Tuesday, February 20, 2024

2 months left until company exhausts current sand mine, looks to expand

421 Sand wants to expand its mind onto an adjacent property on Highway 421. (Port City Daily/Copeland Jacobs)

WILMINGTON — Beaches and landfills don’t have much in common except a need for sand. 

READ MORE — Environmentalists push for community input on industrial development

421 Sand has supplied product for development and other needs in Wilmington for more than 30 years. The company is attempting to expand before the sand runs dry, which is expected to be in roughly two months. 

“We supplied New Hanover County 16 trucks of specialty sand for the protection of the landfill across the street — and that’s an average day for us,” attorney Joe Taylor of Murchison, Taylor and Gibson spoke to the planning board on Thursday evening. 

Taylor appeared in a preliminary forum to request a special use permit for the mine, located in an I-2 industrial zone designated for light and heavy industrial use since the 1970s; sand mines are only allowed in industrial zones.

421 Sand already owns the property located at 5700 block of Highway 421 North; it wants to mine at a connecting 586-acre parcel, albeit utilizing only 144 acres. But doing so is a multifarious process.

It requires the company to apply to the state for a mining permit, to explain why the mine needs to be expanded, what steps they are taking to ensure the expansion of the mine is keeping within the area it is located, and the safety of the mine from potential severe weather, like hurricanes and flooding. 

Port City Daily reached out to Jeff Earp, owner of 421 Sand, also present at the planning board meeting, to ask about specific projects and companies that use 421’s sand. Earp said he did not answer press questions, though Taylor said at the meeting its products have gone to beach renourishment programs in the region and it’s used in New Hanover County’s landfill.

Taylor said the facility is extremely important because it is the only mine in the county furnishing washed sand of a specific grade. The sand is dredged and sent to a wash plant to be graded like the sand used at the landfill; the nearest sand wash plants are in New Bern and Sampson County. 

Recycling and Solid Waste Director Joe Suleyman explained the landfill uses materials from 421 Sand for exterior slope work and covering. 

“When utilizing the 421 Sand Mine, we can average about 25 dump truck loads a day to receive enough sand to cover the waste at the end of the day,” Suleyman said.

That equates to 500 tons of sand.

At the planning board meeting nobody spoke in opposition to the mine expansion. 421 Sand’s current mine is located beside a new supply of sand. According to the planning board, it would be allowed so long as it did not endanger the health or safety of the public, injure the value of nearby property, and would be “in general harmony” with the area, consisting of industrial uses. 

421 Sand presented plans to increase the area mined to a larger kidney-like shape, which Taylor explained was to avoid mining in areas with too much salty water. An adjoining business, not named, contaminated the area with salt, Taylor said. Because the contaminated water exceeded groundwater salinity limits, and waiting for clearance to mine that specific area would’ve delayed the mine expansion, 421 Sand exempted the area from mining. 

After the informational portion of Taylor’s presentation, he and the planning board members discussed 421 Sand’s actions to mitigate flooding at the mine. It was overrun with water during Hurricane Florence. 

Taylor explained 421 would be adding a 150-foot easement to protect the water lines in the event of severe weather and the site’s location is in a special flood district. The existing 75-foot line to prevent flooding would be augmented by an additional 150-foot buffer easement. The mine would also be surrounded by a slope to stabilize the banks. 

421 Sand hired an engineering firm for a geotechnical study to determine the stability of the retaining wall slopes so they know what to expect in the case of a major flood event, according to Taylor. The report is due for completion in two weeks. 

The planning board did not vote on the mine expansion at Thursday’s meeting and the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will hear its plans at its March 18 meeting. 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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