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Court extends order banning RDU quarry, and the stone company is fine with that

It will likely be August before the legal arguments over a planned quarry on Raleigh-Durham International Airport land will be heard in court, after both sides in the case agreed to extend a temporary order that bars Wake Stone Corp. from mining the property.

Opponents of the mine — the Umstead Coalition, Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and three individuals — initially won a 10-day restraining order as part of their lawsuit to block the airport’s mining lease with Wake Stone. They argue that the 25-year lease is illegal, because the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority did not get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration or the four local governments that appoint members to the authority — Raleigh, Durham and Wake and Durham counties.

This week, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway extended the temporary restraining order until Aug. 5. At or near the end of that time, the judge is expected to hold a hearing on the merits of the case.

The airport authority, which approved the lease with Wake Stone on March 1, agreed to the extension because it does not prevent the company from preparing for the quarry, including seeking permits and doing exploratory drilling, said RDU spokeswoman Crystal Feldman.

“Everything that Wake Stone planned before the TRO they can still do with the TRO in effect,” Feldman said.

Wake Stone’s president, Sam Bratton, has said the company is pretty certain the airport property contains stone that it could mine for as long as 35 years. The property is across Crabtree Creek from the company’s current open pit quarry, between Umstead State Park and Interstate 40.

Bratton said it will take more than a year for the company to obtain the mining and environmental permits it needs to begin mining. RDU expects to receive more than $20 million in royalties as the stone is removed.

Opponents had hoped to stop Wake Stone from doing even exploratory drilling, but Ridgeway allowed it.

“They told the judge that they would just do little holes and just take down little trees of four inches or less,” said Jean Spooner, head of the Umstead Coalition, an advocacy group for the park. The coalition and the off-road cyclists group would like to see the 105 acres of airport land covered by the lease used for recreation.

Spooner said their attorneys will use the extra time afforded by the extension of the restraining order to gather more information from RDU and the FAA about the lease. While the order doesn’t prevent Wake Stone from preparing to mine the property, it does put the company on notice that the lawsuit has some merit, Spooner said.

“So any money they spend, they spend at their own risk,” she said.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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