For the second time in the past few months, extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the crowd at a Stokes County Board of Commissioners meeting, and many people were there to address environmental concerns.
The Tuesday night meeting began with County Manager Rick Morris presenting his proposed budget to the commissioners. When the public comment session rolled around, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” was addressed again by several people. But there is also another topic of environmental concern gaining attention in the county.
A few people were present to speak about a proposed land farming/bio-remediation facility near Big Creek. Kent Fulp has requested a special use permit for property located on the north side of Frye Road for a dedicated soil treatment facility. With the process of bio-remediation, microbes in the soil break down petroleum-based products in contaminated soil. Some residents fear the process could contaminate nearby water supplies.
Dan Wolber of Danbury was the first to speak about the topic during the public comment session. He reported that numerous concerned citizens attended a recent planning board meeting where the topic was discussed. Wolber said the potential negative impacts must be considered and comparative analysis of other sites in the state be made before a decision is finalized. And the public should have adequate time to respond, he said.
Wolber also noted that numerous trucks would travel the curvy roads to the site and would dump toxic soil across the road from Simmons Chapel Church. He encouraged the commissioners to visit the site and speak with nearby residents.
Patrick Simmons of Danbury, a descendant of the founders of Simmons Chapel Church, urged the board to exercise caution. He fears such an operation would devalue and destroy the surrounding area.
Laura Shirley of Westfield said the proposed facility would be three-tenths of a mile from her home. She said, “My concerns are that this facility is not the best plan for Stokes County and especially for this area of Stokes County.”
She is concerned about the possibility of contaminants leeching into ground water and dust problems arising when the soil is aerated.
Mike Teague said an official told him that wells are required on site to monitor the water, which leads him to believe that leeching is possible. He also noted that numerous trucks would have to transport soil to the property, which is located off of windy roads.
Barbara Simmons expressed concerns about the storing of hazardous materials and how it could impact people in the area.
Don George of Westfield noted that many nice homes have been built in that area, and is concerned about the county giving special use permits for operations that could impact the community negatively.
The owners of the proposed site responded during the meeting. Pam Fulp, who was joined by her husband, Kent, came before the board to speak about their request for a special permit. She said they have followed all guidelines and requirements in their preparations to open a facility, including those required by the county, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“We have to follow and satisfy these strict guidelines before we can open this facility,” said Pam Fulp. “We have followed every procedure that has been presented to us and continue to do so.”
She said, “We do care about our community. We have lived in Stokes County our whole lives. We have a family as well as all of you here. It is not our intentions to do anything that would harm our families, our community members or our community’s environment in any way.”
Pam Fulp said they have spoken with environment officials about bio-remediation, which she pointed out is a natural process. She encouraged the commissioners to research it more.
A public hearing will be held by the Stokes County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, June 5 at 7 p.m. regarding the permit request. The board could decide that night whether to approve the request. At a meeting last Thursday, the planning board voted to recommend the county table the request until further input and data can be gathered. Board Chairman Ernest Lankford said the county usually follows the planning board’s recommendation.
The fight against proposed legislation to legalize horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has continued in Stokes County, especially after residents learned that Stokes County’s state Senator Don East is one of the co-sponsors of Senate Bill 820, also known as the “Clean Energy and Economic Security Act.”
The bill would authorize the process of horizontal drilling and fracking for the purpose of oil and gas exploration but place a moratorium on permitting until July 1, 2014. As proposed, it would nearly eliminate local government control and allow drilling units to force some landowners to allow fracking on their land if they are surrounded by willing landowners.
Last week Gov. Bev Perdue signed Executive Order No. 118 calling for the organization of a workgroup to “develop recommendations for a regulatory framework and interagency protocols for oil and gas exploration.”
Mary Kerley of Pine Hall spoke first against fracking at the commissioner meeting on Tuesday. She said, “Fracking is simply wrong for Stokes County.” She expressed as concerns the possibility of water contamination, millions of gallons of water use, heavy truck traffic, and air pollution.
“Water is our most valuable resource,” Kerley remarked. “When that is gone all else is irrelevant.”
She asked the commissioners to adopt a resolution opposing fracking. A proposed resolution was presented to the board. The commissioners did not discuss the resolution during the meeting, but Lankford told the press that the board would discuss it at some point since it had been requested by citizens.
Patti Dunlap of Walnut Cove spoke next and also urged the commissioners to approve the resolution. She informed the board that the group had collected more than 800 signatures in opposition to fracking in Stokes County.
Linda Hicks of Walnut Cove, a retiree, said, “This is my home. I’ve lived here all my life … I realize that fracking can take away all I’ve worked for.”
Kyle Dalton of Danbury said, “I believe North Carolina is at the crossroads of becoming a state that puts citizens’ well-being on the back seat for the profit of a very few.”
She stated that communities in other states have experienced damages related to fracking. Dalton said to the commissioners: “You are our first line of defense.”
Calls to Rep. Bryan Holloway and Sen. Don East on Friday and Tuesday were not returned by press deadline late Tuesday night. Citizens are organizing bus trips to Raleigh for the near future. More information can be found online at nofrackinginstokes.org.
During the meeting, County Manager Rick Morris presented the board with a copy of his proposed 2012-13 budget, themed “Long Term Survival Under the New Normal.” He read his budget message into the record, which provided a detailed overview of his proposal.
The proposed budget does not include a tax increase or additional layoffs of county employees. The tax rate would remain 60 cents for the general fund and 4 cents for school and community college construction. Around $2 million would have to be used from the general fund to balance the budget, with about $1 million of that coming from unused Hold Harmless funds leftover from this year.
The board will hold a public hearing for the proposed budget at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 7 in Courtroom A of the Stokes County Government Center. The board will hold its first budget workshop on May 31 at 10 a.m. at the government center.
For a detailed analysis of the proposed county budget, read next week’s edition of The Stokes News.