Dredging project shifted 500 feet as Alcoa, Carolina Sand work to protect historic area on Yadkin

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2012

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Alcoa has amended its request for sand dredging in Grants Creek to protect a Civil War battlefield and the remnants of a 200-year-old bridge near Spencer.
Once Alcoa learned about the proximity of the proposed sand dredging operation to historic areas, the company amended its permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said Ann Brownlee, president of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association.
Alcoa and Carolina Sand Inc., the company that will do the work, shifted dredging limits 500 feet west of the Beard Bridge Site to ensure that no dredging will take place within the boundary of the Yadkin River Crossings Historic District.
Brownlee had asked for 300 feet.
“They gave more leeway than I asked for,” she said.
Brown’s beef is not with Alcoa or Carolina Sand, which will mine sand along 10,000 feet of the Yadkin River bed in an area centered on the mouth of Grants Creek.
“As soon as both Carolina Sand and Alcoa knew about it, they were immediately concerned and reacted appropriately,” Brownlee said.
The federal government failed to consider the impact of the sand dredging operation on the Yadkin River Crossings Historic District, Brownlee said. The N.C. State Historic Preservation Office also should have worked to protect the area, she said.
The Spencer Board of Aldermen passed a resolution in June asking the government to prevent sand dredging inside the historic district to avoid disrupting or destroying artifacts under the water.
The historic district includes the remaining piers of the 1818 Beard Bridge, the first covered bridge in the state and part of the Yadkin River Bridge Civil War Battlefield.
Confederate and Union troops engaged in a 51/2-hour battle over the waterway, Brownlee said, and she’s sure war artifacts are buried in the sand under the water.
Ultimately, Brownlee would like to rebuild the bridge as a tourist attraction but said plans have been on hold due to contamination next door at the former N.C. Finishing Co. site, about 200 acres located on both sides of U.S. 29 on the Rowan County bank of the Yadkin River.
But that might change soon, Brownlee said.
The Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission — a well-connected group created by the N.C. General Assembly to explore economic development and preservation of the Uwharrie region — agreed in January to help find money to clean up the site, also known as the High Rock Raceway property and the former Color-Tex site.
During the commission’s April meeting, Dexter Matthews, director of the N.C. Division of Waste Management, reported the division had recovered $280,000 in the Pillowtex bankruptcy to go toward the remediation of a site in Kannapolis and the N.C. Finishing site in Spencer, Brownlee said.
It now appears other funds can be used to clean up the Kannapolis site, and most of the $280,000 can be used in Spencer, Brownlee said.
The Spencer site also may qualify for a $250,000 brownfield grant available from the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
“So there is some money, probably not enough,” Brownlee said.
The cleanup is expected to cost more than $1 million.
The N.C. Division of Waste Management is still looking for more money, and Keith Crisco, secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce and member of the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission, said he would support hiring a consultant to jumpstart the cleanup effort, if needed.
The gateway to Spencer, ownership has transfered several times, with millions of dollars in liens against the property and several stalled foreclosure attempts. The current owner is Fennegan and Murphy LLC in China Grove.
The land is covered with debris from the demolition of the N.C. Finishing plant by a failed race track development.
“I feel like we’re making some progress,” Brownlee said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.