By Richard Rourk
The forecast was cold and snowy but feelings were at a boiling point inside Unicoi Elementary School Gym on Monday, Feb. 1, during the Unicoi Planning Commission meeting to discuss a proposed asphalt plant inside the town. Town of Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen and the BMA decided to move the site of the planning commission meeting to allow for more input from the community.
“There are a lot of people interested in this and I want them to be heard,” Bullen said about moving the meeting from town hall to the Unicoi Elementary gym. “There is a lot of passion behind it.” Concerns around the proposed plant began during a June 15, 2020 Town of Unicoi BMA meeting. It was then that it was announced that Summers-Taylor purchased the land that was home to the Construction Asphalt Paving Services (CAPS) plant. “There has been some confusion and misconceptions out there, but we will only operate as one plant. We will be tearing down the CAPS plant and rebuilding on the same spot with updated equip-ment,” Summers-Taylor President Grant Summers said during the June 15 meeting. “The plant that we are intending to build is newer and with better emissions and can produce more than the previous plant.” Many concerned citizens oppose the proposed asphalt plant. “We are concerned about an increase of hazardous gaseous emissions,”
Dr. Charlene Thomas told The Erwin Record in June. “Due to the physical location of this plant on a mountainside and many nearby homes spread across the adjacent valley on a hillside, our valley is narrow, and we often experience air temperature inversion, so pollution will concentrate and linger here. And from what we can determine, Summers-Taylor will be responsible for self-report-ing its emissions. Grant Summers told us that the newly acquired double drum mixer plant would be more efﬁcient than the existing CAPS batch plant, but we have learned that the ‘new’ plant and the portable plant are 30 years old, so we would like to know the efficiency of that equipment and whether it will be monitored accurately.
The Town of Unicoi is small, with no actual building department and no one on staff with the necessary technical knowledge, so we must rely on Summers-Taylor and the state to monitor emissions and keep us safe.”
According to Thomas, increased air pollution is not the only issue. “Summers-Taylor will be doubling the capacity of production with the new plants, thus increasing the noise, dust, and the heavy truck traffic in the area,” Thomas said. “This is a residential area.
“The Unicoi County Assessor of Property has calculated that within one mile of the plant there are 550 homes and within two miles, 630 homes. We expect that the dump trucks will be using secondary roads that pass many homes and, according to Grant Summers, they will be working at night, which would dictate lights as well as noise. Local citizens are concerned about their quality of life, their health and loss of property values.”
During the Feb. 1 planning commission meeting, Summers explained that Summers-Taylor plans on operating a safer plant.
“We plan on being a much better neighbor, with better equipment,” Summers said. “We are proposing to be moved further back away from the road. To put in a newer plant that fits better on the back of the existing site. The alternative is to operate at the exact same spot as the previous asphalt plant since it was grandfathered in.”
Thomas questioned the need for the asphalt plant at all.
“We have to go through training to be on this commission and we work hard to outline the plans of the town,” Thomas said during the Feb. 1 meeting. “We already have a plan and I don’t think we need to change this plan for this plant.”
Several members from Unicoi Clear, an organization that is focused on keeping Unicoi clean and free from pollution, were in attendance to oppose this plant expansion.
Summers-Taylor attorney Tom Seeley confirmed that an asphalt plant will be there regardless of the vote.
“Summers Taylor has purchased two parcels on 13 acres and we are asking to allow a rezone for Summers and Taylor to move the plant back against quarry away from the homes,” Seeley said. “This proposed plant will give off fewer emissions and would be further away from the citizens. If they can not do that, then they will be forced to remain on the spot closer to the town’s citizens that is currently grandfathered.”
The Unicoi Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the request from Summers Taylor to open an asphalt plant at a different part of the property that used to house CAPS.
Planning commissioner Todd Hopson made the motion to not approve the rezoning of the asphalt plant followed by a second from Bullen.
The rezoning request will still go before the Town of Unicoi BMA, scheduled on Feb. 18.