Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Sand mine proposed for Brunswick County, contingent on rezoning request

A Brunswick County landowner, along with a concrete contractor, seek to establish a sand mine along N.C. Highway 211 near Oak Island. The mine could fuel construction activities in nearby St. James. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY—With the hopes of creating a sand mine that can fuel the needs of surrounding developments, a Brunswick County property owner is asking to rezone a portion of his 242-acre property north of Oak Island. 

Jason Smith owns the rural land, which is currently vacant and bisected by N.C. Highway 211. He said Randy Hardee approached him about building a sand mine on the site. 

“There’s no houses going in there, period,” Smith said. “He called me, wanting to know if he could explore the possibility, and I said, ‘Sure.’” 

Hardee, who is listed as the applicant for the rezoning request, said only 60-70 acres of the site would likely be employed for the mining operation. There are substantial wetlands on the site, according to planning staff notes. Smith’s land is worth nearly $890,000, according to property records. 

Sand mining involves extracting the raw substance from the earth, which then is utilized in construction materials like concrete, or as an abrasive.

“All we’re going to be doing is digging with an excavator, and loading it on trucks and hauling it out,” Hardee said. “We’ve got to get it rezoned and then we have to ask for a mining permit.” 

The 242 acres are currently zoned Medium Density Residential. Hardee applied to rezone the property to Rural Low Density Residential — as some mining facilities are permitted by-right under that designation, according to Brunswick County senior planner Marc Pages. 

Pages added that because the rezoning request is not conditional — meaning the county cannot make specific asks of the developer — Brunswick officials must consider all the potential uses for the site.

“The owner could turn around the next day and sell it to whomever,” Pages said. Light industrial or commercial facilities, as well as agricultural projects, could be also permitted uses under the zoning tag Hardee seeks. 

Globally, sand mining is a $70 billion industry, according to the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association estimates. “Most of the sand used by international industry has to be obtained from coastal or riverine beds, as wind-shaped desert sand is unsuitable for many purposes,” according to the association’s website. 

The ASBPA goes as far to say: “Some experts have even dubbed sand the 21st century’s most valuable natural resource — behind only water and air in the amount used every year.”

The subject site is located roughly in the vicinity of the red circle, along N.C. Highway 211 and just west of the Town of St. James. The installation of a sand mine would allow for easier transportation of construction materials, Hardee said. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Brunswick County)

Hardee said the sand mine in Brunswick County will support construction activities for St. James Plantation. 

St. James was incorporated as a town in 1999, and is located approximately 30 miles south of Wilmington. Its territory is bordered to the north by N.C. Highway 211 — a few minutes drive from the potential sand mine site. 

“It will be a great asset for all the builders up in St. James and the other developments around,” said Hardee, who added that freshwater lakes will be created on the site. 

St. James Plantation is a coastal community that encompasses more than 5,000 property owners, hundreds of boat storage units and 81 golf holes. 

According to Hardee, the plantation’s developers have to trek lengthy distances for construction materials. The proximity of the potential sand mine to the development could ease that strain, he said, and the plantation’s developers have expressed an interest. 

Representatives of St. James Plantation did not immediately respond to an interview request. 

“It is imperative to the viability of this project to have direct access to a major highway,” the rezoning application packet noted. 

According to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, the state typically rakes in $500 million per year from mineral production. Sand and gravel are mined in about half of N.C.’s counties. Data from 2019 indicates that around 80 mines in Brunswick County have been catalogued, while around 40 of those are considered active mines. 

A spokesperson for the DEQ said mining applications follow a standard process

Pages said he thought Hardee might intend on offering raw materials for a N.C. Department of Transportation project set to begin construction this year — the widening of N.C. Highway 211. A spokesperson for the DOT said its contractors, not the department itself, deals with those matters. 

“They’re going to need a lot of dirt,” Pages said. 

The Brunswick County Planning Board will consider the application during its March 8 meeting.

Correction: The company originally mentioned in the article, Hardee Brothers Grading Inc., was incorrectly attributed to the sand mine operation.

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