A rezoning approval this week has laid the foundation for a proposed asphalt plant to be constructed in the Roseboro area of N.C. 24, which project proponents said would be an economic boon for what it expected to be a burgeoning area. Others expressed environmental and property impacts the plant would bring.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request by Barnhill Contracting Company to rezone approximately 31.26 acres located along Autry Highway (N.C. 24) and Boren Brick Road from RA-Residential Agriculture to I-Industrial. The issue was considered at Monday’s regular meeting, at which many spoke for and against the project.
Attorney Ben Warrick, representing the applicant, said the project would create jobs and increase the county tax base.
“They’ve done little jobs, big jobs … Barnhill has been working in this county for years, they own property in this county and we think the area they have chosen to place this asphalt plant for the 24 widening is the ideal place,” said Warrick.
Warrick introduced several people speaking in support of the project, as well as explaining what it would entail.
John Swope, executive director of Sampson County Economic Development, said the N.C. 24 project would provide opportunities for industrial sites along the Hwy 24 corridor.
“With the improvements that are going to be made that is going to be a great connection for our industry in and around Sampson County to get to I-95 or to the Fayetteville area,” said Swope. “This also provides Sampson County an opportunity to see industrial sites on N.C. 24.”
With Boren Brick (now Hanson Brick) already established there, Swope said the site has access to county water and natural gas, increasing its potential for industrial development. Swope said similar industrial site development would be sought with the N.C. 24 corridor expanding.
“I just wanted to lend support to the idea of developing in and around the Boren Brick area,” said Swope, “and tell you that we are looking to develop as much as we can the N.C. 24 corridor as a new asset for Sampson County.”
Sampson ‘needs’ plant
Roland Hall, former mayor of Roseboro and county economic development proponent, expressed his support of the proposed request. Hall said western Sampson County needs jobs and business growth, and the rezoning request went along with the county’s land use initiative to designate more industrial and manufacturing operations along N.C. 24.
“Barnhill Contracting needs to build this plant in order to supply the asphalt needed to pave N.C. 24 as well as other customers in the region,” said Hall, a member of the Roseboro Town Council for 21 years. “During the past 21 years, we and local business leaders have worked for and encouraged more economic development and community development for the town and western Sampson County. There has been very little industrial expansion in this area of the county for the last 30 years.”
He listed a number of the business and industry losses over the years, including the Roseboro Cotton Mill, Blue Diamond Plastic Pipe, Butler Furniture, Spell Furniture, Caison’s Clothing Store, Dodger Apparel Sewing Plant, Tart and West Drug Store and two new car dealerships, including Roseboro Ford and Owens Chevrolet, along with several small businesses along Roseboro’s Main Street and other locations.
“The loss of 400-plus jobs during this period of time has been very difficult for us,” said Hall, who noted many new and expanding industry locating in and around Clinton. He encouraged the board to approve the rezoning request by Barnhill, which he said he felt would be a good corporate partner that would create and retain much-needed jobs in Sampson. “Sampson County needs the investment and the jobs associated with this new plant. Roseboro and western Sampson County need to increase business activity.”
Gordon Rose of Call Sign Engineers, responsible for siting the Barnhill Contracting project, said the project was actually amended in order to heed the requests of adjoining property owners. The initial project site of 46.25 acres was decreased to 31.3 acres to give more buffer space for surrounding properties, leaving two tracts — 5.8 acres and 8 acres — as Residential Agriculture.
Rose reiterated the existence of utilities as a reason for the rezoning request at the location across from Hanson Brick.
Skip Partington, vice president of Barnhill’s Southeast Division, said the former Barnhill asphalt plant located on North Peavine Road in the Faison area does not have access to natural gas, prompting the company’s move. Other industrial sites were also deemed unsuitable for development due to environmental concerns and limited size.
“We’ll be moving the Faison plant from there hopefully to this site,” said Partington. “There will be 80 to 90 people on the Highway 24 project hired to widen the existing roadway. It will be a combination of existing (employees) and new.”
Rose said he believed the company had made a complete application, was in compliance with the Sampson County Land Use Plan and would meet all requirements of current state regulations to protect adjoining properties. Partington said the company proposed to operate a plant in Roseboro for the foreseeable future.
“We feel like this area is up and coming,” Partington added. “The strategic location of this plant will allow us to access Fayetteville and also hopefully, when the rest of 24 gets widened, access to I-40, plus service Clinton, Roseboro and the adjacent communities.”
Commissioner Albert Kirby called Barnhill a “reputable company,” and probed the environmental aspect a bit further.
Addressing concerns by residents of crop damage, Rose showed other Barnhill asphalt plants in Lumberton, one with a corn field nearby and the other adjacent to a soybean field, and said there was no damage to those crops. All regulations would have to be followed, including those governing particulate matter, air quality and emissions.
“If a permit is granted, the facility will conduct ongoing on-site testing to demonstrate compliance with air quality standards,” said Rose, who noted that the site can have issues with dust from time to time.
Partington and Rose said they have received complaints in the past at other plants concerning dust, but have addressed them by spraying water during particularly dry times of the year. That same practice would be carried out at the proposed Roseboro plant.
Wayne Butler, of 369 Boren Brick Road, said he has lived in the community all his life.
“I know a lot of us here are for progress. We’re not against progress,” said Butler. “That piece of land they want to build this asphalt plant on is as fine a piece of farmland as you could step your feet on.”
He said he knew the road was coming through, and the area expanding, but asked whether an arrangement could be made elsewhere on N.C. 24. Butler said he knew Barnhill would do their best to run a clean operation, but expressed his concerns about declining property values and the eyesore it would leave if the proposed plant facility was closed down or relocated in the future.
“Yes, I do object to them coming there. I do not want to see an asphalt plant there,” he said. “If they ever did move though, would that be too much to ask to clean it up and not to just leave it? The roads coming through and I know things are going to get done, but we’re losing our land little by little. Why not use a piece of land that is not farmland?”
He thanked the board for their consideration, saying he wished everybody the best and hoped everything worked out for the best. Gloria Gray of 2227 Pleasant Union Road and Butler’s sister also spoke in opposition of the rezoning request, citing pollution and the use of quality land. James Gray, of 2026 Pleasant Union Road, shared the same concerns.
“I’m sure these guys are great neighbors, but who are the next neighbors going to be?” Gray posed to the board. “That scares me. I’ve lived there all my life and it’s a great place to live. We played baseball and basketball in those yards and that corner is a very sacred place to me. I don’t want an asphalt plant there.”
Close to a dozen people spoke in opposition to the plant at a previous Planning Board meeting, citing traffic, environmental hazards and property values as the primary reasons for their opposition. Gray said that contingent was not present Monday, but he wanted to make his voice heard.
“I cannot leave here and not say something,” said Gray. “If it goes through, I’ll be right down the road. We’ll keep an eye on them and make sure they’re doing what they need to do. Vote your conscience. We vote you guys in too.”
Kirby said the comments represented the crux of the dilemma the county board is now facing — a county steeped in its agricultural heritage that would have to entertain industrial prospects as a source of tax revenue to sustain county operations.
“We cannot at this crossroads ignore other types of industry. Farming is not supporting our tax base in a way that would prevent tax increases,” said Kirby. “We have to try to get other forms of income and jobs into the county. That’s the dilemma you’re faced with. If we don’t aggressively bring in industry and businesses, and manufacturing jobs, and sustain the services we have, we’ll end up having to raise taxes. And we have taxed our people to the limit.”
The only way to address the issue is to bring in other tax sources, in the form of proposed plants like Barnhill and Enviva, Kirby noted.
“I most certainly understand your concern,” said Kirby. “We wouldn’t be doing our duty if we didn’t look into (bringing in industry).”
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland said he has been “pro-business” and could not on one hand support other plants around the county and then go against that line of thinking when he knew the families affected or the proposed project was nearer to his backyard.
“I have to be consistent in the rationale I use,” said Strickland. “I’ll tell you one thing, if they do not live up to their word and who I think they are, I will be their worst enemy. You have my promise. But I believe in Barnhill, but at the same time I believe in (residents’) feelings as well.”
The board subsequently approved the rezoning request.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.