CLOVER, SC ( By Rick Rothacker, The Charlotte Observer) Blair Thornburg says the buyer of land he co-owned near Clover, S.C. told him that he was going to put a house on the property for his son.
Bill Dulin says the same buyer told him he planned to use land he bought from him for hunting or catfish farming.
So both were surprised when Martin Marietta Materials, the Raleigh-based mining company, last year confirmed it was looking to operate a granite quarry on their former property and nearby parcels in the Bowling Green community north of Clover.
Instead of keeping the land himself, the buyer, a Clover man named Kenneth Smith, had instead sold the land to Martin Marietta. Quarry opponents suspect the company worked with Smith to buy the land so sellers and neighbors would not be alerted to plans for the property.
"It's deceptive," says Bob Dulin, a relative of Thornburg and Bill Dulin who opposes the quarry. "If their true intentions were known, I don't think they would have been able to buy all the land they bought."
Martin Marietta's quarry plan stirred strong opposition from neighbors, and last June the York County Council voted down a rezoning needed to move forward with the project in a pastoral area west of Lake Wylie and only a few miles south of the North Carolina line.
Neighbors, however, are worried that the company will try to rezone the property again after a one-year waiting period that ended last week. They say they're worried about noise, depressed property values, truck traffic and potential environmental damage.
Martin Marietta did not respond to a request for comment. Smith declined to comment.
Taking on mining giant, Bob Dulin, 67, a retired Duke Energy engineer who lives with his wife, Rita, near the proposed project, says Smith helped assemble the land over a four- to five-year period. The company now has about 267 acres for the project, according to Dulin and county property records.
Some of the land acquired by Martin Marietta had once been owned by Dulin's grandfather and parceled out to relatives over time. Bill Dulin is his uncle and Blair Thornburg is a cousin. Both no longer live in the area.
Alfred Brophy, a professor of law at UNC Chapel Hill, said it's not unusual for buyers to hide their plans while piecing together land to keep prices down and avoid opposition from residents. He cites the example of John D. Rockefeller Jr. quietly buying properties to create the Colonial Williamsburg historical area starting in the 1920s.
"This kind of thing happens with great frequency," Brophy said.
Brophy said he was not aware of any successful lawsuits by sellers against buyers for misleading them about the intended use for a property. Residents can, however, file nuisance actions alleging their property values would be dramatically decreased by a project, he said.
The Clover area residents are facing off with a powerhouse in the aggregates industry, producing stone, sand and gravel used in roads and other construction projects.
Spun off from defense giant Lockheed Martin in the 1990s, Martin Marietta reported revenue of nearly $3 billion in 2014. The Fortune 1000 company has around 185 mines nationwide, including about 50 in the Carolinas, according to an Observer analysis of Mine Safety and Health Administration data.
A Martin Marietta official last year told The (Rock Hill) Herald that the site near Clover was a "great opportunity," citing a "unique" granite outcropping on the site.
For the quarry, the company needs three approvals. One piece of the assembled land needs to be rezoned as agricultural, the county's zoning board of appeals needs to grant a "special exception" to allow for the mine and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control needs to grant a permit. Smith initially applied for the rezoning request on one of the parcels.
Thornburg, 67, said he hoped the quarry wouldn't be approved when he first heard about the rezoning bid. "When they voted it down, I was so relieved," he said.
Bill Dulin, 80, who also sold property to Smith, said he wouldn't have sold if he knew a quarry was in the works.
"I would have done something different," he said.
Opponents of the quarry have formed a group called Respect Our Community Coalition, or ROCC. Last month, about 100 residents attended a meeting at an area church – constructed of local granite – to get an update on the project.
The group's leaders urged residents to sign a petition opposing the quarry and to be ready to speak out if Martin Marietta seeks another rezoning. Audra Miller, the county planning director, said the company hasn't contacted the department since last year.
At the church meeting, York County Council member Bruce Henderson, who opposes the project, said neighbors need to keep their guard up.