Drilling near Keels Creek and Kings River raises questions

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Residents of rural Carroll County off Rockhouse Road near Winona and Keels Creek have been working for months to gather information about a proposed new limestone quarry operation on mountainous land recently purchased by Legacy Mining Company based in Dexter, Mo. Those in the normally quiet, pristine area have been alarmed by weeks of noise from drilling, and concern about sediment laden storm water runoff near the property.

A road has been constructed about three quarters of a mile long into the Legacy Mining property that is more than 600 acres. Sources with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Water Division told residents that Legacy Mining Company has not submitted an application for a storm water permit or for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

During recent heavy rains, the normally clear waters of Winona Creek turned into a muddy mess, one resident said.

“They are supposed to be doing storm water mitigation but are not, and they crossed a lot of streambeds and drainage areas building the road,” the resident, who declined to be identified for the newspaper, said. “One part of this watershed heads into the Kings River. The other one goes over to Winona. We’re hoping we can get ADEQ in here for an inspection. People are calling and putting in complaints.”

The resident was concerned how the operation would affect his health, quality of life and the value of his home.

“I have invested my life savings in this property and this could ruin my property values,” he said.

An ADEQ inspection was held last Thursday. The Eureka Springs Independent asked for a report of the inspection as part of a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents relating to the mining operation. The ADEQ reported Friday, May 31, that there were too many files to email, and that a disk with the information would be mailed to this reporter. The disk had not arrived by deadline Tuesday.

The newspaper’s request for a phone interview Monday for an overview of the operation was denied because of record flooding in the state.

“We will not be doing interviews because we’ve got all hands on deck with the flooding situation around the state and how it impacts central Arkansas and the areas around our headquarters,” Public Information Office Nate Olson said. There were concerns that ADEQ’s headquarters on Northshore Drive in North Little Rock was going to be surrounded by floodwaters this week. Large portions of areas near the Arkansas River in Little Rock were under several feet of water Monday, including the River Park.

Legacy Mining reportedly is drilling exploratory wells looking for limestone. The area is located in karst topography, which is a sieve-like geological formation that can contain springs, caves, disappearing streams, and underground water reservoirs. Reportedly several dozen holes have been drilled raising concerns about how nearby water wells and springs might be impacted. Other concerns include potential air pollution from mining and crushing the limestone, and large numbers of heavy trucks traveling on inadequate country roads.

The site is located next to the 6,000-acre Kings River Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. TNC has been doing projects along the Kings River to control erosion and enhance water quality and aquatic life in the river that’s a popular recreation spot for kayaking, canoeing, camping and fishing.

No residents were formally notified or informed by Legacy Mining or ADEQ of the proposed quarry or the activity and presence of Geotechnical, Inc., drilling services. This led to comparisons with C&H Farms in the Buffalo National River watershed that caused great concern about the pollution impact of waste from about 6,500 hogs being sprayed onto fields near the hog factory. Residents near C&H didn’t know about the hog farm until construction was underway.

“The Water Division didn’t convey to me or to the recent complaint callers that Mining had issued permits for the quarry,” said Christopher Fischer, a resident who lives near the quarry. “So, it seems one branch of ADEQ is not aware of what is being done by another branch, because they’re a big tree.”

Matthew Mills of Dexter, Mo., is the owner of Legacy Mining Company, LLC. A Bloomberg report said he has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and is principal of Legacy Land Holdings LLC and also the founder and a principal at Sixty-West LLC, a private equity investment firm based in Atlanta, Ga.

The website www.sixtywest.com has a link that states that Legacy Mining Company LLC was established in 2017 to oversee and operate Ozark Southern Stone, located near Elk Ranch northwest of Eureka Springs. In an email Tuesday morning, Mills misunderstood which quarry the newspaper was inquiring about and replied that Ozark Southern Stone, purchased from Lowell Johnson in December 2017, is in full compliance with environmental regulations.

“Also, we worked with Dr. Robert Keller of the Atlantic Coastal Conservancy and placed conservation easements on 200 acres surrounding the quarry to ensure there could and would not be development at any point ever in the future,” Mills wrote in the email. “Please take a look at our website and you will see that we spend a lot of time on renewable energy, affordable housing and historic preservation. We do have a couple of mining operations, but we’ve personally conserved over 2,000 acres of land in Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. This represents more than 20 times the amount of acres we have mined.” 

In a later email, Mills apologized for the confusion about which quarry operation has generated the concerns.

“We have been doing some testing here to determine if it’s feasible to mine,” Mills said. “I will need to call the Geotechnical group to determine what they’ve done.”

The website (sixtywestfunds.com) said the company is focusing on projects in “Qualified Opportunity Zones.”

“Sixty West Funds has identified and continues to identify unique and promising real estate investments in Opportunity Zones that enable tax benefits and provide potential superior returns,” the website said. “These zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to develop a program “designed to incentivize long-term capital investment to disadvantaged urban and rural communities nationwide.”

The Sixty West website said the company is developing more than $700 million in projects in Opportunity Zones and that is owns operates “dimensional and crushed limestone and ACOE clay mines.”

Some of the real estate properties Sixty West said it has under control include: Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta Ga., planned development, $78 million; Union Station, Salt Lake City, Utah, planned development $84 million; Echo Westside, Atlanta, Ga., planned development $275 million; 622 Ranier, Seattle, Wash., planned development $67 million; RAD Asheville, Asheville, N. C., potential development $65 million; Quarry Park Westside, Atlanta, Ga., potential development $200 million; and Heyward Hotel, Myrtle Beach, S.C., planned development $52 million.

Legacy Mining Company is one of 24 LLC businesses with the same address: 720 West Business Highway 60, Dexter, Mo. The property off Rockhouse Road has been divided into three LLCs: Keels Creek Property LLC, Shady Grove Property LLC and Trigger Gap Property LLC.