November 1, 2008
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
According to the Anchorage Daily News, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly passed a law permanently banning new gravel mining within the seasonal high water table. In April, the Assembly temporarily stopped mining in the seasonal high water table, but that ban was set to expire in October. The new rules require a 4-foot vertical separation between the bottom of the excavation and the seasonal high water table. The new law is not retroactive and does not apply to operators currently mining in the water table.
In a split decision, the Maricopa County Mining District Recommendation Committee passed a motion recommending a study of whether mining operations have contributed to valley-fever cases near the Agua Fria Riverbed. The Arizona Republic reports that all the mining industry panel members voted against the recommendation and referred to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ position that mining isn’t associated with the respiratory illness. “As a member of the mining industry, it gives implication that we are involved,” panel member C.R. Herro told the newspaper. “The data do not correlate, and it’s difficult for me to recommend a study if mining isn’t the cause.”
According to The San Luis Obispo Tribune, the Board of Supervisors pledged to clean up the process for getting a building or mining permit. The pledge came following comments from gravel operators seeking permits and county planning staff during a meeting designed to clear the air after exasperated miners complained about the frustration of dealing with the county system. Although complaints about permitting are not atypical, those outlined during recent months have been particularly pointed, with some operators bypassing the Planning Commission and going directly to the Board of Supervisors. Specifically, operators complained about ongoing requests for studies, noting that although they were using consultants recommended by the county, they were being asked for additional studies after initial reports were submitted. Supervisor Bruce Gibson called for a review of the list of consultants in order to remove any who are not doing the job correctly. He also said that those who apply for permits should have clearly communicated expectations and should not face expensive and time-consuming surprises later in the process.
The Press Journal reports that people who want to mine aggregates from agriculture-zoned land may face a bevy of new requirements. Currently, mining is allowed on agricultural land as long as the miner gets a permit, subject to inspection and renewal once a year. The proposed expansion of an 835-acre site last year drew criticism from its farming neighbors and others in the area. In January, county commissioners responded with a moratorium on new mine approvals and held a series of workshops into mining issues by the Planning and Zoning Commission. That advisory panel submitted 38 changes to mining rules and would require miners to assure the county that the surrounding environment and water tables can withstand mining; possibly pave their haul routes to minimize dust; and hire an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to crack down on truckers and enforce traffic laws in areas where speeding is a problem.
A lawsuit to stop Destin’s beach-restoration project may delay restoration until after the 2009 hurricane season starts, according to The Destin Log. If that happens, Jerry Stalnaker, general manager of the Jetty East condo association, told the newspaper that the association will look at countersuing in order to get the desperately needed sand. The Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council hoped to begin dredging sand from the Gulf for Destin and Okaloosa Island beaches early next year, but several condominium associations filed suit to block the $25.9 million project. Stalnaker said that the association has contacted an attorney about suing the plaintiffs because of the amount of damage the condo owners could suffer if restoration falls through.
In mid-September, county commissioners gave unanimous approval to renew a permit for a Kansas River sand and gravel dredging operation near Lawrence. According to the Journal-World, the vote came despite the urging of environmental advocates to have the company mine in a sand pit instead of the river. Commissioner Bob Johnson said that Kaw Sand and Penny’s Concrete Inc. has been a good steward and noted that the new permit would run concurrently with the company’s Corps of Engineers permit. Commissioner Jere McElhaney said the only change in the new permit was the stockpile location and criticized members of the Friends of the Kaw and the Kansas Wildlife Federation for suggesting a private business move its operation without “offering any solutions or monetary value for that.” The permit lasts until Dec. 13, 2012. At that time, a zoning administrator can grant an extension of up to six years.
A New York couple who violated federal wetlands protection rules when they expanded a private airstrip and developed a quarry at their seasonal property were fined $115,000, according to the Bangor Daily News. Robert and Gayle Greenhill, who own more than 3,200 acres on Moosehead Lake’s western shore, did not obtain the necessary permits before work was done on the airstrip and quarry. The complaint noted that an access road and equipment corridor for the quarry was developed through several wetlands areas using an excavator and bulldozer. Wetlands areas also were affected by blasting and rock removal and some of the materials from the quarry were placed in wetlands areas. An EPA wetlands enforcement officer told the newspaper that most of the mitigation work had been completed at the couple’s $15.5 million property.
Neighbors of a recycling site that was recently granted permission to add crushing and processing to its operations complained to the state Department of Environmental Protection that the site contains possible violations and breaches in erosion control. The Telegram & Gazette reports that neighbor Gail Dunn charged that the wetlands portion of the site contains tires and trash. Upon investigation, the DEP noted that there were a couple of breaches in the berm along the edge of the property. The site owner told the newspaper that he was made aware of the problems and intends to address them, noting that he planned to run a “clean, neat operation.”
During mid-September, Martin Marietta’s St. Cloud Quarry in Waite Park played host to the arts. According to the Star Tribune, 1,200 people were ferried on buses to the bottom of the quarry floor to see “Ocean,” a modern-art dance masterpiece by Merce Cunningham. A total of 14 dancers and 150 musicians recreated the performance, with the price tag hitting an estimated $600,000. The idea to set the performance in the quarry stemmed from an orchestra player who had played in one of the company’s “Concert in the Quarry” performances in Indiana. “Busting rocks…that’s what I know,” Mike Reinhart, plant manager, told the newspaper. “I won’t say we weren’t a little apprehensive, but the people from Merce Cunningham were very excited about it, and I guess it was kind of contagious.” Waite Park’s city administrator also learned something through the performance. She told the newspaper that the show gave her a different perspective on the operation.
The debacle at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) continued when District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock issued a stay on his April ruling that required the department to permit gravel pits without first doing environmental analysis. The Missoula Independent reports that although this decision swings the pendulum toward environmental protection, Sherlock once again took the DEQ to task concerning its abject failures. The newspaper notes that Sherlock took a hard look at an amendment to the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) made by the 2003 Legislature that defines MEPA as “procedural” and says that, following the procedures required under MEPA constitutes an “adequate review of state action in order to ensure that environmental attributes are fully considered.” Sherlock said that the Legislature blew it through numerous amendments to the bill which resulted in a law that is “subject to numerous interpretations” and leaves judges with “the ambiguity here in question.” Sherlock gave the DEQ a tongue-lashing, writing that “the DEQ is doggedly refusing to do anything to review the permits. The DEQ has not only violated the Legislature’s mandate…but it has not even bothered to start the environmental assessment process. Further, it has not even extended the time period involved, nor has it issued findings that would allow it to withhold the requested permits…”
Fuel costs have led Lynn Trudeau, co-owner of Loudon-based DeCato Sand and Gravel, to increase its prices for screened topsoil. The firm uses its own trucks and charges $75 for a 15-ton delivery, an increase of $5 from last year. The price for screened loam is $14.50 a ton, a $2-increase from last year. “We haven’t had a lot of flack,” Trudeau said. “They understand fuel costs have gone up.” She also noted that she has kept sand and gravel prices the same as last year.
Frank J. Doherty Jr., president of Stormville-based Red Wing Properties Inc., submitted an opinion piece to the Poughkeepsie Journal regarding his company’s six-year long effort to reopen a former sand and gravel operation in the town of Milan. In the letter, he says that “Gravel mines need to be permitted locally – good quality sand and gravel deposits are not found everywhere. In fact, less than 1 percent of the entire town of Milan has viable gravel deposits.” He also takes the Hudson River Valley Greenway to task for its role in appealing a court decision that would allow the project. He notes that the group uses taxpayer money, including his and that of his employees, to fight a local zoning issue.
Delta Sand and Gravel has asked the state Land Use Board of Appeals to revisit the city of Eugene’s rejection of the proposed expansion of its Santa Clara site. According to The Register Guard, Delta’s attorney, Steve Cornacchia, said that after Eugene Sand and Gravel’s failed, four-year effort to open a greenfield site, it makes more sense to allow the expansion of an existing mine rather than deal with a new operation. He added that without new supply, the company faces closure of its operation in as little as eight years, which would be a heavy blow to the family-owned business, its 100-plus employees, and the local economy. He also noted that the company will argue that the city didn’t take into account its plans to mitigate the effects of mining 72 additional acres by creating buffer zones, reducing noise and dust, and protecting against groundwater seepage.
The Chittenden Superior Court dismissed a challenge filed by Williston residents who disputed the legality of a 1992 agreement between the town and the Chittenden Solid Waste District for a proposed landfill. The Burlington Free Press notes that 37 residents filed suit against both groups saying that the agreement exceeded the legal authority of both entities. Following dismissal of the suit, the only legal hurdle that remains is the recalculation of payments, valued at $4 million in 2000, to the land’s owner, Hinesburg Sand and Gravel.
Eastern View High School students will get a chance to continue a long-lasting custom initiated by their predecessors at their former high school. The Culpeper Star-Exponent reports that Luck Stone’s Culpeper quarry delivered an 8-ton rock that seniors will use as a canvas to paint their class’ graduating year, decorative logos, and spirits slogans. The rock is located near a small bridge between the newly built high school and athletic field. A high school senior contacted the company’s headquarters in hopes of getting a stone donated. Luck Stone Plant Manager Terry Jarrells and Leadman Ted Robson donated the rocks, while Matt James, a superintendent at Samuel James Construction, delivered them at no charge.
Glacier Northwest hopes to add 177 acres to its 335-acre DuPont mine in order to extend the site’s life by 14 years. The Associated Press reports the project features construction of a new tributary to Sequalitchew Creek, which would increase water flow in the stream and enable it to support salmon in a 4,000-foot stretch. To do so, however, a cut in the creek canyon would be required to connect the man-made tributary to the stream and that has caused members of an environmental group, Nisqually Delta Association, to speak against the project. Glacier Northwest officials say the project won’t harm the historic features of the creek canyon. “First, we are enhancing, not harming, the creek,” Glacier Northwest Vice President Mark Leatham told the news service. “Second, we wouldn’t be mining in the bluff. We’re notching the bluff to get water back in the creek.” The Nisqually Tribe, which is eager to restore stream flows, supports the project.
A group of citizens wants Portage County officials to put tougher restrictions on a mining company operating near a park in Stockton, The Stevens Point Journal reports. Wimme Sand & Gravel held a hearing for comments on its plan to reclaim the property when mining is completed, but some residents told the newspaper that they don’t believe the plan goes far enough. Although one called plans to build a berm to serve as a buffer between the park and the pit “a good start,” he added that timelines need to be established for when the berm will be built and seeded and those timelines need to be enforced.
A constant mist and sprinkles dampened attendance at this year’s Quarry Quest, held at Michels Materials quarry in Nee-Nah, but didn’t dissuade those in attendance from having a good time. According to The Post-Crescent, approximately 5,000 people attended the event, which raises monies for local charities. It was the 10th anniversary of the event, which is typically attended by 10,000 to 15,000. Popular events included a chance for youngsters to work with a trained operator to control backhoes, boom lift rides, off-road trips in Hummers, and tours on haul trucks.