zoned A-R (Agricultural/Residential.

As stated in a Jan. 21 article published by this newspaper, Beasley said the proposed High Bridge Park facility would only accept CCR material, which is a byproduct of the coal combustion process known as coal ash. He said the material would be stored within two landfills, each lined with a thick, durable membrane of high density polyethylene that will be placed on top of a two-foot layer of compacted clay soil. That barrier is designed to prevent any contaminants from migrating into groundwater, Beasley said.

He added that coal ash is classified as nonhazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency under rules adopted during the Obama administration, and that coal ash has no odor.

Meanwhile, Tony Burnette, speaking Monday on behalf of the Northampton County NAACP and the Northampton County Citizens Against Coal Ash, said he and those groups still have grave concerns about the proposed facility.

“What will be the long-term health effects on our citizens, as well as the long-term effects on our water supply, with these landfills seeping into our wells and rivers,” Burnette stated.

“We’re asking the public to do their own research on coal ash landfills. They (VistaGreen) said the key to this project were the liners. We believe those liners may work for a short period of time, but not permanently,” he added.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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