Chuck Roberts of C.W. Roberts Contracting Inc. has 30 days to decide whether he will request the Gadsden Couny Planning and Zoning Commission hear his request for a variance or whether he will shut down his operation on State Road 267.
When Roberts came before county commissioners last Tuesday night to ask for a 5-year extension to a special use permit granted in 1992, he learned that for the past 17 years he has been operating without the proper permits. The permit he was granted in 1992, to temporarily store asphalt used in the construction of Interstate 10, expired in 1994. The property should have reverted back to its original use, which was agriculture.
"I was unaware of any concerns until a few years ago. We would like to continue in this county," Roberts said.
But members of the The Friends of Lake Talquin, a group formed to protect the environment near and around the lake, said they are opposed to the facility and asked commissioners not to permit the extension. The group submitted a letter, dated Jan. 16, to commissioners. The letter stated, “We are requesting that the county take action against the illegal operations of this aspalt plant operation on 123 acres of AG 3 property. In the event that your office is unwilling to take such action, please submit this as an agenda item for the next Gadsden BOCC meeting.”
"They have been operating without a permit for 14 years. Recently, the activity there has increased. They have piles of asphalt and it's oil based. I can't see how it won't seep in to the aquifer. They have paid less than $800 in taxes on 123 acres. I would like to see that all operations cease and all toxins removed. It know that's not going to happen, but at the very least they should be required to go through the rezoning process," said Jim Brantley.
Belinda Synder, president of The Friends, said the organization met with Roberts and he made them promises about the asphalt site that were never kept. The piles of asphalt, Synder said, have tripled since the organization met with Roberts.
Barry Haber, vice president of the organization, showed photos of the area to commissioners.
"When he requested an extension in 1993, it was never granted. C.W. Roberts has been in violation since 1994. There is a deception going on. It was never supposed to be temporary. This is a farce," he said.
Roberts said he doesn't want to destroy the environment and asked Shawn Glen, of Glen Labs, to report on the water he tested at the site. Glen said he found no mercury or other heavy metals. He said he found iron in the water but that the iron only caused an orange color meaning, he said, it may not be asthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t cause any problems.
“The runoff in the pond on the property had fish in it," Glen said.
But The Friends expressed a different opinion in its letter, stating that the damage goes beyond the environment.
“When you drive the 11-mile stretch between I-10 and Highway 20 on Route 267, you see FDOT police and a steady flow of dump trucks. This activity hinders the proper growth of one of the most valuable resources for development in the county. Lake Talquin should be open to develop as a valuable lake community...Allowing a very visible yet illegal asphalt plant to operate in our county provides no meaningful employment and deters proper development which could provide millions of dollars in revenue to this poor county...the asphalt facility is illegal and an eyesore, and provides a poor image of the poorest county in the state,” the letter reads.
Roberts employs 200 Gadsden County residents at his three sites.