Credit: Brett Villena

The Federal Aviation Administration dealt opponents of a second stone quarry near Umstead Park a blow Monday. 

Conservationists hoped that the FAA would halt a controversial lease agreement between the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority and Wake Stone Corporation for 105 acres of land, which the RDU authority board approved March 1 and is now the subject of a lawsuit. 

The airport authority says that, over the next twenty-five years, this lease will generate up to $24 million in royalties—revenue that the airport needs for infrastructure to keep up with a 42 percent increase in ridership since 2010, including building another runway. RDU has also pointed out that this land is private property and has never been a public park, though mountain bikers have illegally used it that way. 

The deal’s opponents dispute how much money the lease will produce, saying that it only guarantees RDU about $8 million, and, in the process, the quarry will destroy the land’s future recreational value. 

Conservationists allege that RDU had no right to sign the lease without getting the four local governments that oversee the airport authority—the cities of Raleigh and Durham and the counties of Wake and Durham—to first sign off. 

In Raleigh, the issue became a political football in late March, when several city council members pushed for a resolution opposing the lease. Council member Stef Mendell argued that RDU had not been transparent about its dealings with Wake Stone. The resolution failed on a 4–4 vote after the city attorney said the council’s verdict would be merely symbolic. 

On Monday, in a letter to RDU president Michael Landguth, FAA southern regional director Steven Hicks agreed, saying the agency wouldn’t require the airport to get a release from area counties because the lease didn’t use federal funds and “does not appear to adversely affect the safe and efficient operation of aircraft or safety of people and property on the ground related to the aircraft.”

Council member Dickie Thompson, who sits on the RDU board, wasn’t surprised. The board’s legal counsel had told the board that the FAA and local governments wouldn’t—and couldn’t—get involved. 

“I’m sure it’s not going to make some people happy, but I think it’s one more step in a lengthy process. It’s not an overnight thing,” Thompson says, pointing out that the quarry still needs to obtain permits. (As the deal’s opponents note, Thompson’s construction company buys material from Wake Stone, though he says Wake Stone has never cut him a deal and RDU says this doesn’t amount to a conflict of interest.) 

Mendell says she’s not ready to give up. 

“I was disappointed by it, but will continue to explore other options,” she says. “I don’t think a quarry is the best outcome for our community, and I don’t believe it’s what residents want. I’d like to see a solution that benefits both our airport and our region’s economic development as well as benefiting our environment and those who enjoy its recreational offerings.” 

The FAA’s decision doesn’t bode well for a lawsuit filed in March by The Umstead Coalition, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, and Tamara and Randal Dunn, who live near the second quarry. The lawsuit—which won a temporary restraining order prohibiting quarry construction through August, though exploratory drilling can continue—argues that local governments should have a veto. 

The FAA now says they don’t. 

“I think we still have a strong case,” says Jean Spooner, who chairs The Umstead Coalition. “The land is titled to the four local owners, the governments, and it is their land. We still think they have a say and should have a say in how their land is utilized. We fully intend to continue in our pursuit to protect our public lands.” 

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

One reply on “The FAA Says Local Governments Can’t Stop RDU’s Controversial Quarry Lease”

  1. Come up with more money and you’ll have an even stronger case. Make RDU a better offer than they got, that’s the easiest option.

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