March 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
According to the Huntsville Times, Gurley Mayor Stan Simpson is asking a circuit judge to dismiss a pending 4-year-old lawsuit that involves him in a dispute over the banning of a limestone quarry from near the town. M&N Materials Inc. sued Gurley in April 2005, saying the town’s leaders unfairly prohibited operation of M&N’s proposed limestone quarry by annexing the 240-acre property and adopting zoning that bans quarries. The suit claims that M&N was forced to sell the land to Vulcan Materials at a considerable loss and seeks $2.75 million in damages. M&N alleges that Gurley leaders, including Simpson, acted recklessly and wrongfully interfered with contractual or business relations. The case is scheduled for a jury trial on April 20.
Vulcan Materials submitted a new proposal regarding its plans to shift a mining operation from the east side of its 270-acre Azusa Rock Quarry to the west side, near Duarte, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports. The company hopes to sell the plan by including an updated reclamation design that would improve the look of the hills after mining, Vulcan officials said. Duarte city officials have raised health and aesthetic concerns, but Azusa has the power to approve the proposal. Vulcan has held a series of community meetings to explain its proposal. An activist group, Save Van Tassel, opposes the project.
The Dutra Group, which operates the San Rafael Rock Quarry, advanced its cause in its bid to convince the public that its operations are not fouling the air surrounding the quarry with cancer-causing dust and diesel fumes, according to the Marin Independent Journal. As You Sow, a San Francisco-based non-profit environmental group, dropped a lawsuit that claimed the Dutra Group was violating Proposition 65 by not warning neighbors about diesel emissions from trucks traveling to and from the quarry. Proposition 65 prohibits businesses from exposing people to substances known to cause cancer and birth defects, without providing a clear and reasonable warning. The environmental group based its lawsuit on analysis of emissions prepared by a consulting group. The producer hired another consultant, who reviewed the report and discovered a calculation error that resulted in the health risk being overstated by 60 times. After reviewing the second report, As You Sow dropped its suit and apologized for the inconvenience and expense it caused.
It took a village to save a piece of local history known as a brownstone “arch.” The Hartford Courant reports that Quarrytown residents restored the only major artifact left from the town’s brownstone-quarrying era, which lasted from 1725 to the late 1800s. The arch is a 31-foot-long transportation device, once pulled by teams of oxen, that was used to move massive slabs of brownstone from the quarries to the holds of ships waiting on the Connecticut River. It was moved to a permanent home under a post-and-beam shelter on Main Street. A huge slab of brownstone hangs from the device, a reminder of the town’s past. The town raised approximately $70,000 for the structure. Everything from the site, landscaping, and architectural plans to the work of town crews was donated.
Approximately 50 property owners who live along Lake Road 5-45 heard a pitch from Magruder Limestone Vice President Dean McDonald to re-route the road in order to expand a quarry that’s been at the heart of controversy in recent years. The WestSide Star reports that the new road would be improved, graded to meet state standards, and may include a barrier wall, berm, or buffer line so the new road wouldn’t front the quarry. McDonald told the group that the company would mine the property for four to five years and then create a commercial development. If residents don’t support the expansion, the mine will dig deeper in its existing quarry and possibly mine its property on the other side of Lake Road. Property owner concerns were noted, and McDonald offered to hold another meeting to address them.
According to Big Sky Business Journal, the Montana Contractors’ Association Sand and Gravel Committee launched a new Web site on issues affecting open cut mining, www.montanagravel.org. “We developed this site so anyone with a question or an interest in the industry now has a way to access information and contacts,” noted Mike Newton, chair of the MCA Sand and Gravel Committee. “Whether you’re a contractor or a member of the public concerned about gravel pits, this site provides a lot of good information, and we encourage everyone to use it.” The site offers downloads of the MCA-developed Good Neighbor Policy for gravel pit operators, as well as a download of the MCA Sand and Gravel Brochure.
The Buffalo County Planning and Zoning Commission approved two new gravel mining operations, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Mid-Nebraska Aggregate Inc. requested a special-use permit to excavate gravel near Gibbon. The operator will expand a creek into a pond that will be approximately 1,800-feet long. T& F Sand and Gravel received a special-use permit to mine gravel on 12 acres near the Odessa Interstate 80 interchange.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said he plans to push for legislation to change the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management practices for the Missouri River. The Bismarck Tribune reports that a new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that barges carrying sand and gravel from dredge operations to on-shore processing sites are nearly all that remain on the river. “This report is jaw-dropping with respect to the size and type of barge shipping on the lower Missouri,” said Dorgan. “For the Corps of Engineers to release critically needed water in the upstream dams to support a barge industry that’s largely moving sand and gravel just a few miles is thoroughly ridiculous.” According to the report, commercial barge traffic slipped to around 300,000 tons in 2006 from a peak of 2 million tons. In the meantime, sand and gravel movement remained constant at about 8 million tons, with about half of that tonnage moving less than a mile by barge.
Growing concerns over water problems in Nockamixon have trickled down to a local quarry. Supervisors voted 3 to 2 against renewing Hanson Aggregates’ permit to operate, citing Hanson’s refusal to install an additional water meter. The Burlington County Times reports that the move prompted threats of a lawsuit from quarry managers. Following recent resident concerns, Nockamixon officials asked Hanson Aggregates to place a turbidity monitor near the water discharge point. Quarry manager Bob Melani blames road and bridge dust for the problem, noting that the company already abides by state Department of Environmental Protection standards. In addition, the operation honored the city’s request to plant more trees along the property and to send the township a copy of the quarterly water quality reports it must submit to the DEP.
Sand Springs Materials LLC filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn the city of Sand Springs’ decision to reject its proposed quarry. According to Tulsa World, the company’s request was turned down after several public hearings before the Planning Commission in 2007. The City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to reject its application for a 500-acre site. An attorney for the company told the newspaper that the city’s action was not based on facts, but “merely bent to the wishes of constituents.” City Attorney David Weatherford called the appeal a “last gasp” effort.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he wants to bring stakeholders together to resolve gravel mining concerns along the Applegate River. Joan Resnick, manager for the governor’s Oregon Solutions project, says it’s a matter of looking at the river holistically. The Associated Press reports that Resnick will meet with landowners, mining opponents, environmental organizations, and Copeland Sand and Gravel to review the operator’s request to expand its operations. Community forums will work toward development of a “Declaration of Cooperation” which all parties may or may not sign. One government official told the news agency that he sees the project as a way to look at the river as a whole rather than focusing on any specific operation.
The Leader-Telegram reports that a lawsuit over a proposed sand plant in Chippewa Falls is expected to be heard in court next month. The city’s Plan Commission issued a conditional-use permit to Canadian Sand and Proppant last fall. The permit allows the company to build several structures to heights of 90 feet. An opposition group, Concerned Chippewa Citizens, questions the legality of the commission’s vote to allow height variances. Canadian Sand and Proppant purchased 93 acres in an industrial park that is zoned for heavy industrial use. It plans to spend $45 to $50 million to build the plant.
British Columbia’s mining sector went from the best of times to not-so-good times in 2008, and the industry could see new measures to reignite mineral exploration as early as the current federal budget, said British Columbia’s Minister of State for Mining Gordon Hogg. He told The Vancouver Sun that his ministry’s regional offices saw exploration activity begin to slow in early 2008. When commodity prices collapsed later in the year, mining companies began to delay projects and lay off workers. Speaking at the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C.’s 2009 convention, he said that the downturn has brought a renewed appetite in mining communities and among governments to find ways of making it easier for exploration to happen, and B.C. is pushing for regulatory changes aimed at reaching that goal. “More exploration leads to more mines, eventually, Hogg told the newspaper, “and that’s where we want to go.”