Both floors of the Forsyth County Administration Building were packed and the commissioner’s meeting room was filled to capacity as residents living by a south Forsyth quarry and asphalt production facility opposed a replacement asphalt plant on Granite Lane.
While no action was taken on a conditional-use permit for the proposed new plant, which would replace the existing asphalt plant with a new unit about .7 miles away, those both in favor and opposed to the plant came out in force to share their thoughts.
Speaking first at the meeting were those in favor of the project, including Dan Garcia, president of C.W. Matthews, the company operating the plant.
Garcia said the company had been good neighbors in their time in the area and the new plant would be further away from homes than the current plant is.
“I think the main point that I want to make is we have been in this location for over 20 years,” he said. “Many of the people that are protesting or against this move didn’t even realize we had been there, so I think it signifies the kind of neighbors that we are in this community.”
Catherine Sutton Choate, with Astec Industries Inc., which is planned to produce the equipment for the plant, said the new plant would be quieter, cleaner and less odorous than the existing plant and said she was at the meeting “to clear up some misconceptions that have been swirling around the community.”
“This equipment is over 20 years newer than the equipment that is trying to be replaced,” she said. “There’s been a lot of upgrades to the equipment in terms of environmental friendliness in the last 20 years. Our burners are now cleaner, the emissions are significantly less than what would be out there now, but let me point out, the plant that is out there now is in full compliance with all regulatory requirements per the Georgia EPD at this moment.”
The majority of the meeting’s attendees were there in opposition to the plant, with many wearing matching red shirts and some carrying signs opposing the plant.
In the weeks ahead of the meeting, more than 6,900 people signed a petition opposing the plant because of its proximity to new residential developments, the project going through the fast-tracked county-initiated process, not all residents in the area were notified of the change and health risks from the new plant.
John Farr, president of the Weston subdivision HOA and a retired chemical engineer, said he had moved to the area in 2005 and had generally been happy with the growth but was opposed to the new plant.
“You can imagine how surprised and disappointed we were about a month ago to wake up and find they were proposing to erect a new asphalt plant, not on the current site, but 7/10ths of a mile closer into residences and neighborhoods that had been developed since the original plant was on its site. So now, we have this new neighbor that we have to contend with.”
Farr said he had no worries about the technical aspects of the plant but felt it would increase traffic, noise and could impact home values.
Vikas Gupta, of the DeerLake subdivision, said the entrance to the new plant would be near the neighborhood’s entrance and used overhead pictures of the area in 1993, around the time the plant was built, and last year.
Gupta was also against the permit process being county-initiated, meaning the county rather than the property owner was the applicant in the process, a common issue from those in opposition.
“I feel like this process has not given enough time for nearby residents to raise their concerns,” Gupta said. “I believe due to the time limitations, the standard process as per Forsyth County regulations should be followed to give sufficient time to the residents and businesses impacted.”
Ahead of the meeting, District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown, who represents the area of the quarry and plant, told the Forsyth County News he was planning to postpone a decision, which he and the rest of the commission followed through with on Thursday, as they voted to have a final public hearing and to make a decision on Thursday, Jan. 9.
Responding to those who opposed the county-initiated process, Brown said he called for it because he didn’t expect the level of public pushback.
“I take all responsibility for county initiation because I thought it was good,” he said. “Not this board but me; I was the one that asked for that. Everything I decide [I consider] is it good for the community. I went on Google, and I live 1.3 miles from the plant. I would never do anything in my own community that would hurt my home value and hurt my community.”
Brown pushed back against what he said was misinformation pushed by some of the opposition, such as the plant being completely new and using pictures online of a much larger facility out of state.
District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent pointed out that if the permit was not approved, the current plant would not be going away and would operate as is.
“So the older plant will always have potential for more smell and will be louder and less efficient and produce possibly more pollutant?” Levent asked Choate. “So, we can be so angry that we create something that is worse for us?”
Choate said the answer to both questions was yes.