Local News

State Revokes Avery County Strip Mine Permit

Posted September 6, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— TheN.C. Division of Land Resourcesofficially revoked the permit for a mine in Avery County within sight of the Appalachian Trail.

Problems began last year when the state approved the Putnam Gravel Mine on Belview Mountain. It was approved without knowing the Appalachian Trail was so close by.

Paul Brown, the mine's owner, was not happy about the state's decision. His financial gold mine became an environmental land mine.

"I'm not an outlaw. I'm a law-abiding citizen," he says. "I've followed all the regulations."

Avery County Commissioner Sam Laws does not agree with the state's findings, either.

"You can barely see the mine from the Appalachian Trail, and the Appalachian Trail barely hits the edge of Avery County," he says. "I think they are just tree huggers. Give us a break, and let us have it."

The state was caught between a rock and a hard place as the wrangling went on for months. It finally pulled the permit, saying the mine was too noisy and too unsightly.

"We didn't have all that information about the visibility from the trail," says Don Reuter of thestate Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "We learned about it, and we responded to it."

Trip Van Noppen of the Southern Environmental Law Center says, despite the state's delay, he is pleased with the decision.

"We're disappointed in their having issued it in the first place and in their taking this long and allowing a lot of activity to go on at this mine," he says. "I think it's taken a long time, but at least the right decision has been reached."

Brown has 30 days to appeal the state's decision. He says he is surprised the state revoked his permit, and he might file suit.

While the process works its way through the courts, the mine could, theoretically, keep operating. Residents and the state both are trying to get a judge to prevent that from happening.