Sand Mine Gets Green Light To Grow On U.S. 421

By Emma Dill, posted Mar 19, 2024
An existing sand mine along U.S. 421 has plans to expand its operations onto another 144 acres. (Image courtesy of New Hanover County)
A sand mine along U.S. 421 got the green light from New Hanover County leaders on Monday to expand its footprint onto another 144 acres.  

The expansion is planned on land that’s adjacent to the existing operations of 421 Sand Mine LLC. Located just south of the border between New Hanover and Pender counties, the mine and its accompanying wash plant facility provide sand to municipalities across the Cape Fear region and local concrete and construction companies.

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to approve a special use permit that will allow the mine’s expansion to move forward. High-intensity mines and quarries are only permitted on sites zoned for industrial development and require an intensive industry special use permit issued by the county. 

Special use permits must meet four criteria for approval. First, the proposed use cannot “materially endanger” public health or safety. It also must meet all required conditions of the county’s Unified Development Ordinance, cannot “substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property,” and, lastly, the location and character of the use must be “in harmony with the area” and conform with the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The existing sand mine has been in business for more than 20 years, supplying “graded” sand to construction companies and local municipalities for beach renourishment and other uses, Joseph Taylor Jr., an attorney with Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC, told the board Monday. Taylor has represented the sand mine through the special use permitting process.

“It’s one of the most important sand mines in Southeastern North Carolina,” Taylor said, “because it’s not just a sand mine, it’s a wash plant and that is an important part of our community, its development and maintenance.”

The plant uses a hydraulic dredge operation to mine the sand, which is then sent through a wash plant that separates the sand into various grades. Certain uses like beach nourishment require a particular grade of sand, according to Taylor, and the mine is the only plant in the tri-county area that supplies it.

“Our problem is the minable sand from our big mine is about to run out and will be exhausted by the end of this year, thereby jeopardizing the supply of graded sand,” Taylor said.

That’s why the company is looking to expand onto the undeveloped, wooded tract north of the existing mine. The site, which is bordered by wetlands, will be accessed by existing internal roads with no direct access to U.S. 421. The company plans to use the same hydraulic dredging operations on its expanded footprint, Taylor said.

As a condition of the special use permit, the mine's owners have agreed to add additional buffers into their plans to make space for a water line that runs alongside the site and another water line that’s proposed nearby.

The expansion is expected to create about the same amount of traffic as the mine’s existing operations with around 44 vehicle trips during peak morning hours and 7 trips during peak afternoon hours.

Although demand will determine how long the expanded footprint will support the business, the new sand supply could last up to 10 years, Taylor said. After that, the mine could look to expand onto other sites nearby.

“We’re going to be out of sand in a matter of a few months and so it’s imperative that we tackle this tract first,” Taylor said. “We’ll have plenty of opportunities to extend to other areas after that.”
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