Credit: Brett Villena

“One vote,” Raleigh City Council member Kay Crowder told hundreds of residents rallying against a plan to add a second quarry outside Umstead State Park last weekend, is all we need to join the fight. And October 8 is “just around the corner.”

It’s not that simple, however.

The fight to stop the quarry—specifically, a lease agreement between the RDU Airport Authority and the Wake Stone Corporation that will allow the company to mine the 105-acre Odd Fellows tract for the next three decades—has been underway for years, ever since the idea was first proposed, and especially since the authority’s board unanimously approved the lease in March.

The Umstead Coalition and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists filed a lawsuit, arguing that because four local governments own the RDU Authority and thus own the Odd Fellows tract—which abuts Umstead State Park and has long been used by cyclists, albeit without the airport’s permission—they should get a say in what happens. The groups won a temporary restraining order, though it was symbolic; it allows exploratory drilling, which is all Wake Stone can do until it completes the years-long permitting process. A court hearing is expected in September.

The “one vote” to which Crowder was referring was the council’s 4–4 split in March to send RDU a letter asking the authority board to reconsider the deal.

But that, too, would have been symbolic: It wouldn’t have been binding, and it was unlikely to change any minds. The airport says it needs the $24 million that the lease would generate to fund infrastructure repairs and a new runway. (The Umstead Coalition argues that the deal will only net about $8 million while destroying the land’s recreational possibilities.)

The only thing the city could do with a fifth vote is to sue.

No one on the council has proposed legal action, nor have any other owners of the airport—Wake County, Durham County, and the city of Durham—tried to stop the lease. In fact, citing a ruling from the Federal Aviation Administration, Jessica Holmes, who chairs the Wake County Board of Commissioners, says that while she’s “very concerned about the environmental impact of the quarry,” the county “does not have a vote on whether the land lease moves forward. That is a decision that rests solely” with the airport authority.

Durham doesn’t plan to jump into the lawsuit, says Mayor Steve Schewel, but would consider it if the Raleigh City Council and Wake County Commissioners took the lead. And while Raleigh getting in on the legal action might be helpful, it’s not necessary, says Jean Spooner, who chairs the Umstead Coalition.“We don’t need them. We have a strong case on our own.”

Yet some council members, facing tough reelection bids, are nonetheless arguing that they can make a difference.

“If we had one more vote, we could vote to join the lawsuit that is already taking place, or we could file our own lawsuit,” says council member Stef Mendell. “And I think we would have a better chance of having legal standing since we’re one of the four owners.”

Raleigh city attorney Robin Tatum Currin declined to answer the INDY’s questions on the matter, citing attorney-client privilege and potential litigation.

Mendell and the other council members who attended the Umstead Coalition’s rally last week—Crowder, Russ Stephenson, and David Cox—are facing opponents who have raised more money in the first half of 2019.

That’s led critics, even those skeptical of the lease itself, to argue that their campaign against the quarry is politically motivated.

“It’s taking something that a lot of people very seriously care about and using it as a political gimmick,” says Harry Johnson, former political chair of the North Carolina Sierra Club. “These are councilors who have done little to nothing to really push the city to implement a clean energy standard. It’s very frustrating to see real issues compressed into one yes-or-no litmus test and to see that used as a checkbox for performative environmentalism.”

Cox may call himself an environmentalist, Johnson says, but he also tried to reroute sewer line through federally protected wetlands after a constituent complained about the city digging on her property. (He then attempted to get a city employee disciplined when he didn’t get his way, as the INDY previously reported.)

You can oppose the quarry and oppose political gamesmanship, says council member Nicole Stewart, the development director for the North Carolina Conservation Network. She voted against sending the letter in March.

“The Raleigh City Council has no ability to singlehandedly stop the quarry, no matter how many votes my colleagues say they have or need. To say or promise otherwise is false,” Stewart says. “My job has given me the experience and insights beyond a poll-tested talking point. The ongoing lawsuit brought by the Umstead Coalition will continue to be the most efficient avenue to fight the quarry, and I am watching it closely.”

NOTE: The story has been updated to correct a quote from Kay Crowder. 

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss by email at, by phone at 919-832-8774, or on Twitter @leightauss. 

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7 replies on “For the Upcoming Raleigh City Council Election, the RDU Quarry Is a Top Issue”

  1. RDU AA did not have the authority to sell the land (as they don’t own it). Previously, they have had to get permission from the land owners City of Raleigh, Durham, Wake County, etc. for something as simple as clearing the land for new runways. Wake Stone’s lease is a shame — if you lease a car, you can’t return it without an engine, but Wake Stone is proposing leasing beautiful green space and ‘returning it’ in 30 years as a 400 foot hole in the ground. The lease is illegal and needs to be stopped.

  2. Time and time again I read the articles regarding this quarry issue from the INDY and you know…100% of the time you all are just barely grazing the surface. You take your talking points as if directly from Wake Stone and/or RDU AA and it’s odd. Normally I anticipate that the INDY will do some footwork of their own. But it’s clear that your level of investigation here is just to borrow “the facts” from people who aren’t clear about what they are. For example, have you personally looked at and read the General Statutes that state that this kind of lease would not be legal in it’s current form? I have. Have you looked at the deeds that list the names of the actual property owners that own the Oddfellows Tract? I have. If you did, you too would understand that just because the RDU AA and Wake Stone and yes, even those who should know better…don’t always know better. I would love it if you did your job and researched instead of kicking out the same stuff your “go to” folks keep telling you. And why did you use a former member of the Sierra Club’s quote when Hwa and Liz, who are both current Sierra Club members, would have given you one? You got a quote that is pro quarry from the Sierra Club? This can only make me question your journalistic experience and integrity. Learn something…read something. Get to work and write a researched piece for a change.

  3. I wish someone would call the RDUAA on their bullshit. The statement that they “need” the quarry deal amounts to a lie. The quarry will fund approximately 0.06% of their yearly budgets. Not 6%, 0.06% !! That’s is NOT an important source of revenue. Most of the $24 million doesn’t come until 20 years from now. When it will be worth far less because of inflation.

    They never gave a good reason why they didn’t sell the land. It’s just a rotten back room deal, and the fact that Nicole Stewart didn’t even want ask RDUAA to reconsider is either corrupt or idiotic.

  4. concluding it won’t help after reading this is confusing.

    Quote: Durham doesn’t plan to jump into the lawsuit, says Mayor Steve Schewel, but would consider it if the Raleigh City Council and Wake County Commissioners took the lead.

  5. I am rather confused. There are many active Sierra Club members (myself included) that are working closely on this issue. Why is Indyweek turning to Harry Johnson, who is a former political chair of North Carolina Sierra Club (I’ve been helping Jean Spooner from Umstead Coalition since last year, and I have not met with or heard of him until now) for input about the quarry?

  6. The city and county governments not only have the ability, but by state statute they are required to approve the quarry. RDUAA does not have this authority without their approval. NC General Statute 63-56 (f) states that no real property and no airport, other air navigation facility, or air protection privilege, owned jointly, shall be disposed of by the board by sale, or otherwise, except by authority of the appointed governing bodies, but the board may lease space, area or improvements and grant concessions on airports for aeronautical purposes or purposes incidental thereto. It is pretty clear that as each truckload of this property is permanently hauled away, we have a sale of real property that belongs jointly to the local governments. Nicole Stewart’s comments are inaccurate and disappointing. They will leave the local governments with an unusable piece of property and a huge permanent liability.

  7. I am happy that the entire Raleigh NC City Council will be replaced. These are the people who authorized seizure of my property for a private development, which is clearly unconsititutional.

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