Whenever there’s a big blast at the Wake Stone quarry, the windows of Tamara Dunn’s Old Reedy Creek home rattle. She can feel the vibrations. Outside, her six two-hundred-pound Irish wolfhounds begin to bark frantically. 

The quarry is a mile away. Soon, there could be another quarry even closer. 

“I can feel it in the floor,” Dunn says. “I have no idea what that is going to be like when they are right next door.” 

Dunn’s home is adjacent to what’s known as the Odd Fellows tract, a densely wooded area outside Umstead State Park that the airport owns. On March 1, the RDU Airport Authority Board of Directors voted to lease the land to Wake Stone Co. to build a second quarry in exchange for up to $24 million in royalties. The following Monday, construction crews arrived outside of Dunn’s yard to build a winding road to the site so the company could begin exploratory drilling to look for granite, the primary stone used in local building and road construction. 

The Dunn family, along with the Umstead Coalition and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, went to court, seeking an injunction against the authority and Wake Stone to halt tree cutting or construction on the land. The conservation groups believe the quarry will destroy the land and eliminate its potential for recreational uses, including a trail system for hikers and mountain bikers. A judge granted a temporary injunction last week pending a hearing. But that won’t stop the exploratory drilling, says Jean Spooner of the Umstead Coalition. 

A central question is whether the four local governments that co-own the airport authority—Raleigh, Durham, and Wake and Durham Counties—have to sign off for the project to move forward. The RDU authority says they don’t. The project’s critics hope they do, as that may be their best chance to stop the quarry from moving forward. 

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration told the INDY it was “reviewing the matter and [hasn’t] made a determination if any action is required.” Raleigh, which also requested clarification on its role in the lease agreement, hasn’t received any answers either, according to city attorney Robin Tatum Currin. 

RDU officials could not be reached for comment. 

Several members of the Raleigh City Council have attempted to halt the lease, with David Cox and Stef Mendell urging the council to send a letter asking the airport authority to reconsider its decision. But the board deadlocked—with Mayor Nancy McFarlane and council members Nicole Stewart, Corey Branch, and Dickie Thompson siding with the city attorney’s view that the council does not have jurisdiction over the matter—and the motion died. 

Thompson, who is on the RDU board, says he supports the project because it would give much-needed revenue to RDU, which is struggling to keep up with growth. 

Ridership at RDU has increased 42 percent since 2010, with nearly thirteen million passengers passing through its gates in 2018. The money from the quarry deal, Thompson says, is necessary to build a new runway. And it’s a good deal, he says—$24 million is on the low end of revenue projections. 

The project’s critics point out that Thompson has received $4,000 in campaign donations from RDU executives—Thompson notes that he’s also received donations from Spooner—and that his construction company, JM Thompson, regularly purchases material from Wake Stone. Thompson denies that the company cuts him any deals. 

“If you wanted to buy the stone, you’d get the same price I’d get,” he says.  

In an email, an RDU spokeswoman says that “being a customer of an entity would not constitute a conflict of interest.”

Earlier this month, at a council meeting during which dozens in the crowd held up signs asking to “Save RDU Forest” and “Stop RDU Quarry,” Thompson said the quarry’s opposition was built on misinformation.

“This hundred-and-five-acre tract of land in the lease to Wake Stone Company has never been parkland,” he said. “RDU is an airport, not a park. Some people may think it’s a park because they have chosen to use RDU land for recreational purposes illegally. Save RDU Forest—this is purely a fictitious name. There is not an RDU Forest on any legislative map.” 

The issue has turned into a political football as Raleigh’s campaign season heats up. (Thompson hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek reelection.) After the council’s vote, David Cox tagged Nicole Stewart’s employer, North Carolina Conservation Network, in a series of tweets denouncing the council’s inaction. 

Stewart says the tweets felt like “a direct attack.”

“He is threatening my employment or trying to directly threaten my employment,” Stewart says. “If it wasn’t already clear that this was just political, I think a tweet going after my employer shows just how political it was.“

Cox says he didn’t know who her employer was. 

The Wake County Board of Commissioners has yet to weigh in. Commissioner Sig Hutchinson says he supports the project as a way to secure funding for recreation in the area. Under the deal, Wake Stone will pay $3.6 million toward a potential mountain biking lease on a site known as the 286 parcel, on the other side of Old Reedy Creek from the Odd Fellows tract, and another $3 million to reclaim the quarry site for recreation after it finishes mining.  

But Commissioner Jessica Holmes, who chairs the board, says that if the FAA determines that the county has jurisdiction, she’ll oppose the deal.  

Conservationists say there are other options to fund infrastructure improvements at the airport. The Conservation Fund offered to purchase the Odd Fellows tract for $6.5 million in 2017, they point out, but was turned down. Spooner argues the lease agreement with Wake Stone only ensures that the airport will receive $8.5 million.

No one disputes that quarries are less than ideal. But for RDU, the calculation is clear: The money justifies the environmental sin. The lease’s critics, however, say the risk far outweighs the reward. 

“It’s a one-time use,” Dunn says. “I think it’s kind of a quick and easy fix. If you put a big hole there, you permanently damage that property. You can never do anything else with it.” 

3 replies on “RDU’s Plan to Lease Land for a Quarry Is Becoming a Political Football”

  1. In addition to attending the Friday, 1/Mar/19, surprise vote by the RDUAA to lease land adjacent to Umstead State Park (i.e. the Odd Fellows tract) to Wake Stone Corporation for purposes of creating a second rock pit next to the park and further encroaching on the boarders of Umstead State Park, I was in attendance at the Raleigh City Council meeting on Tuesday, 5/Mar/19. I am thankful to those elected officials who are trying to pause this situation. Neither Wake Stone nor RDUAA has truly had “community engagement” as they claim. These entities have mostly told the community what they are going to do; they have not actively worked with us to seek other options. It seems to be the good-old-boy network against the public.

    Dickie Thompson is on both the RDU Airport Authority (RDUAA) and the Raleigh City Council. As a member of the RDUAA, he is intimately familiar with Wake Stone Corporation and with their proposal to create a second pit next to Umstead State Park. Mr. Thompson is NOT intimately familiar with those not if favor of this second pit.

    Dickie Thompson’s speech at the Raleigh City Council meeting in which he whole-heartedly lobbied for the airport and Wake Stone Corporation during the meeting demonstrates there is a conflict of interest with him being on both of these boards.

    At this meeting, nobody representing the other side of this issue that knows this issue in similar intimacy was permitted to speak.

    Many of Mr. Thompson’s statement were half-truths and I think greatly mislead the Raleigh City Council members in painting a nice picture of the situation.

    Yes, Wake County does lease the land owned by the airport next to Lake Crabtree for a park called Lake Crabtree County Park. Yes, there are currently mountain bike trails on approximately 150 acres of Lake Crabtree County Park. However, these trails are doomed in the current scenario. The lease for that land, while at one time was a long-term lease (e.g. years), is now a very, very short-term lease (e.g. I think 30 days). So, the RDUAA can take away the mountain bike trails at any moment – and there are plans to do just that. Per the airport’s master plan, this land is slated for a hotel and business buildings. It is not slated to continue to be a county park. While there might be a bike path on the aftermath, there will no longer be mountain bike trails. Ultimately, Wake County’s most used park, is doomed. Dickie suggesting that these trails are here for the long term is not accurate.

    When people are saying “save our park”, they are referring to saving Umstead State Park by not having a SECOND Wake Stone quarry pit directly next to it…and a second quarry pit that straddles the sensitive Crabtree Creek. Dickie claiming that people are referring to the Odd Fellows as the park is wrong and misleading.

  2. You refer to council member Stewart complaining of being “attacked” because her employer was included in a tweet about the quarry issue and council inaction. She voted against a motion to ask the RDU Authority to reconsider its decision days earlier. Hence, inaction. I mean, wouldn’t this be something the NC Conservation Network would be concerned? Right? The decision not to take a not even “courageous” position is on her.

    And, shouldn’t you share with readers that Ms. Stewart authored a blog post about the quarry motion and her vote? If she complains that a tweet represents an attack, what’s this from her blog? “The resolution brought before us this week ended up dividing our council, and worse, our community in an unnecessary way on a matter we have no authority over. Frankly, I think bringing up the resolution was a disingenuous effort.” Definition of a political attack. Considering this demonstrated hypocrisy, plus the responses her blog post received, it’s not surprising Indy wouldn’t point to it. Readers who are interested in a more complete picture on this aspect of the issue should consider visiting Ms. Stewart’s blog post on the quarry at https://www.nicoleforraleigh.com/yesand/2019/3/6/yes-i-oppose-the-quarry-and?fbclid=IwAR2hqdpQRB3KvJEUYNx34cJaCLEWE7u67rR79xyWOROKitc8jfqRA4_bIF4

  3. Every time an article mentions “another $3 million to reclaim the quarry site for recreation after it finishes mining” add the clause “in 30 years.” The public won’t get that land back for 30 years. Most of us cyclists won’t be bombing down to the creek by then. And the reclaimed land won’t be a beautiful forest, but a 800 foot hole in the ground. This is a raw deal for the people of Wake County.

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