Jump Off Loses Ground Opposing Sand Plant

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Jump Off residents lost ground in their efforts to oppose a sand plant locating in the Jump Off community. Nearly 150 concerned citizens attended the Marion County Commission meeting October 23, many carrying signs, “No Sand Plant.” More than 60 viewed The River 104.9 livestream of the meeting on Facebook. “You are our only line of defense to stop a sand plant from coming in,” said Jump Off spokesperson Jack Champion addressing the commission. “We’re asking you to help us.”

Champion supplied background on the circumstances. Tinsley Sand and Gravel had a 90-day contract, closing in December, for purchase of an 150-acre tract of land located in the Jump Off community. Champion pointed out in January the commission voted 12-2 to adopt a County Powers Act. At the time, some objected the Powers Act could prohibit and regulate agricultural practices. Champion noted the law exempted agriculture from Powers Act authority. However, by adopting a Powers Act, Marion County did have the authority to pass subsequent laws to regulate “nuisance” activities such as sand plants.

Champion insisted Jump Off’s narrow roads could not accommodate a sand plant’s “18 wheeler” truck traffic and silicone dust from sand plants caused lung cancer. “We’re asking you to help us,” Champion said. “What regulations do you have?”

County attorney Billy Gouger said the county never passed any subsequent Powers Act regulations.

Commissioner Don Blansett said passing “nuisance” rules might mean “trouble. What I think is a nuisance, [others] might not think is a nuisance.”

Gouger cautioned the commission, the Powers Act may not have been properly approved in January, according to County Technical Advisor Service attorneys, since the commission did not have a written copy of the Powers Act resolution to reference at the time of the vote. “I will respect whatever this body decides,” Gouger said. Gouger provided the commission with a sample Powers Act resolution and proposed sand plant regulations modeled after Grundy County’s rules. Grundy County requires a 5,000-foot buffer separating sand plants from residences.

Review of map data shows 27 residences less than a mile from the proposed Jump Off sand plant.

“The intent is not to stop sand plants, just to make sure they’re in the right spot,” Brandt stressed. Acknowledging “nuisance” could be broadly defined, Brandt suggested going forward the county require a referendum to make new Powers Act laws regulating nuisances. Attorney Gouger said requiring a referendum would require a state act.

“Grundy County is the poorest county in the state, and they help their people,” Champion said.

Dr. Arthur Davies who owns property adjacent to a proposed Grundy County Tinsley sand plant said, “You have the right to do what you want with your land, but you don’t have the right to destroy your neighbors land.” The court ruled the Grundy County Powers Act and subsequent regulation gave the county the authority to regulate the location of sand plants. Tinsley Sand and Gravel is appealing the decision.

“Before you pass any regulations, I want it locked in solid, it just affects sand plants,” said former commissioner Mack Reeves. “I understand you peoples’ concern. But I don’t want [the commission] to try to include something else two months from now.”

“[The Powers Act] is a broad stroke,” said resident Destin Hutcherson. “Who decides what is a nuisance? How do we define nuisance?” Hutcherson gave the example of a hayfield being regarded as acceptable by neighbors who might object to cows on the property.

“Everyone uses asphalt and concrete,” a resident maintained.

“Air and water are sacred,” another resident insisted. “That’s what this is about.”

Commissioners Blansett, Gene Hargis and Commision Chair Linda Mason expressed support for regulating sand plants, but expressed concern about the broad authority granted by the Powers Act.

Commissioner Paul Schafer stressed the county “needed to be able to control what is being built and what is being excavated.” Schafer formerly lived next to a rock quarry. “When they blasted, the house shook,” he said. Now the quarry had been abandoned and the site turned into a garbage dump. “The stench that came off of that stunk up the whole neighborhood.”

On the recommendation of Gouger, the commission decided to vote again on the Powers Act resolution so there would be no question about the county’s authority to regulate. Gouger explained adopting the Powers Act and any subsequent regulations needed to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the 15-member commission, meaning 10 members.

The vote was nine to four, one vote short of approving the Powers Act, with commissioner David Abott absent and Commissioner Jim Nunley abstaining. Commissioners Don Adkins, Blansett, Logan Campbell, and Peggy Thompson voted against approval.

At present, Marion County has no authority to regulate sand plants. The commission will continue the discussion at a workshop at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 7, in the Lawson Building, 300 Ridley Avenue, Jasper. At workshops, public comment is not allowed.

Clarification, Oct. 26, 2023. The vote was 9 to 3, not 9 to 4. Logan Campbell was also absent. -KGB

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