Noise Complaints From Neighbors Not Enough To Stop Rock Quarry Expansion

FOUR OAKS –  Johnston County Commissioners heard concerns from neighbors afraid added hours at an adjacent business will only create more noise pollution. It wasn’t enough to stop the majority of the board from approving the controversial permit.

Commissioners voted 5-to-2 on June 1st to allow Martin Marietta Materials Inc. on Raleigh Road near South Johnston High School to allow trucks to operate in and out of the facility 24 hours a day.  Previously, the rock quarry had only be allowed to operate their machinery at night, but trucks were not allowed to transport materials from the quarry.

On January 7, 2020, Martin Marietta officials appeared before Commissioners asking for a rezoning and special use permit to operate at night, as needed, to provide materials.  Commissioners heard from several neighbors who expressed concerns about existing noise issues and feared the added hours would cause more problems. Commissioners tabled the request and told company officials to meet with the neighbors and work out a compromise.

On June 1, 2020, Attorney Lew Starling of Smithfield appeared before Commissioners representing Martin Marietta. Starling said the NC DOT is requiring the majority of the work on the I-95 widening project to be completed at night and the closest location for the material is the Raleigh Road site.  Starling said if they were not allowed to ship at night, the same amount of materials would be hauled by someone else on county roads with more noise and inconvenience to citizens.

Starling reminded commissioners that in November 2019 they approved the rezoning of Hanson Aggregates Southeast rock quarry near Princeton to allow 24 hour a day operations.

He said Martin Marietta wants to be good a neighbor and they take compliance and concerns about noise seriously.  Since the January meeting, Starling said the company analyzed the noise situation and felt confident they were compliant in not exceeding 58 decibels at the property line.  Additional work to control noise levels would be included in the future expansion of the quarry.  The plant first opened on Raleigh Road in 1985.

Officials said they would prefer not to load trucks and ship products at night due to additional labor costs and safety issues, however, the NC DOT is wanting more road construction performed at night to prevent traffic congestion, and Martin Marietta was simply trying to meet their requirements.

“I can get my neighbor locked up for playing the radio too loud but you can’t against industry.”

Don Earnest who lives on Highway 301 said the quarry has been exceeding the nighttime noise level for more than two years.  “That’s why I asked for a compromise at the first meeting. The compromise was to shut down at 11 o’clock and let us sleep at night.”  Mr. Earnest said he has filed complaints in the past with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and the Johnston County Environmental Health Department. He also questioned who is doing the annual inspections that are required on their last permit.

“I am just one person but I am a resident of this county. I called the sheriff’s department and he came out and said yes this is loud. But he is not trained to take these readings. At 2 o’clock in the morning after you give them permission to operate, who do I call to quieten them down? I can get my neighbor locked up for playing the radio too loud but you can’t against industry. Give me something… just to be able to sleep.”

Jessica Weaver who lives on Raleigh Road next to Martin Marietta said the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed her to work from home 3 to 5 days a week where before she had to be in her office.  Working from home has allowed her to experience blasting from the quarry.  “I can hear my house rattle, the windows rattle, and can have noise canceling headphones on and feel the blast.” She said items have even fallen off her mantle during blasting in the last 3 months.

Mrs. Weaver said a dump truck leaving the quarry wrecked in her yard at 10:30 one night. The owner of the dump truck promised to return and repair the damage but never did.  She fears additional truck traffic will cause more safety issues on roads near the quarry.  She believes the quarry is in violation of current permit regulations including violations of their buffer standards and the height of stock piles.  “How do we install an effectiveness check to ensure the rock quarry is doing what they promised to do?”

Jessica Weaver’s husband, William Weaver, said progress is inevitable however at a January 30th meeting with Martin Marietta, ordered by county commissioners to find a compromise, the common theme was they were there to hear our concerns but not to work out a compromise.  Mr. Weaver said he would like to see any new nighttime permit expire after a set time limit.  He said he has a nearby family farm and sometimes drives a tractor on the highway to get to the fields.  While transporting farm equipment he has nearby been hit several times by dump trucks.

County Failed To Conduct Annual Inspections
Planning Director Braston Newton told Commissioners there was a conditional requirement commissioners included in a previous Martin Marietta permit that the County must conduct an annual inspection by a zoning officer to determine compliance, including compliance on noise limits.

Chairman Ted Godwin asked Newton if the annual inspections were being conducted.  Newton said he could find no evidence the County every conducted any of the required inspections.

“I want someone monitoring the noise,” Commissioner Vice Chairman Chad Stewart responded.

M.G. Johnson of Colonade Court in Benson spoke in favor of the expanded hours. “My sister and I own the property they are going to mining on now. I feel for the concerns they have talked about tonight and I hope they can be worked out. As a property owner, I don’t want to be at a disadvantage because we can’t supply the materials.”

Commissioner Tony Braswell asked Mr. Johnson if he lived in the area. Johnson said he did not but he owns the land next to the quarry.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Planning Director Newton recommended approval of the quarry’s permit with annual inspections.  Newton said he would also establish a schedule for the inspections be performed annually.

“People are certainly entitled to a moment of peace and quiet on their property”
Commissioner Stewart said, “My concerns are…they say an effort has been made… there is a lot of things we can do to help modify this. If I was a neighbor out there, yes, there is rock quarry out there and there is a demand from the state, but this is forever. Do we have any regard for the neighbors and are we showing any regard for the neighbors?”

“If we enforce the conditions they’re are things that can be done,” Chairman Godwin responded.

“I would really like to see that we meet in the middle, surely we can find a middle ground somewhere,” Commissioner Braswell said.

Commissioner Patrick Harris suggested a compromise could be the approval of the permit on a time-limited basis, that way the neighbors know there is an end.

“(Martin Marietta) wants more and more and more. It’s not a give and take. People are certainly entitled to a moment of peace and quiet on their property,” Stewart said.

Commissioner Lawter said was in favor of the I-95 paving work being performed at night for the safety of drivers. He then mentioned Hanson Aggregates in Princeton was permitted by the board in 2019 to operate 24 hours a day and by not approving this permit it would create unfair competition among competitors.

Commissioner Larry Wood said, “Should we change the stockpile height? Should we change the code and just worry about the trucks going in and out of the gate? Where is the compromise?”

Permit Approved 5-To-2

In a motion by Commissioner Lawter, the rezoning and special use permit was approved by a vote of 5-to-2 with Commissioners Braswell and Stewart voting against.

In an email Commissioner Lawter said afterwards, “I felt it boiled down to two main issues for me, safety and fairness.  The NC DOT has, in recent years, moved towards more night work to reduce the exposure of the traveling public to construction traffic.  I believe that in this instance, especially with the school traffic, that it was indeed safer to have the trucks running at night rather than have more trucks running during the day.  It also seemed unfair to have three construction related industries in the immediate vicinity that were permitted to haul 24 hours a day.  It wasn’t an easy decision because the neighbors raised several issues related to the quarry operations that needed to be addressed.  Going forward, I know the County will be diligent in conducting the annual inspections of the quarry.  And, based on information presented by Martin Marietta, it appears that during their upcoming plant upgrade they will be taking measures to reduce noise at their facility.”

Commissioner Braswell told Johnston County Report, ” I voted no for the modification request because the finding of facts did not prove there was a need. Based on their own testimony, they do not have any request or contracts for night service and because of the current COVID-19 situation, they have not maintain the same demand for product.  There was not any evidence submitted  allowing night time (operation) would reduce the day traffic from their site, thus removing the contention of safety concerns for school buses. And finally, the statement of facts did show citizens public safety and the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes was in jeopardy.”