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Commissioners reverse selves and schedule public hearing on asphalt plant

Columbus County commissioners Tuesday night at the conclusion of a budget workshop reversed a decision they had made the night before and scheduled a public hearing for 6:30 p.m. on June 18 on whether to rezone property on Georgia Pacific Road from general and light industrial use to heavy industrial use to permit an asphalt plant.

The night before, at their regular meeting, commissioners had voted 4-3 not to conduct the hearing.

Commissioners Amon McKenzie, James Prevatte, Charles McDowell and Edwin Russ voted Monday not to have the hearing, while Ricky Bullard, Buddy Byrd and Trent Burroughs wanted to have the hearing but the next evening, at the conclusion of the budget workshop, commissioners voted 5-2 to reverse their earlier decision and schedule the hearing with McKenzie and Russ changing their votes from the night before. In Tuesday’s vote, McKenzie, Byrd, Burroughs, Russ and Bullard voted to have the hearing, while McDowell and Prevatte again voted not to schedule a hearing.

Barnhill Contracting Company of Lumberton is interested in purchasing about 16 acres of the property, owned by Dial and Betty Gray, to construct an asphalt plant. Some adjoining property owners have raised objections, despite the fact that a similar plant was located on the property years ago. Under current zoning regulations, the property would have to be rezoned for another asphalt plant now to go up at the location.

Barnhill Contracting employee Derrick Strickland told commissioners Monday night that the facility his company would like to build would employ eight to ten full-time workers and an additional 10-20 associated jobs, such as truck drivers, would result from the facility. However, Strickland’s remarks came after commissioners already had voted not to conduct a public hearing.

It has been rumored, but the rumors weren’t mentioned by Strickland Monday night, that the paving company has reached out to R.J. Corman Railroad, which now owns to the former Georgia Pacific plant property nearby, about possibly purchasing other land for the asphalt plant from them but that Corman reportedly wants a higher price per acre than the Grays have said they would accept for their land.

Earlier Monday night in public comments, Donnie Bowen and Tally Bowen spoke to oppose rezoning the property. Planning board members Chairman Franklin Thurmond and Linda Jablonowski also spoke, mostly about confusion surrounding an earlier planning board vote which ended in a 3-3 tie and about one board member being told he couldn’t vote “no” because he had seconded a motion to get the matter up for discussion to recommend a change.

With Tuesday’s decision, commissioners agreed to hear from interested citizens in both oral statements and written comments on the matter. The hearing will be held in commissioners’ chambers in the Dempsey Herring Courthouse Annex at 6:30 p.m. on June 28. People with questions can contact the planning department at 640-6608.

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