Quarry meeting attracts hundreds, provides answers

Hundreds packed the Vincent Middle/High School gym Thursday night to hear a panel of experts dissect questions about a proposed limestone quarry.

White Rock Quarries president Jim Hurley first attempted to quell some controversy by reassuring the crowd of the company’s intent to be good neighbors.

“We go in with a clean sheet of paper, and we start the project, and we do it right,” he said. “Our goal is to take good employees and make them better employees.”

He also reiterated White Rock’s commitment to keeping their people safe and their land safe.

“Safety is job No. 1 for us. Protecting the environment is job No. 2,” Hurley said.

The question-and-answer session, which consisted of questions previously sent in by Vincent citizens, kicked off with a query about property values declining.

Rob Fowler, an environmental attorney with Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham, said property values would actually increase with a quarry in the community. As proof, he offered up the rising property values in Alabaster, Calera and Helena — the three Shelby County communities with quarries.

The property values for Alabaster rose 45 percent in the 10 years from 1998 to 2007, from an average value of about $127,000 per home to a value of about $185,000 per home.

Calera’s property values have risen by 39 percent, while Helena’s property values have risen more than 70 percent in the same time period. For the county as a whole, property values rose almost 35 percent during those 10 years, Fowler said.

The panel also answered questions about hours of operation, whether the company would hire locally, truck traffic, additional train traffic, and water quality issues, among others.

When asked why the company bought 1,000 acres of land before ensuring the project would succeed, economic development lawyer Alex Leath said having the property first was essential.

“That’s the only way a project like this can be successful,” he said. “We believed we could convince this community to support the project if we owned the property.”

Leath also said if White Rock had publicized the plan before buying the land, competitors could have bought the land out from under them.

Fowler rejected the idea that White Rock is carrying out illegal contract zoning by promising the town $1.65 million if the quarry succeeds.

“We came up with this plan without talking to a single city council member,” he said. “How can this be a contract when no one else is involved? We want you to evaluate this project solely on the facts.”

Fowler said it ultimately is the town council’s responsibility to make the decision for Vincent’s citizens.

“We expect your mayor and your city council to take a long, hard look at this and make an independent decision,” he said.

QUARRY FAST FACTS:

-The quarry will not be in operation 24 hours a day.

-After all three phases of the quarry are complete, approximately 123 people will be employed. Nearly all will be hired from the local community.

-After the three phases are complete, the payroll would be $7.3 million.

-For the first phase, White Rock expects to use 25 trucks per day.

-The project should add one train per day.

-There will be online notification of blasting schedules. The quarry will not blast on Sundays or holidays.

-The quarry sound levels will reportedly be lower than the sound levels already in the Vincent community.

-White Rock may consider buying more adjacent property once the quarry is completed.