North Carolina Residents Sue County and Company over Threat of Military Training Site

Military training center convoy.
Military training center convoy. (Sgt. 1st Class Robert Jordan/National Guard photo)

HOFFMAN, N.C. -- Nine members of the Hoffman and Marston communities are suing Oak Grove Technologies, Richmond County, County Planning Director Tracey Parris and the town of Hoffman, due to the ongoing presence and actions of a military training center that has created numerous quality of life issues.

The lawsuit states that plaintiffs and other members of the community have been impacted by damage to their homes from frequent blastings, stress from loud noise and gunfire at all times of day, stress from vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds on small rural roads and fear and uncertainty of unknown paramilitary groups in close proximity to their mostly African-American neighborhood. In the lawsuit, it states that previous complaints to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the Richmond County Planning Department have received no further action.

In July of this year, over 20 individuals, including primary petitioners of the lawsuit Roderick Brower and Alfreda Stroman, attended a meeting of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners to share their grievances that Oak Grove Technologies has created over an eight year span. This was not the first time that this issue was raised at a commissioner meeting, and previous, smaller individual meetings between concerned citizens and county officials and commissioners regarding the training center didn't make much progress.

"The commissioners vowed to stay in touch with us on it and we haven't heard anything from the county commissioners since," Brower said. "We felt that the only option next is to go into litigation and try to seek relief from those of us that have to live with it."

A petition at that commissioner meeting, signed by 200 members of the community, stated that Oak Grove violates the existing county noise ordinance and that the 50m rifles and explosives at the training site create a danger to public safety and jeopardize property values. In addition to asking for more transparency, among the list of demands include asking Oak Grove to cease operation on Sunday and reduce night-time usage of the facility. A demand letter by attorney Randy Herman, writing on behalf of 100 property owners in the area of Rushing Road, requests a new hearing regarding a conditional use permit that was granted by the Board of Adjustments in 2011 and amended in 2014.

"We hear you and will continue to review it," said Chairman Jeff Smart to Brower and Stroman following their 10-minute speech during the public comment session at July's meeting. "We're not going to ignore you."

Brower said that lines of communication between the county, Oak Grove and concerned citizens have become strained, with all parties unable to come up with a date to meet and discuss the issue. Brower said he believes that they don't see this matter "as an important issue." Brower had to move his mother away from her home due to the stress caused by the training center.

"They don't see the human aspect of what they're doing. It's arrogance," Brower said. "We may be in a black community, we may be in a rural community, we may not be within the city limits of Hoffman, but we are citizens and we matter. It's unreasonable for anyone who lives within earshot of that facility to be putting up with this. It needs to stop."

The seven additional plaintiffs are Barbara Brower, Derwin Royster, Cynthia Royster, Lonnie Swann, Elizabeth Jackson, Sandra Bryant and commissioner Don Bryant, who was not re-elected to the Board in the May primary.

In the lawsuit, it states that previous complaints to the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the Richmond County Planning Department have received no further action.

A prayer for relief at the conclusion of the lawsuit asks that the court enter a judgment that the 2014 conditional use permit is invalid, that the Richmond County Zoning Ordinance is enforced against Oak Grove, that all plaintiffs recover damages in an amount to be proven at trial, and that an injunction is placed against the continued use of the Oak Grove property, among other demands.

County Manager Bryan Land and Parris declined to comment on the pending litigation. Oak Grove Technologies could not be reached for further comment.

The lawsuit was delivered to the Richmond County Judicial Center on Oct. 31. The next night, Brower said that breaching drills were done at 2:00 a.m.. He believes that the late-night exercise was a "thank you" to local citizens for the lawsuit.

"We would like to be able to know that they are communicating and that their intentions are good," said Stroman, who added that previously Oak Grove would alert the community if there would be any major disruptions. "At least acknowledge the impact that they have on the citizens of the community."

(c) 2022 the Richmond County Daily Journal (Rockingham, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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