A granite-quarrying company is suing Rockdale County, accusing officials of allowing a competing quarry to operate illegally in Rockdale-despite ordering it shut down just three years ago.
Broad River Quarries LLC of Elberton, which operates a Lithonia quarry, is seeking the closure of the Georgia Stone Industries (GSI) quarry at 4550 Ga. Hwy. 20 NW. Quarrying is banned in the area under zoning code, which is in the watershed of Rockdale's drinking water supply. The dispute centers on why the county is allowing it anyway. Broad River once considered buying the quarry, but allegedly was told by the county that it could not operate there.
Ann Marie Ramos, GSI's chief financial officer, told the News, "We are in direct competition with Broad River Quarries. However, our material is superior and preferred. Their only interest is to eliminate their direct competition."
County spokeswoman Tonya Parker did not have immediate comment.
The suit, filed May 21 in Rockdale County Superior Court, specifically names all three county commissioners and planning director Marshall Walker as defendants. It accuses of them of violating Broad River's rights with a "gross abuse of discretion" and "unlawful" decision-making that goes beyond the county's authority.
A copy of the lawsuit filing was provided to the News by the plaintiffs Conyers attorneys, John Nix and Michael Waldrop. Waldrop is well known locally as the City of Conyers' official attorney, but he is acting as a private attorney in this case.
The Rockdale property has long been a granite quarry. Sometime around the year 2000, a new new Watershed Protection District zoning designation was put in place on that area that bans quarries. But because it already existed, that quarry was "grandfathered" in and allowed to remain. However, if the quarry ceased operations for six straight months, it would lose grandfathered status, and the property could never be used that way again.
The suit claims that is exactly what happened, with the quarry, then operated by Fletcher Granite, apparently shutting down in 2006. In 2010, the property became available in a bankruptcy sale, and Broad River considered buying it to eliminate any nearby quarry competition.
According to the lawsuit, the county informed Broad River about the loss of the grandfathering zoning status and that a quarry could not operate there, so Broad River passed on the opportunity. Instead, a Rhode Island company called NESI Realty LLC bought it.
In April 2011, county officials learned that a Rhode Island firm called Granites of America was operating the quarry again. According to its website, the company's work includes providing the granite for the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
County documents included in the lawsuit show that Walker quickly issued the company a notice that the Rockdale quarry was illegal under zoning and that its operations must cease "immediately, and permanently."
Later that year, GSI-which has the same Rhode Island address and website as Granites of America-submitted a business license application to operate a quarry on the property, the suit claims. Walker then issued the business license in June 2012, despite the zoning ban and his own prior shutdown notice, the suit says.
GSI did not get a business license for the site last year or this year, for unclear reasons. But last month, Walker and the Board of Commissioners sent GSI a letter saying they will issue a business license to operate the quarry if various conditions are met, all relating to safety, maintenance and operating hours. The letter, included in the lawsuit, says nothing about the zoning code ban on quarrying.
The suit claims the county is knowingly allowing an illegal quarry and treating a competitor more favorably than it did Broad River for "arbitrary and capricious" reasons. Broad River notified the county about its concerns in March, but got no response, the suit says.