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Mining Work Continues Despite Controversy on Belview Mountain

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AVERY COUNTY — Days ago, the people who want to shut down a gravel mine in one of the most beautiful parts of North Carolina were celebrating victory. Hikers and residents in Avery County thought they had gotten their wish -- but not so fast.

The state admits it made a mistake in granting the mining permit. The mining company that says it has not done anything wrong, and residents are screaming to get the mine shut down. The state wants to close the mine. But will that happen?

The mining company has the legal right to plow ahead even though the state has told the company it plans torevoke its permit.The company can fight that decision. But while all that drags on, work goes forward on Belview Mountain.

"They haven't been mining, but he was clearing land, cutting trees," says Bill Holman of theN.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

So it would seem that the mountain is being damaged even as the state is trying to revoke the permit.

"If say, if we tried to suspend the permit, the quarry owner can also challenge that," says Holman. They can challenge that and keep working anyway.

"I'm not an outlaw, I'm a law-abiding citizen," says Paul Brown, owner of the mining company. He says he cannot figure out why the state wants to shut him down.

"It is a nightmare, I mean it's ridiculous," he says.

Residents want the mining operation shut down.

"It stands out like a sore thumb to me," says resident Arthur Griffith. "It's certainly not going to be a pleasant thing to look at when you come across the trail here."

The Appalachian Trail is within two miles of the mine.

"Plainly, it's viewed from here, and the next two to three miles of trail you're looking right down on it. It'll be something you'll have to look at for years to come," says Griffith.

"I think they're just tree huggers, you know. I want to say 'Give us a break and let us have it,'" says Sam Laws, Avery County Commission chairman.

"I think the county needs gravel awful bad," he says. "You can barely see the mine from the top of the Appalachian Trail. And the Appalachian Trail barely hits the edge of Avery County."

"We made a mistake in not considering the impact on the Appalachian Trail," says Holman.

It is a mistake because the state did not realize the trail was there when it granted the mining permit. And now it may pay for that mistake.

"I assume if we do revoke the permit, he will challenge that decision," says Holman of the possibility of being sued by the mining company.

With at least $2 million invested in the operation so far, will Brown lose the money if he has to stop mining?

"That's a good question, I don't know," says Brown.

Might that be a good reason to sue the state? "I don't know," he says.

The next step is for the mining company and the state to meet. Paul Brown is optimistic, despite the state's intention to revoke his permit.

Sam Laws thinks they are blowing the situation out of proportion, but wants to make clear that he does sympathize with the people who live right next to the mine.