NEW HANOVER COUNTY — In New Hanover County Planning Board’s first meeting of the year, board members will hear a case with a legacy of legal action. In 2014, Hilton Properties Limited Partnership’s first attempt to rezone its property for a proposed sand mine operation lead to three lawsuits with the state’s environmental agency.
On Thursday, Hilton Properties will present its case to the planning board again, four years after the property owners continued their request to rezone 63 acres off Castle Hayne Road from rural agricultural to heavy industrial. They did this to avoid the board’s denial.
New Hanover County’s staff now recommends approving the rezoning request and special use permit (SUP) to allow for a high-intensity mining operation. County staff did not disagree with Hilton Properties’ contention that its mine is a public necessity and acknowledged receipt of Hilton Properties’ economic impact analysis study.
Separate impact studies provided by the applicant were also acknowledged that show property values will not be negatively impacted. Staff said no evidence to the contrary had been submitted. The county also agreed that the plans will not harm the public. Only truck traffic, with an anticipated 60-to-80 trips per day, was identified as a concern.
Hilton Properties is requesting the same zoning change but is asking to mine on less land. Its state-issued mining permit was modified in 2014 to allow mining on 28 acres of its property, instead of the 63 acres it was initially approved for.
This reduction was partially informed by Hilton Properties’ neighbors’ efforts in opposing the permit. Twenty-one people, mostly Hilton Properties’ neighbors in Wooden Shoe, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), now known as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEW), for issuing the permit.
Two additional suits followed, but all were later settled. As recently as 2014, levels of Uranium-235 and vinyl chloride exceeded groundwater standards at the Hilton Properties site. And Hilton Properties’ neighbors all drink well water.
How did the nuclear-related toxins get there?
Hilton Properties’ proposed mine can only be accessed via a 2.3-mile private drive, Sledge Road. This road cuts through nine of Wooden Shoe’s resident’s backyards.
Adjacent to Wooden Shoe and Sledge Road is General Electric (GE) Hitachi’s Wilmington plant. GE Hitachi produces nuclear reactor fuel and has done so for decades. In the 60s and 70s, GE Hitachi dumped heavy metals — including uranium — on its own property. These chemicals later bled into Hilton Properties’ acreage, first identified in the 90s.
GE Hitachi monitors wells — at its site and at Hilton Properties’ — to test the groundwater to this day. But when Hilton Properties submitted its rezoning application to New Hanover County, with plans to excavate sand to the water table, it included no mention of the site’s history of hazardous chemicals.
Hilton Properties also failed to disclose this information in its permit application submitted to DENR. In October 2018, an attorney representing Hilton Properties told Port City Daily that the owner’s had not thought to include information on contaminants in its earlier applications.
In its staff summary and recommendation, New Hanover County did not directly address Wooden Shoe resident’s concerns about groundwater wells. Hilton Properties’ rezoning and SUP application states there is little chance for well contamination, citing an extensive hydrologic study.
Despite Hilton Properties’ prior failure to disclose information about nuclear fuel byproducts on its site, the county’s staff recommends approving the project. However, the county’s staff did include a few conditions for the planning board to consider. The North Carolina Department of Transportation reviewed Hilton Properties proposal and indicated modifications must be made to Sledge Road. Specific improvements are not available, the summary states.
These potential recommendations include:
- A wooden fence or vegetative buffer could be installed by Hilton Properties along the road where the nine residential neighbors are located
- Maintaining average business day operating hours
- Enforcing a speed limit and installing speed bumps
- Use a watering truck or irrigation method near residential neighbors
- Add asphalt or rock aggregate on the road near residential neighbors
New Hanover County Planning Board will meet Thursday, Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. The meeting’s location has changed due to Hurricane Florence, and will be held at the André Mallette Training Center. Hilton Properties’ request is the first item on the agenda.
Update: This article has been updated to correct the number of trips per day the applicant estimates will occur if the sand mine is approved.
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