Bulloch County commissioners earlier this week voted to deny conditional use permission for a 15-acre surface mine, or “sand pit,” to be created on a larger agricultural-zoned tract owned by Theron J. “Jackie” Rushing Jr. along Cypress Lake Road.
The proposal drew opposition from residents of the Cypress Lake neighborhood and from Cypress Lake Inc., which owns the lake, described in county tax documents as a 215-acre pond, and adjoining woodland.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting of the elected county commissioners, 18 people signed up in opposition to the surface mine, and two spoke representing them. A similar group had appeared at the Aug. 11 meeting of the appointed Planning and Zoning Commission. Although county staff members who reviewed Rushing’s conditional use request recommended approval with conditions, the zoning board recommended denial by a 3-1 vote, with a fifth member, Gary Edwards, who owns property in the area, abstaining.
The 15-acre site proposed for the surface mine was within a 73.1-acre tract Rushing owns, directly across Cypress Lake Road from the lake and several of the lakefront homes. The one spokesperson for the project at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting was John Dotson, principal land surveyor with the Maxwell-Reddick and Associates engineering firm.
Dotson, who also referred to the proposed mine as a sand pit, said the developers were agreeing to all of the county staff’s conditions. If the commissioners had approved the conditional use, Rushing would have needed to get other permissions, including from the state Environmental Protection Division. But several other surface mines, supplying sand for concrete or fill dirt for construction, have been permitted in the immediate area.
“Once approved, there is a myriad of hurdles that he has to overcome to get an EPD permit,” Dotson said. “This is only one step in the process. There are currently four other surface mines in this area, within approximately one mile of it, so this is not an unheard use that he’s asking for.”
After noting that concerns about weight limits on the Cypress Lake Road bridges had been raised at the previous meeting, Dotson observed that that the bridge actually over the Cypress Lake spillway, as far as he could determine, has not been posted with a weight limit by the Georgia Department of Transportation or the county. But a bridge immediately to the east, toward Statesboro, has an eight-ton posted load limit, he acknowledged. The next bridge beyond it does not have a posted weight limit, either.
Earlier Tuesday, Rushing had sat across from the spillway and counted 15 trucks passing in two-hours, Dotson said.
“Now, not all were dump trucks. …,” he said. “Some were semis, commercial trucks. So, there are numerous trucks that do travel that route.”
Cypress Lake Inc.
The main spokesperson for those opposed to the surface mine was Teresa Allen, chief financial officer and secretary for Cypress Lake Inc.
“The Cypress Lake community is opposed to this application,” Allen said. “This development was presented and denied several years ago, and the Cypress Lake community opposed the development at that time.”
In the earlier request, the entry and exit points for the surface mine would have been onto J.R. Coleman Road, for the trucks to continue onto Georgia Highway 46, she noted.
“Our understanding is the current proposed development request now has the entry and exit points … to be routed directly onto Cypress Lake Road, located within a few feet of Cypress Lake homeowners’ property,” Allen said. “Cypress Lake residents are greatly concerned with the traffic created on Cypress Lake Road by this development, … the current and the future infrastructure conditions of Cypress Lake Road and the bridges along the road.”
She also mentioned “potential environmental concerns.” But Allen ranked traffic concerns first, calling the road “a major thoroughfare from Register to Statesboro with major residential neighborhoods” from the lake area to the bypass.
She identified the bridge with the eight-ton posted limit as the Dry Branch Bridge and noted that it also has a “narrow bridge” sign.
After observing that there are also two signs on Cypress Lake Road stating “no trucks over six wheels” Allen asserted that “standard tandem-axle dump trucks have eight wheels” and that the average weight of an empty dump truck is 13 tons. Full dump trucks, as she noted with some estimates, can weigh much more.
She cited a Georgia DOT bridge condition study from 2009 that assigned the Dry Branch Bridge a sufficiency rating of 26.74 out of 100, when any bridge with a rating less than 50 was considered “deficient” in that study. The spillway bridge, while having no posted weight limit, is also posted as a narrow bridge, she noted.
Cypress Lake Inc. also owns a boat ramp “situated on a blind curve with access directly onto Cypress Lake Road,” also raising concerns about added truck traffic during daylight hours, she said.
With slides displayed on the screens, Allen also presented speculative estimates that the sand mine would reduce property values in the neighborhood, and thus tax revenue to the county.
To address concerns about the weight-restricted bridge and traffic on Cypress Lake Road toward Statesboro, Dotson said the applicant would commit to “turn left and go west towards Register” and Highway 46.
The county staff conditions would have required Rushing to provide “a commercial driveway with paved apron” to county standards, maintain a natural vegetative buffer along Lotts Creek, make any lighting “downcast and unobstructive” and conduct all business activities from the mine during daylight hours.
Stating that he has a personal interest in an adjoining property, Commissioner Timmy Rushing abstained from the discussion and vote. Commissioner Walter Gibson made the motion to deny the conditional use request. Commissioner Anthony Simmons seconded the motion, and it passed 5-0.