Jean Spooner doesn’t quit.

On March 1, 2019, Spooner watched as members of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority filed into their board room for a meeting that lasted exactly four minutes and 17 seconds. An attorney read aloud a brief statement, and John Kane, a local developer who chaired the board, called for a vote. It was unanimous. The deal was done: 105 acres of densely wooded forest outside of Umstead State Park would be leased to Wake Stone. 

The trees would be cut, a 400-foot pit would be dug, and 30 years later, Wake Stone would return what was left of the land—all for $24 million in royalties from the sale of the stone it would mine from the ground. 

Spooner couldn’t believe it. Some days, she still can’t.

“We thought the right thing to do was for the RDUAA to see the light and do what was better for the community,” Spooner says. “They did not, and here we are today. They still could. The airport authority and Wake Stone can still do the right thing.”

Spooner’s organization, the Umstead Coalition, filed a lawsuit along with the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists to stop the quarry deal. They argued that the four local governments that control the airport authority—Raleigh, Wake County, Durham, and Durham County—should have a say in the deal. They tried to make the issue a focal point of Raleigh’s city elections, only to see many of the most anti-quarry candidates defeated in October. A few weeks later, Wake County Superior Court Judge Graham Shirley ruled that RDU’s lease with Wake Stone was valid, and the quarry should move forward. 

Jean Spooner didn’t quit.

The Umstead Coalition and the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists appealed, and last week, Shirley issued an injunction preventing Wake Stone from selling the stone it mines until the summer of 2022 or until the legal questions are definitively settled. That injunction doesn’t mean much: Wake Stone won’t be ready to sell what it mines until then, anyway. The company is currently applying for mining permits, which it hopes to secure by this fall. After that, it will have to clear trees and start digging. 

But Spooner nonetheless took it as a sign of hope. She thinks the mining permit will be denied. Then again, she thought the Superior Court would strike down Wake Stone’s lease, and that didn’t happen.  

“It is a bad precedent for our public lands,” Spooner says. “The idea of having a private quarry next to Umstead State Park—a 400-foot pit—is super bad for our public lands, for Umstead, and also really bad for the airport.”

During contentious moments last fall, most local politicians, even those who weren’t outspoken about the quarry, usually said they opposed the lease, even if they didn’t think it was local governments’ place to intervene in the airport authority’s decision. Not Sig Hutchinson. 

The Wake County commissioner—who was up for reelection Tuesday, though the results weren’t known when the INDY went to press—and self-described environmentalist has championed the Wake Stone deal, though not because he loves quarries. As part of its agreement with RDU, Wake Stone agreed to pay $3.6 million to help the county lease 151 acres of nearby RDU-owned land for mountain biking. Known as the 286 Tract, this parcel, Hutchinson says, is better suited to the average mountain biker than the more hardcore quarry land, though bikers have (illegally) been using both for years. 

Wake Stone had been waiting until the lawsuit was wrapped up to chip in the money, and the county had been waiting on the money to secure the lease. But last month, when Hutchinson learned that the airport authority was considering spending $2 million to construct a fence around the property—the unauthorized bikers pose liability concerns—he unveiled a proposal before the Board of Commissioners’ Growth and Sustainability Committee to lease the land for 40 years. 

But even if Wake Stone prevails in court, that $3.6 million will likely only cover a small portion of the county’s lease. Hutchinson says he doesn’t know how much that will be—the county hasn’t started negotiating with RDU yet. Nor is he sure where the money’s going to come from. 

In his view, however, the county needs to act now. It can sort out the details later. 

“I’m very hopeful,” Hutchinson says. “And the more I talk about it, the more energy there is around finding a solution that works for everybody.”  


Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at ltauss@indyweek.com. 

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One reply on “A Year After RDU Lease Land for a Controversial Quarry, Activists Are Still Fighting to Stop It”

  1. Sig wants “to find a solution that is good for everyone”?? Hahaha!!!!!!
    But great article. Jean Spooner is amazing…and she is also right. Do the right thing, RDUAA and Wake Stone! It’s not too late…what you are doing is incredibly wrong!

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