Tuesday, February 17, 2009

West Fayetteville Citizens for Environmental Quality step up against red-dirt farm, limestone quarry

The story linked below is about as good as it gets for coverage of local resident/environmental groups' meetings. However, it is important to note one mistake, a mistake that may explain why comments about red dirt in water-quality discussions never get quoted by local reporters.
Red dirt is misunderstood.
Red dirt is not "rich, red dirt." A soil expert may be able to tell us about "rich, red dirt" someplace on earth. But "red dirt" in Northwest Arkansas is not topsoil even when one sees it on the surface. The natural topsoil has been removed by the mining process of scraping away the soil found above it.
The red dirt found in Northwest Arkansas is non-organic dirt that will not sustain life. It is stone and clay that has been hidden under a layer of organic soil for eons.
"If God had been proud of red dirt, God would not have buried it out of sight," said one Northwest Arkansas natural-resource conservationist speaking about its use on construction sites.
Road-builders and contractors putting up buildings use red dirt for foundation material. Some engineers and planners and developers call red dirt "good dirt" for their purposes. However, red dirt is the opposite of good for growing food or trees or flowering plants. Contractors who spill it beyond the bounds of a foundation quickly hide it under a layer of some type of organic soil that will at least grow a bit of grass.
But that means the possibility of raising a healthy garden or having a tree grow successfully for the long term is impossible forever, or at least until the red dirt is removed! Whole subdivisions may be found with solid red dirt where truly rich almost black topsoil formerly created fertile prairie land with the immense potential for agriculture and wildlife habitat. NOTHING LIVES IN OR ON RED DIRT. Human beings and other living things depend on organic soil for their existence.
Basically, red dirt-covered development sites are as impervious to water as paved lots. Stormwater runs off rapidly because it cannot soak in. The elements that erode from red dirt discolor streams and lakes and rivers and the silt doesn't stop discoloring the water for a long, long time. Native lIfe in streams decreases permanently after such changes in the watershed.
So, please, editors and reporters, let's not use the words "rich" and "red dirt" together. Certainly, people selling lots of red dirt may be enriched. But their product is not "rich" as an agricultural or environmental expert would use the word.
West Fayetteville serious about fighting red-dirt and limestone quarry

Neighbors decry noise, effects of blasting at Big Red Dirt Farm
BY DUSTIN TRACY Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Tuesday, February 17, 2009
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/nwat/News/74075/
They're tired of the blasting, they're tired of the noise at all hours of the night and they certainly don't want to see the Big Red Dirt Farm, just off Hamstring Road north of Wedington Drive, converted into a limestone quarry.

That's why members of the West Fayetteville Citizens for Environmental Quality asked Ward 4 Aldermen Shirley Lucas and Sarah Lewis at the group's meeting Monday for the City Council's help in the battle against what has become a noisy, arguably dangerous, big hole in a number of resident's backyard.

"Quarry blasting on the edge of city limits can't be a good thing," Dave Bolen, president of the group, said.

The issue dates back to 2004, when about 50 acres were purchased by the William G. Sweetser Trust and A. Brad Johnson, who began farming the land for its rich, red dirt. Soon, the company decided to harvest the pillars of limestone that ran up through the dirt. Bolen said that was when his headaches started.

"They decided to fire up a rock crusher at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night," Bolen told Lucas and Lewis.

Washington County got involved when Bolen contacted his local justice of the peace who set up a meeting with Bolen and the site's owners. Bolen said the noise stopped for a little while, but picked up again and with greater force.

The situation became more tense when the Big Red Dirt Farm's owners decided they wanted to convert the property into a quarry and harvest the limestone base that had been revealed through the dig process, an operation that would require even more blasting.

Bolen said the company had to go to the Washington County Planning Commission to receive a conditional-use permit for the conversion. It was denied on a 3-1 vote on Sept. 18 because commissioners felt the switch was incompatible with the surrounding development, which is mostly residential with some agricultural.

The Big Red Dirt Farm did not like the commission's decision and decided to get a second opinion, Bolen said, this time from 4th Circuit Court Judge Mark Lindsay. The court date is set for March 9-10.

"If they are allowed to convert it into a quarry, and this is from the owners, the quarry will have a lifetime of 75 years. The people who would close down that quarry haven't even been born yet," Jim Gallagher, one of residents affected by the farm, said.

Bolen said Monday night the 130 residents affected by the possible conversion have come together, have hired an attorney and will file a petition today asking Lindsay to allow the residents to be helpers against the lawsuit the owners of the farm have filed.

To further help the situation, Bolen asked the two aldermen on Monday to intervene into the current situation, regardless of the lawsuit, because the pit is beginning to drag down the property values of his land and his neighbors land

Even though the dig site is currently outside the city limits, it is within its planning area. Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams, who was present at the meeting Monday, said the City Council can have some say over an entity outside the city limits that is causing a nuisance to residents within the city limits, similar to the situation six years ago on the south side of Fayetteville at Thunder Valley Race Track.

Williams said in that case residents complained about things like the noise and the fumes. Even though the track was outside city limits, the city was allowed by law to label it a nuisance and regulate the tracks hours.

"If you all use your political power and petition your government for help, they might be able to regulate and even stop the blasting," Williams told the group.

Lucas and Lewis both said they would work on the issue and hopefully bring it before the Council within the next month, but more information on how the farm and its work is adversely affecting residents around it would be helpful. Williams said evidence of limestone dust affecting peoples health and explosions disturbing people's water wells would be very helpful in solidifying the city's case to declare the farm a nuisance.

"I'd rather move slower and have it done right," Williams said after the meeting.

He also recommended that residents showing up in force at the City Council meeting the issue is presented at to help convince aldermen.

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