Herald-Leader Editorial

Turn down quarry in Clark County

July 9, 2014 

"Tainted."

Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham hit the nail on the head. He was describing the fiscal court's discussion last month about rezoning 165 acres near Fort Boonesborough from agriculture to heavy industry.

The change is necessary for the Allen Co. to operate an underground quarry on the land.

If approved, the proposal is to move the quarried limestone by a conveyor to another Allen operation across the river in Madison County for crushing. The conveyor would cross both Athens-Boonesboro Road (16 feet above the surface) and the Kentucky River.

Branham was in the minority when the court voted 3-1 last month to reverse the Winchester-Clark County Planning Commission, which turned down the request 6-1.

This morning, the zone change, which requires two public votes to pass, will come before the court again.

The commissioners — JoEllen Reed, Vanessa Rogers and Rick Smith — who voted for it should reconsider.

The taint comes from several sources.

First, the change ignores the comprehensive plan for Clark County that was approved just two years ago.

Comprehensive plans are just that, they look at the big picture to get the best results for the entire area over the long haul.

That's why changes are rare, and justified only when the existing zoning is no longer appropriate or the neighborhood has altered so much that a zone change is warranted. Neither is the case here.

Allen Co. has argued that the rock quarried will be used in future development and spur economic growth. But it also acknowledged last year that it had 172 acres under lease in Madison that have not yet been mined.

The taint also arises from the court's decision to forego a full public hearing, despite enormous local interest.

In May the planning commission had four hours of testimony and debate before reaching its decision.

And the politics are unsettling. The Allen Co. is associated with Leonard Lawson, the politically powerful road contractor.

Although Lawson removed himself legally from the company after a 2008 indictment for bid rigging (a jury found him not guilty in 2010), his son Steve remained active in its management.

So, to recap: The elected fiscal court, without a public hearing and with little justification, votes in favor of a company associated with a politically powerful family despite the planning commission's overwhelming decision, after hours of public input, to the contrary.

Yes, tainted is the right word.

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