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Proposed Vulcan mine draws fire

King George, Caroline residents speak out to Planning Commission

Black Marsh Farm owner Albert Wachtmeister says he wants to be a good neighbor to the Caroline and King George County communities, but also feels he should be able to enjoy the benefits of what he understands to be the “American Dream.”

“I moved away from a socialistic country to get this freedom,” said the Swedish national. “Socialism is no good … I should be able to do what I want to do with my own property.”

A majority of Caroline and King George residents feel otherwise. At least, that was the sentiments expressed before the Caroline County Planning Commission last week as they voiced overwhelming opposition to Wachtmeister’s bid for a special exception to the Caroline Comprehensive Plan to turn 372 acres of his tree nursery over to the Vulcan

Materials Company to mine sand and gravel along the Rappahannock River.

The planning commission has deferred a recommendation on the proposal, tabling it for an April 6 work session to discuss the matter before forwarding it on with a recommendation to the Caroline County Board of Supervisors, which will ultimately decide the fate of the request.

“I’ve tried just about everything there is to try in farming,” Wachtmeister also said in explaining his two and a half decades at Black Marsh Farm. “I’ve tried to farm vegetables; I’ve grown grain and now a tree nursery, and I’ve just about gone broke doing all of it … I should be allowed to make a living here.”

Most of the controversy surrounds the way that Vulcan will have to mine sand and gravel from the farm and how the aggregate materials will be transported to construction manufacturers. Vulcan plans to dig the materials with large dragline rigs, thereby leaving large ponds in the aftermath of the operation, then barge the sand and gravel down the Rappahannock River to the Chesapeake Bay and back up the Potomac River to Northern Virginia terminals.
King George residents, especially property owners in the Hopyard and Berry Plains areas, have expressed fears about the mine being a constant waterfront eyesore, and Caroline residents near the Black Marsh Farm have complained about future noise and dust if the mining operation is approved. The large tugs that will be used to pull the barges have also drawn criticism for potential harm to the Rappahannock’s water quality and channel depth plus posing a detriment to the river’s pristine beauty because they will open a way for further industrialization of the Rappahannock.

At the March 16 planning meeting Charles W. Payne, an attorney with the Hirschler Fleischer law firm, and Vulcan executive Tom Carroll pushed forward their views to the commission of how the mining operation at Wachtmeister’s property would affect the local area, both environmentally and economically.

Vulcan claims that Caroline County would see a $100,000 economic yearly benefit from tax payments from the mine and that four full-time jobs, at annual average salaries of $48,000, would be an added boon to the county’s retail commercial firms.

In a nutshell, and with a PowerPoint presentation, Vulcan also claims:
• Its equipment and operation would not disturb the area’s sensitive wetlands as dolphins and pilings will be installed parallel to the river bank to keep barges from the bank and protect existing vegetative plants.
• No process water discharges from the operation.
• That current pre-mining rates of nutrients entering the Rappahannock will be reduced by post mining reclamation efforts and that reclaimed sand and gravel sites will demonstrate the water quality to remain within established guidelines.
• Enhanced vegetative buffers and earthen berms will ensure that noise from mining operations will comply with county ordinances.
• That the post-mining reclaimed land can be used for farming.
• That no cultural resources (historic sites needing preservation) have been identified.
• Air quality will be maintained under the proposed plant’s “wet process” mining operation.
• That no mining will occur within the “Resource Protection Area” of the Chesapeake Bay Act.
• That no retail sales from truck traffic will occur as the barges will be the main source of transportation.
• Groundwater and local wells from aquifer sources will not be dewatered by mining operations.
• And that Vulcan remains committed to working with agencies and conservation managers to place a conservation easement over the farm prior to and after operations are concluded.
Vulcan officials previously reported that the mining operation, which represents about a $10 million of the company’s capital investment, would last a decade or two depending on consumer demand for construction aggregates.
Wachtmeister has owned Black Marsh since 1985 and says he plans to continue living on the property throughout the lease of the land to Vulcan. He reportedly first encountered Vulcan Materials while selling the company trees for another mining site. And because the property is so rich in sand, making it bad for farming, he approached the company with the mining idea.

Carroll said Vulcan plans to use many of his trees along the berms and buffers to camouflage mining operations from the Berry Plains and Hopyard areas.

“The trees are large enough (average of 20-feet tall) that the only areas visible will be the 50-foot loading area for barges,” he said.

But Vulcan claims about the future impact were disputed by many in the audience.

Carol Horton, representing what she said were the concerned citizens of Caroline County, said the mine would violate the county’s Comprehensive Plan as it zones with rural preservation in mind. She also disputed the economic impact of the mine, saying that “most of these jobs will be for non-residents of Caroline” and that the county’s fire, rescue and other services will be needed to service the proposed plant and its workers, indicating that any appreciable income would be depleted by those services.

Opposition also came from the Four Winds Golf Club and a local campground that borders the Black Marsh Farm site and complained about the likelihood of noise and dust from the plant.

Port Royal resident Dr. Angus Muir also said the silica crystal from the mining operation could be harmful to human health as they potentially pose a cancer risk if inhaled.

There was also opposition from two people saying that the area is in a flood plain and that if the river rose to past record heights it could cause catastrophic damage when augmented by a mine operation. Other Caroline and King George residents expressed fear about the future industrialization of the Rappahannock.

But Payne insisted that the river would actually be better off than before.

He also said that, “the river has been a friend to industries and residents. We were founded on the enterprise of that river and that’s why we’re all here.”
Vulcan and Wachtmeister also had several supporters among audience members, one of whom noted that even if the Vulcan workers were non-residents they would still spend money for fuel and needed items, meaning that the area would appreciate an economic impact.

Wachtmeister additionally has backing from the Virginia Virtucon, which calls itself the “Commonwealth’s Free-Market Online Home for News, Policy and Entertainment.” In it, Rappahannock Academy resident Timothy Watson blogged that “the residents of King George need to stop moaning and groaning and take care of their own mines and landfill … all the protesters need to get over it. Black Marsh is not their land. The deed does not have their names on it. We are supposed to be living in the United States of America not the United Socialist States of America.”

Doug Davant

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