New sand mine in Grundy County draws fire from residents who say there's a rule against it

Contributed map by Grundy County, Tennessee, resident Jeff Stewart / This map shows the Clause Hill Sand Quarry, owned by Tinsley Sand and Gravel LLC, and its approximate proximity to nearby residential areas that lie within 5,000 feet of the operation, a distance county officials and others say violates a county powers act passed in 2019.
Contributed map by Grundy County, Tennessee, resident Jeff Stewart / This map shows the Clause Hill Sand Quarry, owned by Tinsley Sand and Gravel LLC, and its approximate proximity to nearby residential areas that lie within 5,000 feet of the operation, a distance county officials and others say violates a county powers act passed in 2019.

The neighbors of a new, recently-permitted sand mine on the Cumberland Plateau in Grundy County, Tennessee, are roiling over what they say is a surprise operation local residents never knew was coming.

And Grundy County's mayor isn't too happy either, pointing to a county resolution on the books that prohibits an operation like the one belonging to Tinsley Sand and Gravel LLC, which has operations in surrounding counties.

Carol Vandenbosch, of Monteagle, said the Clause Hill Sand Quarry's blasting and crushing operation will cause environmental damage, is contrary to the county's efforts to boost tourism and should be stopped.

The company is owned by Eddie Tinsley Jr., and he is listed in state documents as the sole responsible party for all activities at the site. Tinsley has asphalt plants in South Pittsburg in Marion County, Decherd in Franklin County and McMinnville in Warren County, all direct neighbors of Grundy County, according to the company website.

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Efforts to reach Tinsley for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

"This will be the third blasting plant within a 5-mile radius of Monteagle. When our mountains are gone, they are gone," Vandenbosch said in an email. Vandenbosch said she and others never heard of the quarry until it was already being built.

Bruce Blohm, a part-time resident of nearby Retreat at Deer Lick Falls, said the whole community was surprised by the sudden appearance of the sand quarry. State law requires the company to put a notice in the local paper, but no one saw the tiny paragraph in the legals section of the Grundy County Herald where that kind of item runs, Blohm said.

"Three or four weeks ago was the first word that anybody heard that there was anything like this project taking place," Blohm said Thursday in a telephone interview. Soon, nearby residents began asking questions of county leaders, and they established a website to get the word out.

"Everybody opposes having this in a residential area like this developer has evidently been permitted to do," he said.

Blohm said the sand quarry seems a contrary idea to the increasing effort in the county and state to boost tourism. Grundy County is packed with unique, natural areas to attract visitors, he said.

The quarry operation will increase big truck traffic, and it poses a potential health hazard, according to one neighbor of the property who is a physician.

Dr. Arthur Davies owns a practice in Monteagle and home on land that touches the quarry property. He said the operation will be a health hazard for its neighbors and a blight on Grundy's beautiful landscape.

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Davies said Friday in a telephone interview there is already a "conga line" of trucks rolling along U.S. Highway 41 - which splits the county east to west - from other mining operations already in the area, and he is opposed to the one now plopped right next door.

Davies has local patients who suffer from years of working in coal mines in the past, and silica dust from a sand quarry can pose an even greater danger, he said.

"Fine silica is in the air, and you can't see it," he said. "You'll be inhaling it for years - your children will, your livestock will, your pets will - it'll destroy your lungs. It's tiny shards of glass that are airborne."

Noise will be constant, and already crews are working at the site every day, Davies added. He has faith in the county mayor's office and believes Grundy's beauty is its selling point for visitors and a financially-stable county, not sand quarries.

"'I can do what I want to with my land' - that's great, but they don't see the destruction and the other part of it," he said of a sometimes popular lament of private property owners. Areas where materials are taken from the earth never benefit from it, according to Davies.

The quarry, where work crews began building Nov. 29, is sandwiched between the Highland Bluffs and Timberwood Trace developments, according to its opponents. There are about 50 homes in Highland Bluffs, another 80 in Timberwood Trace, 50 more in nearby but not adjacent Retreat at Deer Lick Falls and about 15 homes along Bud Pattie Road. Many of the private parcels abut the quarry property.

Jeff Stewart - another resident of the Retreat at Deer Lick Falls and an engineer who created a map showing the sand plant and its neighbors - said Thursday in a telephone interview the quarry property lies within 5,000 feet of almost 200 homes, a violation of the county's rules.

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He, Blohm, Davies and Vandenbosch believe outdoor attractions like the ever-lengthening Mountain Goat Trail, zip lines, off-roading and hiking and camping in Grundy's state parks and wild areas are the county's biggest drawing cards, not its sand. They said Tinsley took advantage of the state's weak public notification requirements to slip the quarry into place without raising an alarm.

According to documents on file with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tinsley's sand plant has been issued a permit for work to build out its operations to include a sandstone rock quarry, crusher and washing facility on a parcel off of Chevy Road that totals 467 acres. The area to be used for mining operations is 138 acres.

The operation underway in Grundy is typical of other sand mining facilities in Middle and East Tennessee, according to Tinsley's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the Department of Environment and Conservation on July 31, 2021. Tinsley is allowed under the permit to discharge treated mine wastewater and stormwater from the facility into Hurricane Creek and one unnamed tributary to Hurricane Creek. Those streams eventually lead to the Elk River and Woods Reservoir near Tullahoma and Tims Ford Lake near Winchester.

The company met the state's requirements for permitting for the operation but permit requirements do not trump local requirements, according to Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson Kim Schofinski.

"This permit is an authorization to discharge treated mine wastewater and stormwater," Schofinski said Friday in an email. "It is not a land-use permit or authorization to mine. Our permit also does not supersede any local or county restrictions or requirements."

No permit appeals have been filed, she said.

"[The Department of Environment and Conservation] conducts inspections as required and has not found any violations on the site," she said. "We are letting any interested parties know that this is now a local zoning and planning issue."

Stewart said county rules put in place a few years ago bar operations like sand quarries from operating in certain areas, and the map he created shows where Tinsley's quarry crosses the line.

Grundy County Powers Act

Grundy County Mayor Michael Brady - who knew nothing of the quarry until a "concerned resident" called him - contends the company is in violation of a "Grundy County Powers Act" passed in May 2019 by county commissioners, and they stand behind the legislation, he said.

A few years back, Brady was worried about investments in tourism being countered by "nuisances" that take away from Grundy County's special places in nature for recreation, he said Thursday in a telephone interview.

"I was staying awake at night thinking there's things that could come in here and destroy this," he said. "Countywide zoning doesn't work and is not right for Grundy County, so I did a lot of research, talked to my attorney and sure enough, there is a statute [that states] a county can regulate and limit 'nuisances.'"

And so the powers act was born that requires any operation like Tinsley's must be more than 5,000 feet from the property line of site of operations to "any church, park, residence, commercial business," and now its first subject in enforcement is the sand quarry, according to Brady.

In a letter Brady sent to Tinsley Properties in mid-December, the company was told it appears to be breaking local rules.

Brady told company officials an application to operate can be submitted, but he didn't say it would be approved.

But in a Grundy County Chancery Court suit filed Wednesday, Tinsley's lawyers said the company was unaware of the county's 2019 resolution and has seen no evidence of it being enforced since it was passed.

Tinsley challenges the validity of the county's resolution when it doesn't have a planning commission or zoning authority, requirements under state law for regulating land use, the suit states.

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Tinsley contends the county didn't follow state law in providing public notice regarding enacting the resolution or in passing a January 2022 amendment to it related to "rock crushers and/or quarrys [sic] and/or gravel pits" and that the resolution is therefore void.

Tinsley is seeking a declaratory judgment finding the resolution void and an award of attorneys fees and costs and any further relief the court deems warranted.

Brady said the county's legal counsel is working on an answer to Tinsley's complaint.

"We'll take the appropriate legal steps to enforce our resolution," he said.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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