East Flat Rock – The proposed asphalt pavement mixing plant in East Flat Rock may finally meet its fate. On Tuesday, June 1, Henderson County commissioners will tackle the issue in a special meeting.
Commissioners tabled the matter after a three-hour public hearing on May 17. It was heavily attended by opposition group Friends of East Flat Rock (FOEFR) and employees of Southeastern Asphalt, whose owner Jeff Shipman seeks the rezoning to build the plant.
Each side was limited to 45 minutes total in presentations. Each side had attorneys organizing speakers and technical experts such as engineers and toxicologists.
The experts on the two sides contradicted each other about the extent of a modern asphalt plant’s noise and air pollution, how much vehicular traffic it brings and ultimately how much nearby properties’ values might decline.
Opponents’ experts indicated that people living with a half-mile of an asphalt plant can suffer from toxic fume exposure. The FOEFR website asserts “asphalt fumes are known toxins,” and states an EPA study indicates the following: “Asphalt processing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene” which “may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems, and skin irritation.”
Pro-project specialists challenge such medical claims.
Shipman pledges to use state-of-the-art technology to limit pollution and noise. On SE-Asphalt.com, Shipman lists a National Asphalt Pavement Association essay on the industry’s advancements. Modern asphalt plants have multiple emission controls that capture most dust. Steam is a harmless vapor and other odors can be strong but are also harmless, NAPA insists.
NAPA explains that most emissions are from “combustion of fuel such as natural gas, that are used to dry and heat the rock or aggregate and to keep the temperature of the asphalt hot.”
Further, an asphalt mixing plant will “mix liquid asphalt binder (‘asphalt cement’) with crushed rock, gravel, and sand (‘aggregates’) to make pavement. Asphalt binder, the glue that binds the aggregates together” is a “distilled product” that releases. Chemical additives strengthen natural fibers. The NAPA notes “the use and storage of these materials is carefully monitored and regulated” by the state.
In an open letter to the community, Shipman pledged the plant will “not have adverse (environmental) effects.” On his website, Shipman says “the project will benefit the community by adding jobs, tax revenue and reduce unnecessary road (repair) work due to inefficient construction. Southeastern Asphalt roads are better built, to last longer. Modern asphalt plants are valuable assets to a community. We pledge an environmentally safe facility.”
Shipman said trees will shield the plant and be preserved along nearby roads.
He promised to not normally operate at night — unless urged to do so by DOT. That may be a large loophole since the state is widening I-26. FOEFR asserts that usually “asphalt drum plants continuously mix aggregate and liquid asphalt, with no interruption in the production process” and at a “high rate.” It cites SE Asphalt’s projection of 200 tons hourly.
Another point of contention is a property value study FOEFR refers to. It indicates homes within a mile of an asphalt plant off U.S. 25N/Asheville Highway near Mountain Home had 24 percent lower value than similar-sized homes beyond that radius but within the same zip code.
Shipman seeks rezoning — from community commercial (allowing retail, offices) to conditional district zoning — for 6.5 vacant acres of his nearly 12-acre tract off Spartanburg Hwy./U.S. 176. The county can set specific conditions if it approves the rezoning.
Shipman said the proposed facility is financially critical for his family’s businesses. The request is on behalf of Southeastern (SE) Asphalt, in conjunction with HS Shipman LLC. SE Asphalt has been in business for 24 years. Shipman said the proposed site is the only suitable one he has found in the county.
Show of Support, Opposition
Opponents say the proposed location is an ill fit. They say the three asphalt plants already in Henderson County should be sufficient. Shipman counters there is a growing local market for asphalt.
There will be no further public input in the special meeting on June 1, though the public can attend for a visual show of force. At the May 17 hearing, supporters of both sides wore T-shirts. People jammed Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium for that hearing, and an earlier one last Oct. 1.
“It is important that our community work together, make our voices heard, and stay involved in this process until the final decision is made,” stated FOEFR co-organizer Michelle Tennant-Nicholson.
The meeting on June 1 starts at 6 p.m. in the Historic Henderson County Courthouse’s upstairs meeting room.
The county’s Planning Board has twice voted 5-2 against recommending the rezoning — first last August, then in mid-April. In between, Shipman withdrew his initial application before it reached commissioners. He reapplied on Feb. 19. A neighborhood compatibility meeting in late March got heated.
Friends of East Flat Rock
The organized opposition reportedly gathered more than 11,000 petition signatures by last September. Orr Family Restaurant was a petition site. Michelle Tennant-Nicholson and her husband Shannon Nicholson co-founded FOEFR. Its website is FriendsofEastFlatRock.org.
Land-use decision-makers typically look at a parcel’s surrounding land use to gauge potential impact. The FOEFR website has a map of the project site off of U.S. 176, toward Saluda. It is just northeast of the U.S. 25 South highway toward Greenville S.C. and its exit 7.
Businesses near the site include Flat Rock Cider Works, an auto repair shop and others in South Crossing Business Park, according to a county planning staff report.
The site is right by a welcome sign for Hendersonville, and any industry there looms as an eyesore, opponents say.
“This asphalt plant will hurt our air quality and deter people from visiting and moving here,” Pro Painting and Drywall owner Carlos Vigil stated on the FOEFR website. “I vehemently oppose the rezoning.” Others are furious that Shipman’s no trespassing sign on the site is vulgar, warning to “stay the F*** out.”
Brookside Manufacturing Home Park is just across the road. Others opposing it live to the north or east, such as in Highland Hills, Highland Lake, Statonwoods, Cinnamon Woods or on farms. Historic Flat Rock, Inc. is also opposed.
Shipman on his website disputes the site is in a true “residential area. This property is bordered by a five-lane highway on the west side, interstate to the east, off-ramp and bridge to the south, and to the north six acres to the next closest parcels.”
Editors Note: Dasha Morgan contributed to this report.