By Richard Rourk
The Town of Unicoi board of mayor and aldermen tackled many subjects during its Feb. 18 meeting, but it was one item that was removed from the agenda that garnered the most attention. Ordinance 2021-284, an ordinance to rezone property on Bill Garland Road and Marbleton Road from A-1 (General Agricultural) District To M-2 (Heavy Industrial) District, was removed from the BMA’s agenda hours before the start of the meeting at the request of contractor Summers-Taylor Inc.
Concerned citizens, including members of Unicoi Clear and many town residents, took the opportunity to express their concerns about a proposed asphalt plant being located in Unicoi.
“I have not seen an asphalt plant operating in Unicoi since I moved here, and that was 2014,” said Unicoi resident Jean Mull. “My daddy worked in an asphalt plant all of his life and died from lung issues. I have a brother that is sick with the same issue. All of my siblings and I have asthma from growing up near that asphalt plant.”
The proposed asphalt plant has been a controversial subject for months. Recently, Summers-Taylor purchased two acres that were home to the Construction Asphalt Paving Services (CAPS) plant with the intent of operating an asphalt plant on the land. The two acres of land have changed hands several times, but with each sale the non-conforming status transferred. When the town was incorporated, the site was grandfathered in. The land has been listed as agricultural and not manufacturing. In addition to the two acres that housed the former CAPS, Summers-Taylor has bought an additional 13 acres of land surrounding the former CAPS and is requesting that the entire 15 acres be rezoned from agriculture to heavy manufacturing.
If the BMA votes to rezone the property, some citizens are concerned about what could happen to the land. “If you look at the timeline of requests from Summers-Taylor, there are patterns,” said Margaret Lewis, a member of Unicoi Clear. “I keep hearing about Summers-Taylor wanting to be a good neighbor, and their actions are not what a good neighbor does. They should come to town and talk with you. They should tell you what their plans are, and they should show you the truth.”
Unicoi Clear member Court Lewis elaborated on concerns about how the asphalt plant would be monitored. “They would be self-monitoring and sending a report once a month to the Tennessee Division of Air Pollution Control,” he said. “They were recently cited because citizens reported that they were operating on days they weren’t permitted, so that is the good neighbor behavior we can expect. These plants will operate how they want, and if they get caught then they will just make excuses. That is just the way these things are.”
Another concern that the citizens in attendance voiced regarded the amount of asphalt that will be produced and the number of heavy trucks that will be driving in and out of the site, damaging roads. “This plant could make up to 100,000 tons of asphalt a year,” said Michele Warner, also a Unicoi Clear member. “If they operate 10 months a year, that’s 10,000 tons a month. If a truck holds 20 tons of asphalt, that’s 500 loads a month. Working 20 days a month, that is 25 loads a day. That’s a lot of heavy trucks tearing up our roads, dropping asphalt and spreading the smell everywhere.”
Town of Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen read a prepared letter to the crowd that stated an asphalt plant would be operating in Unicoi.
“Summers-Taylor removed their request for rezoning by email,” Bullen said. “I have heard that there may be some varying information out there, so I put together a letter. The city attorney and this board have been very diligent in reviewing all of the information, and hear me when I say, there will be an asphalt plant in the Town of Unicoi. That’s not negotiable. Where the asphalt plant will be located and what it will look like is the issue.”
Bullen explained that the concerns of Unicoi Clear have been heard. “Unicoi Clear has been adamant with their efforts to be heard and let me say, we hear you,” Bullen said.
The Town of Unicoi BMA is set to hear a request on Ordinance 2021-284 asking for the rezoning of property that is owned by Summers-Taylor from agriculture to heavy industrial during its March 15 BMA meeting.
In other business, the BMA voted unanimously to approve road improvement studies for Massachusetts Avenue and Paddle Creek Road. “These are requests to have Tysinger Hampton and Partners to come give us an estimate on the cost for a study to be done on those road projects,” Bullen said. “This is a two-step process.” There have been numerous issues reported including flooding issues with the two roadways.
“I think these road projects are long overdue,” Town of Unicoi Vice Mayor Roger Cooper said. “We have road problems and flooding problems and for years we’ve been hearing that something needs to be done. We are looking at taking on the projects of the town and this is one of the biggest ones.” According to Cooper, patience will be required while taking on the project of road repair. “It could take two to three years to complete this project,” Cooper said. “We won’t know until we get this study done.”