Friday, February 3, 2023

New Hanover sand mine operation a ‘public necessity’? Owners defend project’s value, safety

Property owners tell the county that nearby sand would help service infrastructure projects in a recent Special Use Permit and conditional rezoning application to operate a sand mine in Castle Hayne.

(Port City Daily graphic/Johanna Ferebee: Source, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, New Hanover County Geographic Information System)
GE Hitachi’s testing sites are shown in yellow, both inside and outside GE’s property, where groundwater quality exceeded state standards in the 2000s. (Port City Daily graphic/Johanna Ferebee: Source, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, New Hanover County Geographic Information System)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY —After a controversial run four years ago, Castle Hayne property owners have re-submitted plans to rezone land in order to operate a proposed sand mine. The proposed mine raised concerned that digging could release underground toxins.

RELATED: Uranium, chromium, and more: Sand-mine proposal returns, along with toxic-waste worries for Castle Hayne residents

The concerns stem from GE Hitachi’s mid-century dumping activities, which resulted in contaminated groundwater flowing past property lines into the land where the Hilton Properties Limited Partnership is now proposing a mine, an operation neighboring residents fear could affect their own water wells.

Levels of Uranium-235 and vinyl chloride exceeded groundwater standards at the site as recently as 2014, but Hilton Properties Limited Partnership’s rezoning request states no chemicals are in excess of state standards.

This time around, property owners are being more forthcoming with their plans. After submitting a four-page conditional rezoning application in 2013 — with no mention of any contamination on the site — Hilton Properties Limited Partnership submitted a 117-page application package last week including two studies and extensive explanations (as well as Port City Daily’s previous coverage of the proposal).

Still, there are still a few facts left to parse out.

Second-time around

The first time this sand mine was proposed, it led to a 21-party lawsuit against the state’s environmental agency, formerly known as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Two more suits followed, all alleging the state should not have issued Hilton Properties its mining permit, first awarded in 2014.

At a community information meeting held last month, dozens of neighbors spoke out the project, many concerned about the risk it could pose on their private wells.

As with its New Hanover County application, Hilton Properties failed to disclose any information about the contamination plume that had been detected in the 90s in its 2012 state permit application. Regardless, GE reminded the state about the plume before the permit was issued.

The state issued Hilton Properties its mining permit in February 2014. One day later, New Hanover County’s Planning Board heard the owners’ proposal, and ultimately issued a continuance due to a lack of information provided about the contamination plume. Then one month later, the state requested a permit modification application that would include contaminant levels.

William Toole, one of Hilton Properties’ attorneys, said property owners did not think to include that information when first pursuing the operation. To explain their mishaps, and intention to operate a sand mine, Toole said owners are “just trying to figure out how to pay the taxes like everybody else.”

Off 4117 Castle Hayne Road, Hilton Properties owns approximately 4,100 acres and pays just under $10,000 a year in property tax as of last year.

In 2017, property owners paid $4,589.98 in taxes on the 4,020.96-acre parcel that surrounds the proposed sand mine, and $5,163.17 on the 63-acre property where the mine is proposed.

Value, necessity

To help pay these taxes, among other things, Hilton Properties states the sand mine is a “public necessity.” (In New Hanover County, a project must either be found to have no substantial impact on property values or is a public necessity in order to be approved for a Special Use Permit.)

Hilton Properties’ application states the project is both a public necessity, citing a report prepared by SiteTech Systems, and will not harm property values, citing a report prepared by Streamline Evaluation Services.

Nearby, readily-accessible sand is in demand, the application states. Mined sand would be used to supply infrastructure projects, including local and state road improvements.

The excavation site’s “geographic isolation,” located over 2-miles down a private road, will minimize dust or noise generated by an estimated 60-80 truck trips per day. However, nine homeowners, with property that abuts the private road, may want to install a privacy fence themselves, the application suggests.

‘Physical impossibility’

Despite 2014 data included in the application that shows groundwater levels did not meet state standards on the site, Hilton Properties maintains that no samples reveal groundwater standards exceed state standards.

GE, the original polluter and current monitor of contaminants, said it was aware of impacted groundwater that exceeds state standards.

“Yes, we are aware of impacted groundwater,” Jonathan Allen, spokesperson for GE, wrote in an email last month. “In the northwest area of the site, the monitored natural attenuation process continues to improve groundwater conditions. Closer to the main plant area we continue to recover and treat impacted groundwater for use on-site.”

The plume, detected on the northwest portion of the 4,000-plus undeveloped tract, is flowing away from concerned property owners of Wooden Shoe.

This groundwater flow pattern creates a “physical impossibility” that private wells would be impacted by excavation activities, the application claims.

Though no dewatering at the site is permitted, owners plan to excavate material four-to-six feet below the water table. Once the mining is completed, after an estimated five years of excavation, the emptied-out land will be remediated into a lake. The lake will be seven feet deep, with a bottom at mean sea level.

“This lake will both capture, contain, break down and dilute any groundwater contaminants that, however unlikely, migrate into the lake,” the application states.

Hearing in January

According to notes from the recent community meeting included in Hilton Properties’ application, some residents were disappointed by the lack of representation and participation by elected officials.

State senator-elect Harper Peterson, then a candidate, attended the meeting and encouraged community members to contact New Hanover County Commissioners and Planning Board members. Peterson suggested residents ask for longer speaking times, and organize in order to be heard.

A planning board meeting to review Hilton Properties’ Special Use Permit and conditional rezoning proposal is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 10, 2019 at 6 p.m. at the Andre’ Mallette Training Center at the New Hanover County Government Center.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

Related Articles