Proposal For Mine On Farm Resisted

Torun Willits, with her horses Lil and Lily, said she has been told to expect a 30 percent drop in property value if a mine operation moves forward near her land.
Torun Willits, with her horses Lil and Lily, said she has been told to expect a 30 percent drop in property value if a mine operation moves forward near her land. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The dump trucks speed along Port Tobacco Road, past the green Welcome sign, past the brick cottage post office, past the general store and past Torun Willits's modest white farmhouse. They carry gravel and sand from mines a few miles outside of town.

The trucks sound like the grumble of industry, leaving in their wake the dust of commerce -- some might call them signs of progress. But not in Welcome, a tiny Southern Maryland town of rolling hillsides, tall grass, mayflies and old barns nestled near the Potomac River. Here, folks speak of the gravel mines with passion.

"It's the end of Brigadoon. This will destroy Welcome as we know it," says resident Dennis A. Sullivan, who refers to the mines as "absolute cancers."

The Mill Run Horse Farm, a 212-acre property that operates as a standard farm, is at the center of a dispute over the continuing evolution of Southern Maryland's agricultural landscape into exurban Washington.

One of the region's most powerful developers, Facchina Construction Co., bought the farm in southwestern Charles County a few years ago and is petitioning to turn more than half of it into a mine to excavate dirt and gravel for the company's developments.

Mill Run is just over the wooden three-board fence from Willits's farmstead, where she raises thoroughbred horses. She fears Mill Run's sprawling meadow and big gray barn will become the "Grand Canyon in Welcome." And so, Willits, Sullivan and other townspeople, along with environmental activists, have formed a coalition to challenge Facchina's plan.

The proposal would add 200 trucks daily, back and forth, on the two-lane Port Tobacco Road, which neighbors claim already has its share of dump-truck traffic. Coalition members also believe that the operation could harm the town's water supply and endanger wildlife in and around Nanjemoy Creek.

Yet Paul Facchina Sr., chairman of the construction company, has a reputation as one of the state's most ardent conservationists. Facchina owns eight farms and lives on 600 acres of historic property with his family. The Maryland Environmental Trust counts him as one of four people in its history to permanently preserve more than 1,000 acres.

The county Board of Appeals is scheduled to hear Facchina's proposal July 25, and coalition members are furiously preparing their case. The county Board of Commissioners will make a final decision. With their reelection campaigns heating up, commissioners have stayed mum on the subject.

Residents are billing this as a David-and-Goliath struggle: the townsfolk of Welcome against Facchina, a man so influential in Southern Maryland's post-tobacco economy that some call him La Plata's Donald Trump.

For property owners near Mill Run, a lot is at stake. If the mine operation moves forward, property values could decline. Willits said experts have told her to expect a 30 percent decrease in hers.

"There went 30 percent of my retirement. You might as well work at Enron," said Willits, a software designer who moved to her 10-acre farm nine years ago.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company