Prince William board rejects asphalt plant in Linton Hall

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2010

When word surfaced last year that an asphalt mixing plant might move within a mile of Prince William County schools and houses, hundreds of residents mobilized to fight something they said could hurt their health and communities.

On Tuesday, they won.

After hearing from almost 100 speakers, the Board of County Supervisors unanimously denied Finley Asphalt and Sealing's request to build on Hornbaker Road, near several Linton Hall area neighborhoods and the county's prized Innovation @ Prince William Technology Park.

"Innovation is a very important part of where the county is today," said Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville). "I don't think at this point we can let even the perception of problems get in the way of what Innovation can be because I don't think it has fulfilled its destiny yet. . . . There are places in Prince William where we can do this; I just don't think this is the spot."

Finley, whose special-use permit application was indefinitely deferred last year because of a public outcry, proposed to build an asphalt mixing facility on heavy industrial-zoned land. The "cleaner, greener" facility would "set new environmental standards," emit no odors and include buffers, said Erick Finley, president of the company. The plant's emissions would be lower than the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Finley officials said.

"The board's decision was a disappointment, but it won't stop us from pursuing other locations" either inside the county or in another locality, said Finley, who has a paving company in the county and wants to make his own asphalt. "I'm disappointed the county felt it was a choice between Innovation and us."

At Tuesday's hearing, some showed support for the facility by wearing green shirts, while opponents wore blue. The crowd spilled into the atrium of the county administration building, where there was standing room only.

Opponents said they were concerned about the plant's potential pollution, impact on property values and traffic. Many were also concerned that the facility could affect the health of their family and friends.

"A lot of people supporting this are businessmen who don't live in the neighborhoods," said Prince William resident Mindy Diepenbrock. "I resent the fact Finley is putting money and their business practice ahead of the health and welfare of my family."

Officials with Innovation and George Mason University, which has a campus near the site, also opposed the plant.

"Is the Prince William board confident that Innovation will be able to grow jobs and continue to attract economic development if they have an industrial facility placed immediately adjacent?" asked Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William). "If the Prince William board reduces the attraction of Innovation . . . it will lead to adverse consequences for the county in these already difficult economic times."

Almost half of the speakers supported the plant, saying it would produce jobs and contribute to the county's commercial economic base.

"Finley will create jobs and generate a lot of tax money that would benefit everyone," Prince William resident Joe Drago said. "The proposed facility is a state-of-the-art facility. . . . This plant will have no impact on the neighborhood and be an asset to the county."

Some speakers at the meeting referred to plants that already exist.

"My office is across from Chemung [Contracting in Gainesville] . . . and I've never basically seen, heard or smelled anything," Dick Lukens said. "The plant is a nonissue. The Chemung plant is 1980s technology, and the Finely plant . . . is a substantially newer technology than that."

Finley's attorney, Gifford Hampshire, said that two asphalt plants are already in the Innovation sector plan and that Finley's facility would have been outside the plan's boundaries. County officials said those plants were in place before the plan was created. Research also shows, Hampshire said, no complaints against either of those facilities.

The asphalt facility was recommended for approval by county staff members and the county Planning Commission. It was expected to bring $2.3 million in tax revenue to the community over the next five years, along with 100 new direct and indirect jobs.

"We hurt like everyone else but chose to expand our business, not retreat, and do it here in Prince William County, where I grew up and am raising my family," Finley said. "It just made sense."

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