August 27, 2021

Atherton Quarry Zoning Hearing: Was Anybody Heard?

More than 150 residents of Sugar Creek, Atherton, and Jackson County attended the Sugar Creek's Planning and Zoning Hearing last night. The hearing had been moved to the Mike Onka Community Hall when it became obvious that citizen input would be heavy, as word spread that the hearing involved granting a special permit that would allow the Central Plains Cement Company of Sugar Creek (using their more environmentally friendly name, "Audubon Materials, LLC") to operate an open-pit mining operation. 

This quarry would cause extreme disruptions in the quality of life and property values of the citizens and businesses this mining operation would impact, not to mention the health and environmental dangers common in areas where such mining operations already exist. By the company's own admission 40,000 truckloads of limestone gravel a year would be making their way from the mining site to the company's cement plant on Courtney Road in Sugar Creek. 

Around 30 citizens, many wearing yellow shirts as a show of solidarity against the proposed mining project, spoke before the committee and the company's representatives. All spoke in opposition of the plan, and were disappointed to find out that questions would not be answered during this hearing. There was no citizen input in favor of the proposed mining operation.  

Besides the obvious disturbances of air quality and noise pollution from the blasting, speakers also shared concerns about damage to housing foundations and water-wells, wildlife habitats, wastewater run-off, and more. Independence residents are concerned by the fact that the open-pit mine will be located above the aquifer that supplies more than 250,000 citizens with water that's been rated internationally as being among the top five tap waters in the world.

Mrs. Ivey Zoellers, who moved to Sugar Creek with her husband in 2020 to escape the disastrous health effects of living close to an open-pit mine in Greenwood, Missouri, was the first citizen called to the microphone for questions and comments, with five minutes allotted to each speaker. After she asked questions for about two minutes and 30 seconds City Administrator Pat Casey told her that her time was up, and that no questions would be answered at that time. Today she said,

"Of the 20 people who I spoke with face-to-face during my time canvassing on my own street, 18 of those people informed me that they had not received any prior notice of this quarry or the rezoning meeting. It should be noted that all 18 of those people who were not notified were adamantly against a quarry existing in their town and signed the petition to show their support with their nearby neighbors, who also do not want it in their own neighborhood. The 2 people who I did speak to who did know about the quarry were the only 2 who were interested in having it in their town. And while I could wildly speculate a conclusion about that fact I do not think it was by cosmic fate, but I do think it was by intelligent design."

She continued, "Honestly my most vivid take away within the last 48 hours from my experience canvassing my own street and listening to the town's people vent their frustrations is about the institutions that have made them feel powerless and ignored. No one deserves to feel that way."

Mrs. Zoellers' exasperation is shared by many others as can be seen on the Facebook page, "Stop the Atherton Quarry." The online petition urging the City of Sugar Creek not to grant a special use permit for the open-pit mine has already received over 1,000 signatures.

Last night's hearing was shared with online citizens via the Zoom meeting platform. After announcing that another hearing would take place at the same time and location on September 16, a motion was made not to make the next hearing available on Zoom. The motion was passed without objection.

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