Gaston County commissioners investigate claims that could halt lithium mine

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County commissioners are looking into claims that could bring a stop to a multi million-dollar lithium mining operation that could bring hundreds of jobs.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, Locke Bell, who is Gaston County’s former District Attorney, told commissioners that Piedmont Lithium got nearby landowners to sign over rights to property that they didn’t own.

Bell lives in the area but doesn’t plan to sell his own land to the company.

Bell gave commissioners two deeds that he said are problematic. He said some people who legally signed over their property to Piedmont Lithium didn’t know that adjoining property that they don’t own was also included on the documents they signed.

Members of the county staff were at the Registrar of Deeds office Wednesday to look over documents, after the former DA told commissioners it appears someone for Piedmont Lithium doctored deeds.

[PAST COVERAGE: Piedmont Lithium presents Gaston County mining plans, neighbors voice concerns]

Gaston County commissioners asked staff members to track down documents from Piedmont Lithium, who is hoping to make a nearly $1 billion investment in the rural community that is expected to bring 500 high-paying jobs.

Hundreds of acres between Dallas and Cherryville is believed to be a part of the richest source of lithium in the world.

Commissioner Tracy Philbeck says the deeds raise serious questions.

[WANT TO WATCH ON OUR STREAMING APPS? CLICK HERE]

“There are major irregularities there, but why? How far? How deep?” Philbeck said.

Philbeck said he had reservations about the project before, but this is alarming.

“If they are true, we will not do business with Piedmont Lithium,” the commissioner said.

Philbeck said he can’t speak for the other commissioners, but he has carefully followed the issue, and he doesn’t like what he has seen so far.

“It’s an allegation at this point, but there is a lot of smoke here,” Pilbeck said.

Piedmont Lithium sent a statement to WSOC saying they respected all landowners land property and, as far as they are aware, “there have been no instances in which a landowner’s property has been mistakenly shown as being sold or transferred.”

Staff members should be done with their examination of the issue by early next week, he said.

Piedmont Lithium sent a statement to WSOC:

“During Tuesday (July 20th) night’s Gaston County commission work session meeting, an issue was raised by a private citizen about two of our real estate transaction recordings. Piedmont Lithium would like to clarify the misunderstanding about this process. The company and Gaston Land, our subsidiary, have properly recorded all deeds in connection with Gaston County land acquisitions and has respected all landowners’ property rights.

“Piedmont Lithium will continue to only act in ways that are customary in North Carolina real estate transactions and consistent with the agreements that are in place with landowners. To date, we have come to agreement with 140 property owners.

“The Gaston County Land Records (GIS) and Gaston County tax records are regularly updated to reflect property ownership transfers, and as far as Piedmont Lithium is aware there have been no instances in which a landowner’s property has been mistakenly shown as being sold or transferred to Piedmont Lithium. We are actively working with County staff to clear up any misunderstanding.”