July 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
A trial involving a company that wanted to develop a quarry in Gurley has been postponed, with no new date set. According to The Huntsville Times, M&N Materials filed a 2005 lawsuit against the town of Gurley, Stan Simpson (who helped organize quarry opposition and was later elected mayor), and Vulcan Materials Co., which now owns the property. M&N wants the 240-acre property rezoned for use as a quarry or have an annexation vote reversed to allow a quarry to be built. It is also seeking $2.75 million, plus other damages, based on its claims that the town and mayor improperly interfered with a legal business venture to develop a quarry on property adjacent to the town. That interference, they say, caused Vulcan to decrease the amount it was willing to pay for the land. “A city and its officers cannot (and should not) be permitted to identify land outside its city limits, annex that property into its city limits, and zone it to prohibit lawful use just because it disagrees with the use of that property,” M&N’s attorney wrote in a filing.
The Rogers Group proved that noise from its operations is below state minimums. A 4029tv.com report notes that the company is seeking to expand its operation near Fayetteville, but neighbors have said they are worried about excessive noise and rattling. After test results were released, neighbors said the test blast wasn’t a good example of the types of explosions at the site. They’re right. Readings from company equipment taken during the last two years showed that most of the blasts have been below the test’s noise level.
CalX Minerals bought the mining claims and permit for the Mid-Continent Quarry near Glenwood Springs. According to a press release from the Bureau of Land Management, the company will be quarrying the site on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grinding will occur around the clock in an indoor operation. The material will be pulverized into rock dust for use in the company’s coal mining operation where rock dust is often used to reduce the danger of explosions in coal mines.
According to The Pantagraph, gravel pits in McLean County would have to be about 1,000 feet from housing and schools under a proposed zoning ordinance. The proposal also requires a distance of 2,000 feet between stockpiles and housing and schools. In contrast, the current setback from such properties is 1.5 miles. A zoning officer told the committee in a memo that an evaluation of dust, noise, and other issues indicates that setbacks of 1.5 miles are excessive. Other changes include clarifying the definitions of buffer zones and mining and quarry operations. The county’s land-use committee voted 4-2 to forward the ordinance to the McLean County Board. At press time, the county board had not voted.
The Grant County Planning and Zoning Commission clarified why it approved a conditional use permit last year. The Telegraph Herald reports that the board voted 4-3 to clarify the 15 conditions included in its permit for Kowalski-Kieler Inc.’s proposed sand pit in Potosi Township. The committee was forced to re-visit the issue after a ruling by Circuit Court Judge Michael Kirchman that the conditions set in the original conditional-use permit were unclear. For the past 18 months, some area residents have been fighting to stop the pit and have cited issues ranging from its impact on tourism and aesthetic issues to safety and health concerns.
Douglas County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a court-sanctioned agreement with Mid-States Materials that outlines reclamation plans and other land-use regulations for the site, bought by the company in 2007. According to the Lawrence Journal World, the company must now submit a detailed reclamation plan, including a drainage study, for several phases of the quarry to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department. One goal of reclamation, the newspaper reports, is to remove an overburden pile along one portion of the site. County commissioners approved the agreement, but said it left the door open for neighboring property owners to comment in the future when approving reclamation plans with the company.
Opponents of a proposed Freetown quarry drew the ire of town selectmen after placing fliers on the windshields of cars at a local high school. The Herald News reports that the selectmen chairperson and a spokesperson for the company seeking the permit said that the fliers contained false and misleading statements. The one-page flier claims that silica dust from quarries has been proven “to cause lung cancer, silicosis, kidney failure, and immune system disorders.” It also claimed that blasting can cause wells to go dry and contaminate drinking water. The chairperson noted that she has worked with the company to ensure that the project complies with state and federal regulations.
An equipment fire at an Ashbury sand and gravel pit caused a small fuel spill, the Ashbury Park Press reports. A trommel screen caught fire at Shore Sand and Gravel. Firefighters and police were called to the scene and were able to extinguish the fire before it spread. A hazmat team was called in to handle containment and clean-up of a small amount of fuel that leaked from the screen to the ground.
A former executive at Fisher Sand and Gravel has pleaded guilty to nine felony charges of federal income tax fraud. According to the Associated Press, Michael Fisher’s crimes cost the government more than $600,000 in unpaid taxes from 2001 to 2004. In court, Fisher admitted to using company funds to pay personal expenses. He also admitted to filing bogus personal and corporate tax returns to hide what he did. The judge set a sentencing date of Aug. 17. Eight of the nine felonies carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. A ninth conspiracy charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Each penalty also carries a possible fine of up to $250,000. Two other company executives await sentencing for their roles in the tax fraud.
Martin Stone Quarries Inc. has asked the state to approve a plan that would expand its mine near Bechtelsville from 205 to 349 acres and to mine to a depth of 800 feet. The Reading Eagle reports that the plan calls for increasing water pumped from the site. Company Vice President Rod Martin told the newspaper that he expects the permitting process to take 12 to 18 months, but that the quarry would expand in phases over 10 to 30 years. Colebrookdale Township has already approved the expansion. State approval is the company’s final hurdle.
County geologic definitions are at the heart of a dispute regarding a proposed quarry in Port Angeles, where neighbors of the site have asked the Clallam County hearing examiner not to repeal the categorization of the property as an “erosion hazard.” Peninsula Daily News reports that the owners of the 40-acre Little River Quarry challenged the county’s criteria on which it based its decision not to approve the operation. The owners contend that the chance of nearby streams being affected by erosion is minimal. The erosion hazard designation requires the owners to develop a stormwater management plan that demonstrates how the quarry’s operation would protect streams from loose sediment. The county planning manager says he believes the property merits the designation because it has slopes with soil and a 40-percent grade. The county exempts such slopes if they are made up of consolidated rock, but the property owners say that terminology needs clarification. The owners also say the county did not use “best available science” since it didn’t incorporate a report from an engineering consultant that said the property has a “very minor susceptibility of any soil erosion.”
According to The Herald-Mail, opponents of a proposed Gerrardstown quarry presented a resolution opposing permitting of a mining operation to the Berkeley County Commission. In late May, commissioners voted to adopt the one-page resolution. It was presented by opposition member Len Griffith of Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment. After Griffith read the resolution, he told the commission that the group was supported by several thousand people and that it had obtained more than 900 signatures on one of two petitions. A spokesman for the company, Continental Brick, told the newspaper that he needed more time to review the language of the resolution before making comment. At press time, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was waiting to receive a groundwater hydrology analysis, and the State Historic Preservation Office was waiting on additional requested information before taking action on the permit. When the DEP application is complete, residents will have the opportunity to request a public hearing.
Following a court directive, the Chippewa County Planning Commission is compiling a written list of “findings of fact” that spell out how the sand plant would affect the city. The Leader-Telegram reports that the commission held a meeting in early June and noted that if Canadian Sand and Proppants decides to pursue building a resin-coating plant on the site, it will have to bring the issue back to the planning commission. One reason why the commission is reviewing the conditional-use permit is because the company wants part of the plant to exceed the maximum height of 60 feet for a building in the city. If permitted, some of the structures would be 90 feet tall. By comparison, the city engineer noted that a nearby water tower is 150 feet tall.
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