Dirt Mine bites the dust

Dirt Mine bites the dust

BENTONVILLE – The Benton County Planning Board denied approval for a red dirt mine near Cave Springs on Wednesday.

Cousin’s Mine, a proposed 120-acre red dirt mine located between Philpott Road and Arkansas 264, came under fire from several residents concerned about traffic congestion, safety, environment and road maintenance.

Melvin Yount, a county road department employee who owns property near the site, estimates that 150 dumptrucks leave the mine each day and then use Arkansas 264 as the main access, going through Cave Springs. Road damage was inevitable, said Yount.

“This little old road is narrow and crooked, and it just don’t need 150 trucks dumped on it,” he said. Site preparation had already damaged Philpott Road, he said.

The county paid about $2,100 to spread gravel after Cousin’s Mine began putting in a road and making preliminary cuts to find the best sites about two months ago. The preparation, which disturbed about 10 acres, was without board approval.

Road Department Superintendent Steve Douglas said he is uncertain that the dumptrucks caused the damage, because the road could have softened from freezing and thawing. He requested a bond of at least $25,000 for a gravel road and $75,000 for a paved road, if Cousin’s Mine used Philpott or Murdock roads.

Cousin’s Mine issued a $2,500 bond, saying the roads would not be used and the bond was in good faith.

Although several residents said Arkansas 264 was unsafe for a mine location, a traffic analysis by CEI Engineering Associates reported the roads were safe.

Adam Roark, a project engineer with CEI, said a vehicle moving 93 mph would be able to stop in time to avoid hitting a truck stopped in the middle of a road. Traffic counts at peak hours showed less traffic than other locations. Arkansas 112 and Arkansas 12 had traffic counts of 14,000, Roark said. During peak rush-hour traffic, 2,253 vehicles were counted during two four-hour stretches on Feb. 25, the report stated.

Bonnie Rone Seals, an adjacent property owner, said she was concerned about the environment, pointing out the area has cave fish. She said she is worried her property will suffer erosion because the mine has excavated right up to her fence.

“I had no idea of the magnitude of this,” Seals said. “I am completely shocked.”

General Operations Manager Ben Shankle said the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved the plan to excavate to the property line but said he agreed at the Technical Advisory Committee meeting last week to set 25-foot boundaries around the property lines. He said he was willing to move the line along Seal’s property to 50 feet.

“We want to protect the environment too,” Shankle said, adding that bringing in topsoil and reseeding the land was in the proposal. “At the end of this process, it’s going to look very nice.”

He said he did not see the reason to move other property lines, because the same property owner for Cousin’s Mine owned the surrounding property. Eventually, the land may be used as a subdivision.

Board members were concerned the mine would continue to use Philpott and Murdock roads because the routes are shorter.

Both county roads should be paved, as was required by the board when a rock quarry was approved several years ago, said board member Don Phillips. Using Murdock Road would be more logical, he said.

“Dumptrucks will not drive on a dirt road,” Shankle said, noting that the mine should not be responsible for off-site roads.

However, if trucks from the mine were to drive on the roads, the county would have to catch dumptrucks in the act to prove damage.

Roark pointed out that Phillips’ property is along Murdock Road and suggested there is a conflict of interest, but Phillips said he was not an adjacent property owner. His backyard touches Murdock Road, he said.

Board member Bill Kneebone motioned to reject the mine’s application, but withdrew the motion to give Shankle an option to table until next month. Shankle said he saw no reason to table.

“I did what I was asked throughout this whole process,” he said.

He said the board had lost common sense to demand roads to be paved that would not be used.

Board member John Butler said denying the mine was tantamount to shutting out all dirt mines from the county.

“We might as well shut it down and say we won’t accept any red dirt mines in Benton County,” he said.

The board then failed to approve the mine, with Butler casting the only approving vote. Board member Tim Sorey was absent.

Shankle said he plans to appeal the board’s decision.

Source: www.nwaonline.net

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