What to do when you want to dig dirt or blast rocks, and the neighbors have problems with that? Seemingly, politics to the rescue -- again.
Back in 2009, I wrote about the residents just over the county line on Fayetteville's west boundary, who felt abused financially, emotionally, psychologically and physically from noise, dust, truck traffic, etc. For 14 years they've been in a fight to save what semblance of sanity they have left after a limestone blasting quarry was permitted next to their homes and farms. Now the quarry wants to blast apart another 107 acres or more, and these exhausted citizens have to enter the fray ... again.
Recently, the Washington County Quorum Court and Planning Board voted to approve this expansion. These officials thereby are essentially saying, "tough luck" to residents, who have long been suffering from this perpetual nuisance. For years, social, governmental and environmental injustice has been heaped upon those living near the Farmington Quarry on Hamestring Road owned by the Hunt-Rogers Group. Theirs is a seemingly endless history of permits approved, disapproved, reversed, grandfathered in, voted up, voted down and, worst of all, ignored.
As expected, the old song that this region needs crushed rock for roads and other construction is being sung, but it rings hollow if we learn who's really paying the externalized costs of the quarry. If those who own homes and farms must lose their daily quality of life, thus their property value, for the benefit of public or private wants, they should be compensated or those projects should be denied. People can't financially just walk away from mortgages, farms, livestock and homes nor duplicate them elsewhere in today's economy.
Over time the county has continued to let a dirt farm (clay) and smaller quarry grow into a large limestone operation, and neighbors say it is continually out of compliance of agreed-upon standards. Homeowner Roma Gray says, "We suffer intense mental health stress from the constant, unavoidable, inescapable noise of this industrial mining process. The noise is from dump trucks, backup beepers, heavy equipment, rock crushers and water pumps. We endure massive dynamite blasts that shake our houses, and we feel the earth move under our feet."
She said contrary to large-scale development regulations, roads are not kept cleaned of debris and trucks are often not tarp covered to keep down dust and keep materials from falling out. The current horror facing these people after this latest vote approving expansion was the Quorum Court removing the few concessions won back in 2009. Blasting limits have gone from once a week to unlimited blasts (with notifications); truck traffic count from 200 per day now increased to unlimited trips; set hours of operation now have no limits Monday through Thursday and must end by 5 p.m. on Fridays, noon on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Rumbling at 5:30 a.m. has been noticed.
The "criteria for allowance of conditional uses" in the county states: "That the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the conditional use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare." Also, "That the conditional use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the surrounding area for the purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish and impair property values within the ... area."
Speaking of our county government ignoring its own rules, Ms. Gray said, "It feels like a complete betrayal when their duty is to protect us from this very type of endangerment."
Not least of concerns certainly are the increasing impacts on Hamestring Creek, near one side of quarry property. This creek feeds into a tributary of the Illinois River, a major watershed artery of great importance to Arkansas and Oklahoma. Because of the karst limestone geology the water is susceptible to pollution, which can drain into streams, ponds, wells, wetlands and, therefore, into rivers, of course.
Organizing as the NWA Citizen's Alliance for Property Rights with a Facebook presence, the area citizens felt they had no choice than to appeal the Quorum Court decision to the circuit court. Consequently they have opened a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/f/nwacapr with information about the issues. Their mission statement: We seek to empower our members to collectively protect, defend and preserve our property rights, natural resources, water, public health, safety, human rights and environment; and to educate the public about threats and issues that endanger such values.
We all share some responsibility in this bad situation. Let's help them out.