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Granite quarry in Crawford County could jeopardize historic Girl Scout camp, residents say
Crawford is a quiet, rural county located southwest of Macon with a population of around 13,000 people.
This summer, the community's residents are banding together to protest against a Kentucky company's development of a granite quarry on 437 acres of forest land near a historic Girl Scout camp.
The proposed quarry is part of a larger industrial plan devised for the county by Cottondale Partners and would be developed on land 2 miles from Camp Martha Johnston, which first opened in 1922.
Savannahian Juliette Gordon Low founded Girls Scouts of the United States of America in 1913. She died in 1927, but Camp Martha Johnston has continued to host more than 500 girls every summer for nearly a century.
Dorsha Lee, community engagement manager of the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, said the peaceful atmosphere of the camp attracts many girls from surrounding states.
“It's near and dear to our heart here in the state of Georgia,” Lee said. “And it's a treasure to Crawford County. Our goal is to make sure we protect it.”
Callie Barger, a high schooler and camp counselor in training, said she has always loved the amount of wildlife she’s seen at camp. She’s worried the new quarry will jeopardize that.
“It's going to be super loud, which is going to scare off a lot of the wildlife,” Barger said. "It's going to cause lots of movement on the ground, then it's going to cause a lot of pollution in the water and air."
Many other Girl Scouts agree. According to camper Alexandria Smith, the Girl Scouts of Middle Georgia have four camps in the state, and some of them are in better condition than others.
“It really makes me worry that if this rock quarry gets built, the same thing will happen to this camp, where it will become rundown, all the buildings will fall apart, and nobody's going to want to camp here anymore,” Smith said.
It’s not just the Girl Scouts who are concerned. The road leading to Camp Martha Johnston is lined with houses that have large signs attached to their mailboxes. The signs read: Stop the Quarry.
Tracy Dellacona is a local attorney who lives in one of these houses. She said after the community heard about the plan for the quarry, they sprang into action.
“Some of the residents who've lived there for decades have told me this is the largest outpouring of community support and resources that they've ever seen,” Dellacona said. “It's caused the community to come together in a common good.”
They started a petition, put up fliers, spoke at events, and organized a facebook group with almost 200 members in order to raise awareness about the quarry’s potential negative effects.
“It would destroy the whole community concept of why people move to Crawford County, which is to have peace and quiet and enjoy the tranquility,” said Dellacona.
Dellacona is also a nurse, and she’s concerned about silica dust produced from the quarry that research has shown to be harmful to inhale. There is also the potential for water contamination, as many families use well water.
“You then have dust, noise, blasting, infiltration contamination of water and the potential for destruction of the water levels for the wells,” Dellacona said.
The land for the granite quarry is owned by a family based in Sweden. That family is leasing the land to Kentucky-based Cottondale Partners.
Perry Donahoo, co-founder of Cottondale Partners, has opened four other quarries in Georgia. He said the quarry would directly employ around 30 people, though the ripple effects would bring dozens more jobs to the community.
“Crawford is one of the slowest growing counties in the state of Georgia,” Donahoo said. “This is a real opportunity to bring some significant jobs and opportunities to that county.”
According to Donahoo, the quarry is part of a larger industrial plan that will cover 1,750 acres in total. The quarry is included inside of that area.
“In addition to the jobs and the benefits associated with the quarry, we’re looking to bring in industry that is looking to move to Georgia and set up on some owned properties that have industrial sites available,” Donaho said.
Georgia currently has around 90 active quarries. The growing number is partially due to Georgia’s recent industrial boom and new federal spending money. However, Crawford is not the only county in Georgia with local opposition. Carrol, Talbot and Franklin counties are all currently fighting proposed quarries because of similar environmental and safety concerns.
According to Greg Boike, who works at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, industrial development projects have to be approved at a local level first. From there, it’s usually a straightforward process.
“Most commonly, a project will have an initial hearing at a planning and zoning board or commission and then will eventually move forward to the County Board of Commissioners, where a mayor and city council will make final approval of a particular project,” Boike said.
According to Boike, when a project is larger in size like this one, the regional commission is brought in to conduct a report that will be presented to the board of commissioners.
The report from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission includes 13 citizen letters opposing the quarry and insight from parties such as the Environmental Protection Division and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It also includes comments from local officials, such as Crawford County Commissioner Jackie McCowen. McCowen writes that “the proposed site development will bring major jobs into Crawford that we so need desperately.”
Cottondale Partners has already received approval from the planning and zoning committee, and is currently waiting on the outcome of the July 18 Crawford County Commissioners meeting.
Resident Tracy Dellacona said both community residents and the Girl Scouts plan to publicly oppose the development of the quarry at the upcoming meeting, where Crawford County Commissioners are expected to hold a final vote.
“We just want everybody to know that we're still fighting this as hard as we can and we're not going to give up,” Dellacona said.