On Saturday, local elected officials will join environmental activists in a rally at Umstead Park to oppose the quarry expansion approved by the RDU Airport Authority in March.
The rally will feature four members of the Raleigh City Council as well as state senator Wiley Nickel, and will be followed by a screening of the film 400 Feet Down: Misguided Authority and the Fight to #StopRDUQuarry later that evening at the JC Raulston Arboretum.
The RDU authority’s board of directors agreed to lease 105 acres of land to Wake Stone to mine granite. The airport authority has argued that the lease will generate as much as $24 million over its twenty-five-year life span, money the fast-growing airport needs.
But environmental activists, led by The Umstead Coalition, have disputed the amount of revenue the lease will produce and argued that Wake Stone’s mining operation will destroy valuable recreation land that could be used by outdoors enthusiasts.
“When they end the lease agreement, we’ll be left with a big hole in the ground,” says Raleigh City Council member Stef Mendell.
And they’ve claimed that, because the four local governments that comprise the RDU authority—Raleigh, Wake County, Durham, and Durham County—own the land, they should have a say in whether the lease goes through.
“I and several other Raleigh City Council members certainly feel like we have been cut out of the loop on making decisions here,” Mendell says.
“I’m opposed to the quarry deal because it’s environmentally unsound and very short-sighted,” council member Russ Stephenson told the INDY in an email. “Council wasn’t consulted, despite the fact that the city is one of the four owners of the land.”
In April, the Federal Aviation Authority sent the RDU authority a letter stating that it didn’t need the local governments’ permission to move forward with the lease, shutting down that line of attack.
But the Umstead Coalition and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists (the two groups sponsoring Saturday’s protest), as well as two homeowners, Tamara and Randal Dunn, who live near the proposed quarry expansion site, are pressing ahead with a lawsuit to stop the lease. They won a preliminary injunction to halt mining—though not exploratory drilling—at the site until August 5. The Umstead Coalition expects a hearing in the case in early September. (Wake Stone officials have said that actual mining is unlikely to happen for two years, regardless of the injunction, because of the state and federal permitting process.)
The Umstead Coalition says the airport—and local residents—would have gotten a better deal had the RDU authority accepted an offer made in 2017 by The Conservation Fund to purchase the land for $6.46 million and expand Umstead Park.
The authority rejected that offer—along with Wake Stone’s bid for the land—in October 2018. Five months later, with just forty-eight hours’ notice, the RDU authority accepted Wake Stone’s offer.
Jean Spooner, who chairs the Umstead Coalition, contends that the lease agreement with Wake Stone only guarantees $8.5 million over twenty-five years, and most of it would be back-loaded. In contrast, she says, The Conservation Fund would have paid upfront.
“We would desire a better, more open dialogue with the RDU Airport Authority, and we also know that they strive to make a great airport, and we appreciate that,” Spooner says. “But there’s been no public evaluation of alternatives.”
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