NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The property owner proposing a sand mine on contaminated land is prepared for an effort to ease neighbors’ concerns.
In its first community meeting since 2014, Hilton Properties plan to show neighbors that soil and groundwater contaminants — including uranium and other toxins — on the site will not be disturbed by their proposed mining activity.
The first time the sand mine was proposed, it led to three lawsuits against the state’s environmental agency, and left more questions than answers.
This time around, owners plan to be forthcoming with answers.
William Toole, an attorney representing Hilton Properties, acknowledged that when the operation was first proposed four years ago, owners did not adequately address contamination risks for concerned neighbors.
“They hadn’t really understood the environmental contamination problem,” Toole said.
In the 60s and 70s, GE Hitachi dumped hazardous waste on its own property, directly adjacent to Hilton Properties’ land. Over time, the contaminants made their way into Hilton Properties’ soil and groundwater.
With a nearby neighborhood, Wooden Shoe, where residents all rely on groundwater wells, a sand mining operation that would disturb the water table was an alarming proposition. Neighbors rallied against property owners, the state’s environmental agency, then called the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DENR), and New Hanover County’s Planning Board to stop the sand mine.
With a state permit in hand, property owners need their land rezoned from rural agricultural to heavy industrial to begin their proposed operation. Hilton Properties will present its plans to neighbors and community members Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“The environmental issues, I understand are probably not well understood by the public yet, but we hope that with enough time, they’ll understand this has been worked out hard, and frankly, was not properly addressed the first time,” Toole said.
Hilton Properties failed to discuss contaminants on the property, which include radioactive chemicals, in both their application to the state and in their rezoning application to the county.
“It just hadn’t even been something that the Hilton Properties folks had thought about,” Toole said. “They just didn’t even make the connection.”
Compared to Hilton Properties’ initial plans, Toole said the mining operation will be significantly scaled back. After becoming aware of contaminants, the state cut Hilton Properties allowable excavation area in half under a modified permit.
“It’s smaller,” Toole said. “Substantially further away from where the contamination is.”
Toole said property owners initiated a lengthy groundwater modeling study, issued by GE and conducted by a third-party. The study, Toole said, shows contamination will not impact neighbor’s well water.
Because well water is sourced from a deep aquifer, neighbors’ water won’t be impacted by excavation activity that disturbs the water table at the level of a more shallow aquifer, he said.
“This is private property, people get to do — within reason — stuff with their own land,” Toole said.
Instead of large, corporate out-of-state interests, Toole said Hilton Properties’ owners are locals who inherited the property.
“These are folks from North Carolina that ended up with some property; they’re just trying to figure out how to pay the taxes like everybody else,” he said.
Held at St. James AME Church on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m., Toole will help present Hilton Properties’ new plans and answer questions.
“Once people see what’s been done, they should be pretty comfortable that their voices were heard and had a positive impact,” he said.
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