January 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
According to the Athens News-Courier, an agent for the Alabama Rivers Alliance says she thinks she has the key to blocking a proposed limestone quarry near Tanner. Speaking against the quarry, Elizabeth Salter told more than 100 people at a public hearing that a court ruling upheld in Tuscaloosa County prevented any development that would further pollute an already polluted waterway. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has given preliminary approval for air and water permits for the quarry. Derek Roberts, North Alabama general manager of Rogers Group, said its operation would suppress dust, that no water would be taken from Swan Creek, that any water dispatched into Swan Creek would first go through settlement ponds, and that the company will build a buffer for wildlife along Swan Creek and use it as an outdoor classroom for students. State legislators, including State Sen. Tom Butler, and State Rep. Micky Hammon, are trying to block the quarry via legislation.
Owners of a family farm have proposed turning part of the property into a gravel pit. Anchorage Daily News outlined a proposal from the Wiederkehr family to clear trees and level hills on 26.5 acres of its property, farm 10 acres and mine the remainder. A family spokesman told the newspaper that if it were not for the extension of Bogard Road cutting into their field, they may have never considered the proposition. Although neighbors are upset about the proposal, the spokesman said the family planned to mine in 5-acre increments and leave larger-than-required buffers between the mine and neighboring subdivisions. The family is the first to apply under a new gravel zoning ordinance adopted in 2005 that creates a special temporary zone on land being used to mine gravel and other materials.
Palmdale’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to allow the Vulcan Materials Co. to operate around the clock, expand its mining area, and make other changes at its local aggregates operation. The San Fernando Valley Business Journal reports that John Hecht, president of West Coast Environmental & Engineering, spoke on the producer’s behalf. He told the commission the modifications “are necessary to ensure that this project will be able to continue to supply construction materials to the local community and to Southern California.”
A lawsuit was filed against the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Syar Industries. It charges that the Napa gravel producer is threatening the county’s groundwater. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the suit asks that a three-year permit granted by the county to Syar be placed on hold while the county conducts a full environmental review of possible damage to the aquifer that lies in the alluvial gravels of the Russian River. The board voted 3-2 to grant a permit for a 28-acre pit up to 90 feet deep. It required reclamation of the pit. Plaintiffs say the county’s environmental review was inadequate. A supervisor told the newspaper that the project wasn’t adding more land for mining, but simply completing mining on an area already being developed.
Bonneville County commissioners approved the expansion of a controversial gravel pit, but opponents say that they plan to appeal the decision to a district court judge. The Idaho Falls Post Register notes that Eagle Rock Construction Co. asked for an expansion of a 100-acre tract. Opponents say they are concerned about dust and property values. In addition, they believe commissioners erred in approving the site based on its zoning because the property is in an agricultural zone. The county planning and zoning administrator told the newspaper that the state has no policy restricting gravel pits to industrial zones. A spokesman for the company said that a pit approved in 1994 will soon be put to use, but the expansion will be delayed to allow it to comply with permit restrictions imposed by county commissioners.
An analysis prepared by opponents of an expansion of Pike Industries claims the asphalt plant has been operating an illegal quarry in Westbrook for 40 years. A coalition of Westbrook businesses commissioned the study, which cites a 1968 conflict between the city and Pike’s predecessor, Blue Rock Industries, according to the Portland Press Herald. The analysis says Blue Rock began operating a quarry without appropriate permits and then refused to stop. Westbrook officials say they have read the report and are awaiting a response from Pike. Several businesses near Pike have opposed the asphalt plant’s plans. In response, Pike eliminated its intended quarry expansion, but has continued to push for a $5 million, state-of-the-art hot-mix asphalt plant.
A report from the state Department of Environmental Protection says the noise levels at the Morse Sand and Gravel concrete facility, which borders a residential Lakeville neighborhood that for years has complained of operating too loudly, are within acceptable limits. The Enterprise Correspondent notes that a Department of Environmental Protection consultant performed sound level tests at the property line abutting the plant’s harshest critic. The consultant reports that of 13 separate on-site activities tested, 11 were within standard DEP sound standards, no louder than 10 db(A) above ambient, normal, sound conditions. Two exceptions were caused by a cement truck unloading and a concrete vehicle climbing a hill at an elevated prep area. In 2008, Morse built a new sound abatement wall at the northern border as an extension to the 16-feet wall approved in December 2005 and built in June 2006.
The Waterloo Township Planning Commission unanimously voted to accept an application for a special land-use permit that would allow Aggregate Industries to expand its gravel pit. According to the Jackson Citizens Patriot, the company says the expansion will have minimal impact on residents. Neighbors have said the expansion will create noise and lower their property values. Martin Landes, property, environment, and reserves manager for Aggregate Industries, said the company can minimize the noise by building berms.
The Hooksett zoning board of adjustment approved a plan to allow Candia-based Severino Trucking to excavate sand and gravel from a residential lot despite a recommendation from the town’s engineering firm to deny the variance. The Union Leader reports that material from the site will be used for construction of the Interstate 93, Exit 5 project in Londonberry. The company says it expects excavation of the site to take a little more than a year with a maximum of 10 trucks an hour running roundtrips between the two communities.
Vulcan Materials Co. reported that it plans to lay off 38 of its 200 employees in its Mideast Division, based in Winston-Salem. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the temporary layoff is expected to end March 1. When announcing the layoffs, Tom Carroll, director of business development and external affairs for the Mideast Division, told the newspaper that company officials hope that the economy and the demand for its products will improve to the point that they can bring the affected workers back sooner. Employees were given nearly seven weeks notice of the layoff so they could sign up for unemployment benefits and be able to continue their health-care plans.
High-ranking Democrats in the state Legislature are calling for massive public works projects to create jobs. The Register Guard reports that the state’s unemployment jumped to 7.3 percent in October. Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) said it’s time to act on an employment-stimulating public construction bill. He told the newspaper that he’ll be ready with plans to create as many as 38,000 new jobs in Oregon when the Legislature convenes in January. State analysts noted that every $100 million spent on public projects creates more than 1,000 construction-industry jobs. Courtney proposes moving immediately on about $1.6 billion in bonding capacity that the Legislature can spend without raising the state’s debt limit. Gov. Ted Kulongoski is pursuing a “transportation and jobs act” that would sell $500 million in bonds each year for five years to pay for bridges, roads, and public transit.
First Rate Excavate agreed to restrictions on its proposed sand mining while gaining approval of a conditional-use permit from the Sioux Falls Planning Commission. According to the Argus Leader, the producer will mine from the sides of hills on about 25 acres of its property adjacent to Great Bear Park. Mining would extend to depths of 150 feet below the site’s highest elevation. Restrictions include a 40-foot setback on the western and southern property lines, installation of a split-rail fence along its property, a buffer zone of three rows of trees, and an annual inspection of its reclamation work by representatives of city and Great Bear parks. An engineer for the company said that owners hoped to begin the project by spring time.
The Staker Parson Cos.’ South Weber mine received the Safest Mine Achievement Award in the sand-and-gravel category for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s Rocky Mountain district. The mine had no violations during more than 1,000 man hours of work per employee in 2007. It was the best record of the district’s 1,534 gravel pits.
Emmett Snead, owner of Snead’s Asparagus Farm, received approval from Caroline County officials to proceed with a 50-acre mining operation. The Free Lance-Star reports that the site now needs state approval to begin what has been dubbed a controversial mining operation. The newspaper notes that the Board of Supervisors “went against the predominant public sentiment in voting 3-2 for the special-exception permit.” Petitions were submitted to the board both in favor and against the proposal. A staff report from the planning and community development director noted that an environmental planner for the county noted no adverse affects on the local river due to the project. “Honesty and common sense won out over half-truths and fear-mongering,” Snead told the newspaper.
The Goochland Gazette reports that Luck Stone began cutting its workforce in late November. The layoffs are spread among 30 locations in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina and include corporate positions. The restructuring impacted approximately 150 employees with some relocating or taking on new assignments, but the majority of which lost their jobs. According to Charlie Luck IV, president and CEO of Luck Stone, a slowdown in the construction of new homes and commercial properties, as well as cuts to state transportation funding have impacted demand for the company’s products. He doesn’t see the economic slowdown ending any time soon.
Spokane County Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey approved a zoning change from Urban Reserve to Mineral Lands for 104 acres and paved the way for a significant mine expansion. An additional 10 acres of land already zoned for mining will be subject to revised conditions. According to the Spokesman Review, the irregularly shaped site is owned by Central Pre-Mix Concrete Co. and features a flat-topped ridge that surrounds an existing 43-acre quarry. The company’s plans call for reclamation of the land and creation of a 242-lot residential subdivision with 40 years. Permit restrictions include limiting operations to daylight hours. Mining is banned on Sundays and major holidays. The operations must also not create “significant adverse impact” on the local moose population or noise disturbance for neighbors.
A community action group and a limestone company are once again fighting over a quarry planned for Randolph County. West Virginia Media reports that a citizens group says it believes that iron and aluminum released during mining will hurt wildlife in a nearby river, a claim denied by producer J.F. Allen Co. The citizens group is hosting dinners and fundraisers, operating a Web site, taking names for a petition, doing interviews with the media, and trying to fund its own environmental impact study. The battle between these two groups began about six years ago, soon after J.F. Allen began the government process required to open its third quarry site, Ken Politan, assistant director for the Division of Mining and Reclamation of the DEP, told the news service. The DEP, J.F. Allen, and the citizens group agreed on a settlement and signed it in 2005, which included discharge amounts of the metals, but the producer later determined that the proposed limits were not economically achievable. Politan said J.F. Allen’s request is not expected to hurt aquatic life, because the metal levels will still fall into the state’s guidelines.
According to The Leader-Telegram, Canadian Sand and Proppant withdrew its request to mine sand in the town of Howard. Plans for a sand processing plant are expected to move forward, but will the sand will be imported from other towns or via rail. The producer purchased 93 acres of land zoned for heavy industrial use and says it plans to spend $45 million to $50 million for construction. It received a conditional use permit from the city to construct buildings on the site, but ran into opposition from the town where it wanted to mine a farm in 10-acre increments. The town supervisor said it will have a moratorium on mining permits and asked the county to not interfere.
St. Mary’s Cement must redo a controversial water-pumping test at the site of its proposed limestone quarry northeast of Carlisle, The Hamilton Spectator reports. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) rejected results of testing in July, saying heavy rain made the data unreliable. A consultant for the company insisted data could adjust for the rainfall, but government officials say the results “would never be as conclusive as if the test had been carried out without this confounding factor. We can’t accept the theoretical.” It’s a serious setback in St. Mary’s bid to open a large quarry. The company may have to wait until spring to rerun the first phase of a three-phase test plan, raising questions about whether it can finish all three before its permit expires June 30.