I recently announced my opposition to the proposed RDU Quarry. By now the terms of the deal are well known. The RDU Airport Authority has entered into a contract to permit Wake Stone to mine aggregate over several decades on the 105 acre tract known as the “Odd Fellows Tract.” The Odd Fellows Tract is contiguous with Umstead Park, a 5,500 acre state park situated in Northwest Raleigh and in the heart of our fast growing Triangle region.
It is perhaps helpful to summarize the process that I went through in arriving at my opposition to the proposed quarry deal. I met with representatives of the Umstead Coalition and their lawyers. I met with executives at Wake Stone and toured the existing pit mined by Wake Stone contiguous with the Odd Fellows Tract. I met with the Executive Director of the RDU Airport Authority. I visited the Odd Fellows property and the adjacent property owned by RDU and my staff observed the patterns and volume of use by cyclists on weekends. I studied the long-range plan for RDU, read legal papers in the lawsuit filed by Umstead Coalition and heard from numerous people on all sides of the issue.
I share my thought process because it’s important for voters to understand how candidates and elected officials make decisions. When you elect City Councilors and a Mayor, you choose people to act on your behalf since you cannot be there to personally make every local policy decision.
I oppose the proposed RDU quarry deal for several reasons. First, it is inappropriate to put this public property to a private profit-making use with so little relationship to airport operations. The Odd Fellows Tract was acquired by RDU decades ago from private owners under threat of eminent domain. As one who takes property rights seriously, I am reticent to turn this public property over to private use absent more compelling grounds.
Second, the process that RDU went through in executing this long-term contract did not comply with state law. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 63–56(f) states that no real property . . . shall be disposed of by [RDU], by sale or otherwise, except by authority of the [Municipalities] but states that the [Airport Authority] may lease space, area or other improvements for aeronautical purposes or purposes incidental thereto. I believe that this statute required RDU to obtain prior approval of the lease from Raleigh and the other three local government owners and this has not happened.
Third, I do not believe that a 105-acre quarry pit on public land adjacent to Umstead Park is the right use for this property. Raleigh is the City of Oaks, and we should do everything we can to prevent further climate change. Preserving the publicly owned green space that we have left is the very least we can do, as these are the lungs of our planet. Umstead Park is a jewel in our state park system and our region. We need to take steps to enhance rather than degrade Umstead Park.
Fourth, allowing another quarry pit next to Umstead Park is bad for business and economic development. I am a business owner and entrepreneur. I have carefully considered the business case made by the proponents for the proposed lease. In my view, the stronger economic development case is to preserve the Odd Fellows Tracts for park expansion. The skilled and educated work force that our City needs to recruit to grow our economy are far more interested in using public land in a way that enhances quality of life and recreational opportunities. As property becomes more expensive in Raleigh, we need expanded city, county and state greenspace so that all people will have ample opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
Finally, the contract between Wake Stone and RDU is not a good deal for the Airport Authority or the public. The Airport’s funding needs in the coming decades for maintenance and expansion are substantial and I take these needs seriously. RDU is the 39th largest airport in the country and an economic engine for our region. The federal government shortchanges medium-sized airports like ours in reimbursement of revenues and fees.
However, the present value of the proposed lease to the RDU Airport Authority — only $12 million — is a drop in the bucket of the hundreds of millions of dollars required for RDU’s capital needs in the coming decades. The guaranteed income from Wake Stone is minuscule in comparison with the real and permanent damage that a quarry will do to our public land.
Two of my opponents in the mayoral race have said that they would not take a position on the proposed lease because the issue is in litigation. I don’t agree with that. The pending lawsuit does not compel deferral. Rather, leadership and active citizenship require that we have the courage to speak and act to stop a bad deal and prevent degradation of public land.
For these reasons, I have resolved that Raleigh should intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Umstead Coalition in Wake County Superior Court to take the position that the lease does not comply with state law and should be invalidated. Once the contract is terminated by the Superior Court or an appellate court, Raleigh and other local government owners should then work with RDU to find a more appropriate use for the Old Fellows Tract and, if needed, help RDU identify funding strategies to meet airport needs.