Here’s Why I Oppose the Quarry Deal
I am one of the four Raleigh Councilors who voted to pause the quarry deal on March 5th. I also spoke at the Umstead Rally on July 27th against the deal struck by the RDU Airport Authority and the quarry company. I'd like to negotiate an outcome that works for the Airport Authority and protects our environmental interests, but so far, Council hasn’t been able to muster the five votes needed to even open that conversation. Meanwhile, the Airport Authority has doubled down with new efforts to weaken the Neuse Buffer Rules — rules which safeguard our region’s water quality.
It’s important to know that the airport property has four owners, including the City of Raleigh, Wake County, Durham County and the City of Durham.
There is a huge legal question whether the RDU Authority can enter into a lease of this kind without prior approval of the four owners. The Authority, of course, has the right to take actions that impact airport operations — they don’t need our approval for that. But this is a deal for land we own that the Authority has decided they DO NOT need for airport operations, now or in the future. Further, it’s a “lease” that will result in the destruction of our property.
A quarry, by definition, will remove the property to a depth of up to 400 feet. To me, it’s not a lease. It’s a sale — truckload by truckload.
Ultimately, the legal question will be decided by the courts. The Umstead Coalition, with whom I’m working, has filed suit. If negotiations are not possible, City Council could join that suit, or we could file one of our own. Either course will require a majority vote of Council. So far, the Council is split 4-4, with four of us ready to take action and four, so far, not ready.
Beyond the legal issue, however, is the paramount issue of environmental stewardship. The property in question is 105 acres of forested land immediately adjacent to Umstead State Park. It is an invaluable asset to our region, and its preservation is important to protect our water quality in Crabtree Creek, which runs alongside of it, and in the Neuse River Basin. It’s also vital to protecting the natural habitat of the state park itself.
In short, destroying the land, which a quarry will do, will have far-reaching negative impacts on our environment across Wake County and beyond.
The RDU Authority made the deal, according to its members, because they need money. The quarry operator offered a share of the quarry receipts. Estimates of the value of the Airport’s share range from $8 million to $25 million. The money will be received over a 25-year period, or longer. (The 25-year lease may be extended to 35 years.) In any event, most of the payments to the Airport will be years in the future.
A Better Deal For All
The Airport is a tremendous asset to our region and an economic engine of unquestioned importance. If it needs money, then money must be found. Conservation groups have offered to help. The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, offered to buy the 105-acre forest tract for $6.4 million up-front, an offer that compares favorably to receiving $8-25 million over two to three decades of quarrying. The four owners could’ve been asked for contributions, but the Airport Authority acted without public input and without consulting the owners. I’m determined to do whatever I can to convince the Airport Authority to reconsider its action, terminate the quarry deal and protect this vital environmental resource for generations to come. Environmentalism is long-term. When it’s butts up against short-term financial considerations, that’s where the trouble begins. In this situation, the case for environmental protection is clear, and the money considerations are meager. Let’s Stop the RDU Quarry.
Russ StephensonRaleigh City Councilor At-Large, LEED Accredited Architect, Sierra Club Life Member