With the resolve to protect their city painted on their faces, over 70 citizens packed into the Lee County Commission Chamber to voice their opposition to the purposed quarry in Opelika, and the Lee County Commission heard them.
“All of these folks live in Lee County, too. They may live in Opelika. They may live in Auburn or Beauregard, but they are Lee County citizens,” said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller. “The people of Opelika and Auburn and Lee County have banded together to oppose this.”
The Lee County Commission unanimously decided to vote in favor of drafting a resolution to oppose the building of the proposed quarry and to submit a letter to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management requesting a public hearing.
In January, Creekwood Resources applied for an Air Permit, which would authorize the construction and operation of a granite-crushing, screening and conveying operation, according to a statement by the City of Opelika.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Creekwood Resources also applied for insurance of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit, which is used for the discharge of treated drainage from a wet and dry preparation granite quarry to groundwater.
Creekwood Resources provided the following statement to The Plainsman after being asked for an interview:
"Creekwood Resources is committed to becoming a good neighbor and corporate citizen. We understand there are concerns, and we welcome the opportunity to address each. There are myths being generated concerning potentially harmful impacts, and we respectfully want to provide information on the facts."
In the time since the applications were filed, Fuller has been leading the fight against the proposed quarry and gathering support from all over Lee County.
“I’ve seen our communities come together on many occasions,” Fuller said. “I think we have another example here.”
One of the primary concerns brought forward by those who oppose the quarry is the impact it will have on the Saugahatchee Lake, which is located less than two miles away from the proposed quarry site.
According to Guy Gunter, the Opelika city attorney, Saugahatchee is the primary source for the City of Opelika and serves as a backup water supply for every community in the Lee County area.
“All of the rural water authorities depend on this source of water for a backup, in case something happens to their wells or other sources of water,” Gunter said. “A loss of Saugahatchee Lake would be of enormous consequence to all the citizens of Lee County, Alabama.”
Gunter also noted the detriment this quarry would pose to residents of Lee County, noting noise and air pollution among his concerns.
“To construct a quarry in the midst of all this residential development, there will be a lot of impact — not only noise and dust,” Gunter said. “The dust can also contain silica, which is a carcinogen.”
The Opelika School Board previously voted to write a resolution opposing the approval of the quarry because of the pollution concerns. Members of the school board voiced concern for their students because of the possible danger of contaminated drinking water and polluting the air quality with harmful sediments and exhaust fumes.
“I wonder why is it they are concerned about which direction the wind is going to be blowing,” said Banks Herndon, a lawyer based in Opelika. “Is the reason that there will be something in the air that will be harmful to the citizens of Lee County, something like the carcinogens?”
During the Lee County Commission meeting, Herndon discussed a “publication” from Creekwood Resources that states some of the “nonnegotiable conditions” that must be met before establishing a site.
“Here is one of those paramount and non-negotiable factors: that the quarry must be located downwind, not upwind, from the nearest metropolitan area,” Herndon said.
The City of Auburn also voiced their support for Opelika at the last City Council meeting and plans to draft its own resolution to oppose the quarry.
Mayor Ron Anders said the resolution draft will be included in the next City Council meeting packet and anticipates it will be approved.
Anders said his primary concern about the quarry is the potential impact on Saugahatchee, as it is a “secondary source of water for Auburn citizens.”
“It will also be built right next to Storybook Farm, which is an outstanding nonprofit in our community,” Anders said. “There is a potential danger to our water source, there is a ministry out there that blesses our family that could be interested, and the people of Lee County are concerned, and I want to be supportive of their concern.”
For Dena Little, founder of Storybook Farm, a nonprofit that helps children who are abused, living in poverty or experiencing mental health issues, the stakes are simple: If the quarry is built, Storybook Farm will no longer exist.
The quarry is slated for an area that is 1,000 yards away from the nonprofit that helps around 1,500 children each year, Little said.
“I do not feel like I could provide an environment that is 100% safe for these children if this quarry gets through,” Little said. “We’re gravely concerned right now.”
Storybook Farm provides equine therapy, nature explorations and canine companionship to children all across the state.
Little said that families who visit are often impressed by how quiet and peaceful the place is.
If the quarry is built, however, the noise pollution is going to jeopardize all of that tranquility, she said.
“There’s simply no possible way Storybook Farm survives if this quarry happens — it’s that simple,” Little said. “We need everyone to start signing letters.”
Haley Steele is the donor relations coordinator for Storybook Farm and received her masters in communication from Auburn University in 2018.
She said students who care about Storybook Farm’s survival need to help through their activism.
“A quarry going here is going to have insurmountable effects on who this community is and the fabric of who Auburn and Opelika are,” Steele said. “Getting everyone on-board on campus is going to make a huge difference. ... This is a ride or die moment for us.”
Steele said she encourages students who have volunteered before to help.
On their website, hopeonhorses.org, there is a template letter that people can sign to support Storybook Farm.
Members of the Lee County Commission shared their own experiences fighting other quarries in the past and offered advice to the citizens who attended the meeting.
“I’d like to encourage each and every citizen here to submit a letter or a written request for a public hearing to ADEM,” said Richard LaGrand, District 4 committee member. “No later than 9 o’clock, Feb. 20.”
Johnny Lawrence said he also had experience dealing with ADEM in 2007 as a new commissioner.
He advised that citizens make sure to focus on the air and water quality in their letters.
“When you write your letters, emotion is okay, but we have to stay on the facts,” Lawrence said. “There is nothing simple about rock quarries. If they have got their heart set on this spot, then it will be hard to forgo this operation unless we’re diligent.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman