BOONE — The nonprofit environmental activist group High Country WATCH — Wataugans Against Toxins Close to Home — is calling upon county citizens to attend a public demonstration/protest rally on April 16 after the Supreme Court of North Carolina declined to hear an appeal in the Rainbow Trail asphalt plant case.
The denial was made on March 27, meaning Appalachian Materials could potentially proceed with construction of an asphalt plant in the area of Rainbow Trail. The group also mentioned the proposed Maymead plant on U.S. Highway 421 in Deep Gap.
The group is asking citizens to show up to the Watauga County Courthouse on West King Street while wearing green at 4:30 p.m. prior to the County Commissioners’ 5:30 p.m. meeting.
“The public is encouraged to attend the demonstration and lend support to commissioners as they seek a solution,” the group said in a statement.
“It is clear that the county commissioners must implement a firm and swift approach to limiting high-impact development in Watauga County,” the group said in a statement. “The citizens of Watauga County have the right to expect and demand protections for their health, their kids’ health and their homes and our local environment’s beautiful mountains and streams. Our government officials need to hear our voice.”
The case started in 2015 when Appalachian Materials LLC, which is affiliated with Radford Quarries, appealed a decision by county Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman to deny a high-impact land use permit for an asphalt plant on Rainbow Trail.
Appalachian Materials appealed in July 2015 to the Watauga County Board of Adjustment. Sharon and Terry Covell, homeowners whose property was located next to the proposed asphalt plant, and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League Inc., subsequently filed motions to intervene as parties to the developer’s appeal.
After the appeal was heard October 2015, the board upheld Furman’s decision. Appalachian Materials appealed to Watauga County Superior Court in December 2015 and the case was heard in 2017. Superior Court Judge Gregory Horne affirmed the board’s decision on Sept. 8, 2017.
In November 2018, a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously reversed and remanded the Watauga County Superior Court decision — stating that the Gragg Educational Center, the school’s central office, did not qualify as an educational facility under the high-impact land use ordinance. The ordinance at the time barred high-impact uses within 1,500 feet of an educational facility.
“Appalachian Materials is very pleased that the appellate court’s ruling has been upheld,” D.J. Cecile, manager of Appalachian Materials, previously told the Watauga Democrat. “At this time, Appalachian Materials intends to proceed with situating an asphalt plant at the Rainbow Trail site.”
di Santi Watson Capua Wilson & Garrett represented Watauga County in the case.
“We are working to arrange a conference with Watauga County representatives to discuss the decision and next steps,” the law firm’s Chelsea Garrett said on April 3. “We disagree with and are very disappointed with the decision, and are concerned for the residents in the Rainbow Trail area.”
According to High Country WATCH, a group of concerned citizens, environmental groups and affected property owners gathered to discuss options following the ruling. It contends that the asphalt plant would be in the middle of a neighborhood and near several buildings used by schools — such as Hardin Park Elementary, Grace Academy and Boone United Methodist Preschool.
“This high-impact facility would be literally in the front and back yards of families who will see property values fall and their health compromised by tons of toxic emissions,” the nonprofit said in a statement.
Other concerns the group voiced were traffic issues on N.C. 194 and the threat of water pollution.
For more information on High Country WATCH, visit www.highcountrywatch.com.