By Sarah Vogelsong
The Planning Commission met on June 18 to consider an application by concrete and construction materials supplier Chaney Enterprises for a special exception permit to build a sand and gravel mine on a 544-acre parcel of land south of Route 17 but took no action.
The proposed mine would be located on slightly less than half of a 1,209-acre property owned by Larry Silver, CEO of the real estate investment and development firm Silver Companies, through the entity Moss Neck Manor Plantation, Inc. The parcel in question is bounded by Route 17 to the north, Fort A.P. Hill to the east, and the historic Moss Neck Manor, owned by Gilbert and Judy Shelton, to the southeast.
Over the past few years, Silver has put forth a number of proposals for the Moss Neck Manor Plantation property, including plans for a rural retreat center, which foundered after the Board of Supervisors rejected necessary changes to the county’s zoning ordinance, and plans for a 400-pig swine farming operation, which came to fruition in 2013 and sparked a dispute with the Sheltons.
Silver’s property is zoned rural preservation and lies within the resource sensitive area overlay district. Under the zoning ordinance, sand and gravel mines are permitted within this district by special exception. The 2030 county comprehensive plan, however, designates this area as agricultural preservation, and the Planning Commission’s staff report states that “sand and gravel extraction is not a permitted use within the AP district.”
Chaney, a Maryland-based, family-owned company with over 50 years of history, presented the commission with a 10- to 20-year plan for mining the site that relies on what they describe as a 10-10-10 process. Under this process, roughly 30 acres will be active at any time, with 10 being prepared for excavation, 10 under excavation, and 10 undergoing the process of reclamation.
This program “keeps our sites looking a lot better than our competitors’,” Chaney land project manager Kyle Murray told the commission.
At the conclusion of mining operations, the Chaney application states that the land will be returned to a condition compatible with agricultural or recreational use. In addition to the pond that presently exists on the property, two ponds—one 38 acres in size and the other 96 acres—would be located on the mine site.
Chaney executive vice president Francis “Hall” Chaney III, Murray, and a number of Chaney employees attended the meeting to present their plan and field questions from commission members. A public hearing was also held.
Much of the discussion concerned traffic and potential jobs and revenue that would stem from the mine.
Under the proposal submitted by Chaney to the commission, the site would operate between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and “an estimated 200 trucks per day will come through the site.” In a memo submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation, the applicant notes that “at the maximum capacity sought, the Chaney facility would generate 410 (truck) trips per day.”
All access to the site would be through Route 17; no access has been planned from Burma Road.
As stated in the staff report, Caroline County Sheriff’s Office “is not in favor of the request due to the added truck traffic on Route 17, which is only two lanes, and the potential traffic hazard of trucks entering and leaving the site.”
Chaney conducted a traffic impact analysis that found that the level of service at the three affected intersections—Route 17 and Route 2, Route 17 and Burma Road, and Route 17 and Buckner Road—would not be adversely impacted by the addition of the mine.
After reviewing the TIA, VDOT recommended that potential growth due to the nearby Haymount development and the Snead and Hayfield mine sites be included in the study.
The Haymount development was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1992 to include 4,000 dwellings, 500,000 square feet of office and light industrial business space, and 250,000 square feet of commercial space. It remains undeveloped today.
According to the staff report, Chaney has submitted a revised TIA; however, this was not available at the time of the June 18 Planning Commission meeting.
Planning Commission Vice Chairman Les Stanley also noted, “The arterial use of Route 17 has not been addressed, and I think that’s a concern.”
Regarding jobs, an economic fiscal impact study conducted for Chaney by George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller states that initially, the site will support five full-time, year-round jobs, as well as three to four “overhead” positions that together equate to 1.2 full-time, year-round-equivalent jobs.
Additionally, in the mine’s first full year of operations, work will be provided for 20 local independent truck drivers, a number that is anticipated to rise to 40 by the fifth year, when the mine is operating at full capacity.
Chaney further estimates that it would provide revenues of roughly $65,000 to the county in its first year of operation and roughly $89,500 in its fifth year.
However, the Planning Commission staff report states that “employment appears seasonal and trucks are not taxable in Caroline if they are hired elsewhere.”
Other concerns cited in the staff report include potential archaeological finds on the site. A historic resources report indicates that a number of archaeological sites may be located on the proposed mine site. For example, Stonewall Jackson set up his headquarters at Moss Neck Manor during the winter of 1862–1863, and the report notes that “evidence of the Winter Camp may be present within the project area.”
The Planning Commission unanimously agreed that because of the number of issues involved in the application, a recommendation be deferred and that further discussion be moved to a work session scheduled for July 2.
Residents divided over Moss Neck mining application
An application by concrete supplier Chaney Enterprises to turn 544 acres of a parcel of land south of Route 17 and east of Fort A.P. Hill into a sand and gravel mine has left Caroline residents divided and many tempers running high.
At a public hearing held June 18 at a Planning Commission meeting, 15 individuals—some residents of Caroline County, others nonresidents who considered themselves affected by the plan—voiced their opinions on the proposal, with the group nearly evenly split between those in support of and those opposing the special exception.
“Developments like Chaney is a necessary factor of life,” Port Royal resident Cleopatra Coleman argued. “Counties and communities who accept that fact and engage in smart planning invariably come out on top. Caroline County needs the dollars that this progressive development will offer.”
Skinker’s Neck resident Kay Watson agreed, saying, “Caroline needs all the tax money they can get. The more taxes (Chaney) pay(s), hopefully the less I will have to pay.”
Both Coleman and Watson emphasized Chaney’s record of charitable contributions to the communities in which the company has operated, as well as its concern for the environment and its employees.
David Cunningham, a pastor at First Baptist Church in Colonial Beach who stated that he was speaking on behalf of family and other persons in Caroline County, presented a petition with almost 700 signatures in favor of the mine. When reached over the phone, Cunningham said that “several people in Caroline County” came up with the idea of the petition.
Individuals opposing the mine emphasized that the proposal goes against the county comprehensive plan and poses significant issues regarding traffic.
Port Royal resident Nancy Long, a member of one of the committees that participated in the creation of the comprehensive plan, stated, “This was not the future we foresaw. It was not the future that was voted on and supported.”
Patricia Parker, a resident of the Route 17 corridor, expressed concern about the number of special exceptions that have been granted to mines in the area, citing those approved for the Vulcan mine at Black Marsh farm and the Snead mine.
“If we keep rubberstamping the special exceptions, they’ll become commonplace, and there’s no validity to our well-thought-out comprehensive plan,” she said. “How many mines do we really need in this area?”
Gil Shelton, speaking as the director of the Caroline County Countryside Alliance, reminded the commission that the Ennstone mine proposed south of Route 17, near Prospect Hill, in 2001 was denied 5-0 by the Board of Supervisors “mainly because of the dangers of truck traffic at the time.”
“Since then, no improvements have been made to Route 17 and traffic has increased,” Shelton said.
Woodford resident Carol Horton noted that “the county usually doesn’t get very much revenue from this mining” and that “the track record for us and our neighboring county King George is that locals usually don’t get the jobs for this industry.”
Turnout for the meeting was high, including a large number of Chaney employees wearing “Chaney Enterprises” stickers, which prompted Western Caroline district commissioner Bob Fiumara to ask the company, “You brought these people?”
Land project manager Kyle Murray stated that anyone wearing a sticker or waving one of the bright blue “We Need Sand and Gravel” signs had come in support of the company.
Later in the meeting, Chaney executive vice president Francis “Hall” Chaney took the podium to clarify to the commission that no employee had been paid to attend the meeting.
Port Royal’s Town Council at its June 17 meeting also became embroiled in an occasionally tense conversation regarding the mine. At its May 20 meeting, the Council agreed to write a resolution from the town opposing the approval of the special exception permit. Mayor Nancy Long on June 17 presented this resolution, which emphasized concerns over increased truck traffic, the possible destruction of notable archeological artifacts, environmental impacts, and the potential discouragement of tourism in the area as a result of the mine’s presence.
“The mine application is detrimental to the interest of our townspeople and the town itself,” the resolution concluded.
If approved, the Chaney mine will be approximately nine miles from Port Royal’s town limits. Councilman Bill Henderson said that Francis Chaney had told him that only 10 percent of the material being transported from the site would travel through Port Royal, with the remaining 90 percent trucked north toward Fredericksburg.
“I don’t see where Port Royal as a town is going to gain anything but more traffic on the road and more risk of accidents,” said Long.
Councilwoman Della Mills pointed out that Chaney Enterprises has already been fined twice for illegal mining on the Moss Neck property. “I think the punishment ought to be not to get (the exception),” she said. “Because if you have somebody that ignores the regulations, the zoning, the procedure, we can’t believe anything (they say).”
(CORRECTION 06/25/14, 15:57: Chaney Enterprises has never illegally mined the property. Silver Cos. was discovered illegally mining the property in January 2013 by the county and asked to desist.)
Henderson argued that “it’s the county’s obligation to police that”—not the Port Royal Town Council’s.
“You can’t decide who you like or not,” he said. “You’ve got to treat people according to the law. That’s what the officials are there for, and that’s what they need to do.”
The vote quickly turned messy, however, as several councilmembers recused themselves because of perceived conflicts of interest. Henderson recused himself because of a potential relationship between Chaney and Historic Port Royal. Long recused herself because she is a paid employee of the CCCA, which opposes the Moss Neck mine.
Because Councilman Jim Heimbach was absent from the June 17 meeting and Councilwoman Gladys Fortune abstained, Mills and Monica Chenault were the only members who were able to vote. Although both were initially in favor of the resolution, Chenault eventually withdrew her vote, citing too many conflicts of interest, and the resolution died on the floor.