On Friday morning, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority’s Board of Directors reached an agreement to lease 105 acres near Umstead Park to Wake Stone, which will use the land to expand an existing quarry. The expansion, which will take place over the next twenty-five years, is projected to generate $24 million for airport improvement projects, including the replacement of the airport’s primary runway.
Though the vote was unanimous, the decision was met with anger from both protesters in the room and a Raleigh City Council member who criticized what she called a lack of transparency. Dozens of protesters—some affiliated with RDU Forest, an amalgam of residents, businesses, and other organizations that had previously attempted to purchase the land to preserve its recreational potential—showed up with signs reading “Save RDU Forest” and “Stop RDU Quarry.”
After the vote, the board refused to take public comments.
Proponents say the lease will both generate revenue for needed updates at RDU and will be ecologically healthy in the long run. The mineral-lease agreement requires Wake Stone to pay $3.6 million to preserve 151 acres of airport land for mountain biking. At the end of the lease, the company will give another $3 million to reclaim other recreational features on the site.
“If you take the long view, which is twenty-five years, what the Wake Stone folks will do is to reclaim both quarries, give sixty-eight acres to Umstead, and provide more trail connection to the trail network we’re developing,” Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson told the INDY.
However, Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell argues that the decision was made without consulting local government officials.
“Several Raleigh City Council members, including myself, were never consulted,” Mendell says. “Consequently, I plan to introduce a motion at Tuesday’s Raleigh City Council meeting that opposes this decision.”
Asked whether such a motion could affect the airport’s plan, Mendell replies, “There are conflicting reports regarding that. I am hopeful we can reopen a dialogue that is more transparent and inclusive.”
To complete the approval process, Wake Stone must obtain permits from the required federal, state, and environmental agencies. This is expected to take up to two years.
Dickie Thompson is a member of both the City Council and the RDU Airport Authority. How can Stef Mendell claim that the city council wasn’t consulted when a member of the City Council sits on the RDUAA and voted to move forward with this project? Meanwhile, Dickie Thomson has also voted against Mendell’s proposed City Council resolution to symbolically oppose the agreement. Three questions…First, why is it appropriate for Thompson to sit on both bodies. Second, why is it appropriate for him to vote on matters as a city councilman that pertain to his work with the RDUAA? Third, did this really never come up in a discussion at some point when the rest of the city council works with one of the deciders? Stef Mendell beat Bonner Gaylord in part by highlighting his conflicts of interest between his day job and his role as a councilmember. Someone ought to hold Thompson to the same standard, and I hope Mendell has the nerve to do so again on behalf of Raleigh.
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