February 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) authorized a six-month study of quarries and how they affect state residents. According to the Huntsville Times, Dr. Kathleen Felker, a member of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission who has “doggedly pursued the quarry issue,” spearheaded the vote for a study. Trey Glenn, ADEM executive director, told the newspaper that a preliminary review of quarries showed no significant problems. Glenn and Felker are touring quarries around the state, with Birmingham-based Vulcan Materials Co. assisting in arranging tours of its operations. The results of the study are expected to be reported at an ADEM meeting on April 17.
Nearly a year after a Merced County judge ruled that Modesto-based Black Diamond Aggregates Inc. shouldn’t be allowed to mine without a detailed environmental impact study, the company has been forced to shut down. The Merced Sun reports that, without permission to mine below ground, the company couldn’t continue operations. Previously, the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved its plans, but two environmental groups – the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water – quickly filed suit against the county for its decision. A county judge sided with the environmental groups last February, but waited until November to formally order the company to stop digging until it completes environmental studies and receives new approvals from the county.
On Dec. 30, a miner was seriously injured at Coots Material Inc.’s site in Mount Pleasant when he was caught under a piece of equipment. According to The Hawk Eye, employees at the site cut a conveyor belt to free the worker who was trapped under the machine. Crews started CPR after discovering he was not breathing. He was initially taken to Henry County Health Center and later airlifted to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
Six miners were sent to the hospital for treatment following an accident at Holcim (US) Inc.’s Hagerstown cement plant. The Herald-Mail reports that three miners were working near a main door to a storage silo that contained limestone dust. When they opened the door, limestone dust poured out and covered them, burying one up to his neck. Three additional workers pulled them to safety. All were taken to Washington County Hospital and suffered from labored breathing due to inhalation of limestone dust. A spokesperson for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) told the newspaper that the agency was investigating the incident and that section of the plant would reopen at the discretion of MSHA officials.
Aggregate Industries has approached the Sutton Board of Selectmen with an offer to purchase its 24.3-acre gravel pit for $1.7 million. Sand from the town-owned pit is used to treat roads during winter months. According to the Telegram & Gazette, township officials estimate that if the land is sold, they may pay an additional $30,000 to $50,000 per year for winter road maintenance. The board chairman said the sale would hinge on the passage of a home rule petition to allow half of the proceeds to be placed into a new stabilization fund with interest from the fund being applied toward the annual material costs for the highway department.
A 64-acre sand and gravel mine could be reopened, The Country Messenger reports. Tiller Corp., which operates a 359-acre gravel mine in Scandia, has proposed another mine on 114-acres of land in the community. According to documents submitted to the city of Scandia, the property was mined sporadically from the mid-’60s through the ’80s, but was not properly reclaimed. The newspaper reported that one of the benefits of additional mining would be proper reclamation at the end of the mining life cycle.
Lafarge’s bid to open an underground limestone mine in Sugar Creek hit a snag when the city’s planning and zoning commission recommended against the approval of its mining application. The Kansas City Star reports that the request now heads to the city’s Board of Alderman, where three aldermen voted against a similar proposal in 2007. Lafarge representatives say they have proposed a mining operation that would provide material for the local construction market, make efficient use of already existing mining infrastructure, and create potential revenue-producing underground storage. Mayor Stan Salva noted the additional taxes created by the proposal would provide much-needed revenue for the city.
Following lawsuits, emergency interim zoning issues, and court-ordered mediation, the Gallatin County Commission signed settlements with two aggregate producers, Cameron Springs, LLC and Spanish Peaks Sand and Gravel. According to The Belgrade News, operating conditions in the settlements are very similar to those adopted via the interim zoning and address issues such as ground water, noise, dust, and operating hours. An agreement could not be reached with a third operation, the Churchill-area NOG pit. That case will be heard in a Gallatin District Court.
Tilcon’s Tomkins Cove operation ceased quarrying for a seven-week period beginning in mid-December. The Journal News reports that production was halted due to a falling demand for crushed stone and asphalt, but the sales yard remains open. “This is a reflection of the significant slowdown in the construction business in the Lower Hudson Valley and New York City,” Geoff Thompson, a spokesman for Tilcon, told the newspaper. An estimated 14 miners were laid off during the shutdown. Quarrying operations also closed at Tilcon’s West Nyack site last month, but that shutdown coincided with scheduled maintenance and plant upgrades.
According to the Xenia Gazette, Cemex’s plant on Linebaugh Road temporarily laid off approximately 20 workers due to a struggling economy and lower market demand for building materials including cement. Company spokesperson Jennifer Borgen told the newspaper that the plant normally employs approximately 100 people. The company’s temporary suspension of cement production is expected to be short, and Cemex will increase production as the market and economy improves. Also, employees will be recalled as demand for their individual skills dictates. Employees were placed on “inactive status” late last year after attempts to prevent the situation through partnership with union officials gave way to economic conditions beyond the parties’ control. “We looked into ways to prevent this,” Borgen told the newspaper. “The economy was beyond our control. We tried every measure. This was not a surprise to anyone.”
The San Antonio Express-News reports that, after getting federal approval for three possible routes, Vulcan Materials Co. is assessing the best path for a new rail line to carry limestone from a quarry planned in Medina County. The permit request by Southwest Gulf Railroad, a Vulcan subsidiary, was under review by the federal Surface Transportation Board for five years before the agency authorized the rail spur to link the quarry near Quihi to existing tracks in Dunlay. A grassroots group, Medina County Environmental Action Association, opposes the project and has made numerous efforts to block it. Erik Remmert, Vulcan’s project manager, said Vulcan complied with environmental rules, plans actions to limit any flooding and harm to historic sites, and would take land by eminent domain only as “a last resort.” “We’d much prefer to work with affected property owners to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” he told the newspaper. He predicts the quarry will create 50 new jobs.
The Virginia Department of Transportation wants to increase fees for overweight trucks to help pay for damage they inflict on highways, The Virginia-Pilot reports. A report from the Virginia Transportation Research Council at the University of Virginia estimates that heavy loads were responsible for $211.4 million in wear and tear on state bridges and roads during 2008, however trucking companies paid only $2.7 million for permits that allow them to exceed legal weight limits. Currently, most trucks that haul sand, gravel, and crushed stone are eligible for free permits if they exceed weight limits.
In an effort to stop construction of a loading dock for a gravel operation, approximately 50 protesters barricaded two roads on Maury Island. According to the Seattle Times, the group gathered at access points to a mining site owned by Glacier Northwest and formed human blockades by chaining their wrists to one another inside steel pipes anchored to oil drums filled with concrete. Although miners’ cars could not clear the barricades, workers walked past them to the site. Environmentalists have fought the mine’s expansion for more than a decade. “I’m willing to get arrested for one of the last eelgrass beds in Puget Sound,” protester Morgan Guion told the reporter.
An anti-quarry group – Friends of Rural Communities and the Environment (FORCE) – has pledged its continued opposition to a quarry near Carlisle, Ontario. “We are determined to show the depth of the community’s opposition to this quarry, and we will use any means to keep the project from occurring,” threatened the group’s chairman, Graham Flint, during an interview with Ontario Farmer. St. Mary’s Cement Inc. is in the process of obtaining permits to mine limestone at its site. To date, it has committed to using best management practices to reduce noise and vibrations, watering unpaved roads and sweeping paved ones, implementing a strict trucking policy to ensure safe driving speeds, following groundwater monitoring procedures, and training its workforce in established policies.
On New Year’s Day, a 60-meter cement barge ran aground near Oak Bay, British Columbia. According to Oak Bay News, high winds may have been a factor in the incident involving the Lafarge ship. Efforts to free the barge were successful several days later after its cement load was pumped into another barge that pulled alongside it. The barge was then towed to Esquimalt by two tugs where it remained for several days. Transport Canada officials said the barge’s owners were taking appropriate action to remove it.