By Dasha Morgan
Hendersonville – Jeff Shipman of S.E. Asphalt has requested that Henderson County conditionally rezone a 6.5-acre portion of land, located off Spartanburg Highway— northwest corner of Highway 176 and US Highway 25 (Exit 7 on Highway 25), so that he can construct an asphalt drum plant in East Flat Rock. The property is currently zoned Community Commercial, which allows for residential and commercial uses, such as office buildings and retail sales and services.
This property is within one mile of many single-family homes, small farms, and the Green River Game Lands. Route 176 is the road to Saluda which then goes on to Tryon. By law asphalt plants are not currently permitted in such close proximity to neighborhood homes, schools, and churches, and special conditional rezoning must be obtained in order to build a heavy industrial plant.
A special called Meeting/Public Hearing will be held Thursday, October 1, 2020, at the Blue Ridge Conference Hall on the Blue Ridge Community College campus (Technology Education and Development Center building, 49 East Campus Drive, Flat Rock, NC 28731) at 6 pm for consideration of conditional rezoning application #R-2020-03-C SE Asphalt. Commissioners of Henderson County will then have their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, October 5 at 5:30 pm, when they most probably will vote on the proposal.
This proposed asphalt plant has not gone unnoticed. Just by chance the neighboring residents learned of this proposal earlier than mandated by law. The Friends of East Flat Rock, headed by Michelle Tennant-Nicholson and her husband, Shannon, organized themselves and jumped into action. They met and continued to meet weekly via Zoom to discuss strategies and organize volunteers.
Their website, friendsofeastflatrock.org, is filled with studies and assessment reports on the damage that asphalt fumes they say can bring to residents’ health. Information like the noise from an asphalt plant as well as odors are well known in other communities with nearby plants says the site. Asphalt fumes are said to be a toxin, causing innumerable serious illnesses including liver damage and cancer.
The Friends of the East Flat Rock organization now has 11,096 signatures on a petition which vehemently states their opposition to any change in the zoning ordinances. The many children coming to summer camps in the area may be adversely affected by the plant, as well as neighboring developments such as Highland Hills, Cinnamon Woods and Highland Lake. They are all on record officially as opposing the rezoning. Thus, the Friends of East Flat Rock are asking residents and friends to contact the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and voice their opposition. The Henderson Planning Board voted against the asphalt plant on September 7, 2020 — with a 5 – 2 vote.
The number of new jobs that this plant will bring to the area seems to vary. According to the Friends’ website: “Warren Sugg of Civil Design Concepts in Asheville, NC, during the Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting on June 8, SE Asphalt’s proposed plant will create 6-7 new full-time jobs.” Later Jeff Shipman added to that number, stating “it will be 20 new employees—-6 at the plant and extra personnel for additional work generated.” He stated that a number of drivers (dump truck and loaders) will be added, traffic control pilot operators, lab technicians and clerical personnel will be needed.
Jeff Harper and Billie Shipman, owners of Southeastern Asphalt, dispute these negative claims and cannot understand where or why this opposition is here. According to Harper and Shipman “they have been in business for 23 years; they plan and want to be good neighbors. They have absolutely no desire to make anyone sick. Their plans are to “have a state-of-the-art plant and be surrounded by trees and keep it well-manicured.” They have no plans to run at night unless the DOT asks them to do so. “It is essential that this plant gets built for us to continue in business.” The asphalt plant will fill a market need, and the location is appropriate to quickly service that need. The Shipmans have done due diligence. Numerous studies by qualified scientists and officials have been made. The plant will operate safely in full regulatory compliance. These issues will be addressed at the meeting on October 1 with engineers, toxicologists, storm water specialists, and real estate brokers all giving their analysis of the known facts.
Shipman wrote an open letter to address the community’s concerns and have had open meetings. The letter stated that the asphalt drum plant “will not have adverse effects on the community or our visitors”…”will be heavily regulated by the NC Division of Air Quality,” …“that all the trees on the Spartanburg Highway and Highway 25 will be preserved.” Their full letter can be seen at: https://friendsofeastflatrock.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Open-Letter-from-Jeff-Shipman.pdf.
There was an equally controversial land dispute in 2007, which lasted three years in Henderson County. Grimesdale residents formed Citizens Against the Asphalt Plant when they learned John Pace, owner of Tarheel Paving Inc., planned to build an asphalt plant in their community. A three-year battle ended when the NC Environmental Management Commission upheld a Division of Air Quality decision to grant a permit for the plant. The plant is still in existence.
It should be noted that a recent attempt by the Madison County Board of Adjustment and the Madison County Commissioners to keep an asphalt plant out of a conditional-use, commercially zoned area in Madison County ended with the county removing their opposition to the plant in a settlement with the developer French Broad Paving leaving only a private group to fight the proposed plant in court.
This highly controversial meeting will be held at Blue Ridge Community College on October 1, at 6:00 pm. It will be held indoors, so masks will be required, as well as social distancing. There will be many qualified environmental state speakers, the Shipmans and Commissioners giving factual information for all to hear. All sides of the issue need to be heard, so a rational decision can be made by the Commissioners.