State and Province News October 2011
The Montana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision of a local judge who threw out a lawsuit filed by a Gallatin citizens group. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that the citizens group challenged the constitutionality of the way protests were handled concerning a gravel zoning district in the Gallatin Gateway area. The issue began when the Gallatin County Commission imposed a two-year temporary zoning district that required new and expanding gravel pits to go through a conditional-use permitting process, and area gravel operators, agricultural families, and developers protested the ordinance. Under a county law, property owners representing 50 percent of titled property in the proposed zoning district can protest and stop zoning. The citizens group argued that people, not land, vote, and the protest law infringed on the rights of others. The district judge did not rule on that issue because the law also required the county to act within 30 days of the protest period and either form the zoning district or throw it out. The county did not act on the zoning district.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has scheduled hearings for Elam Sand and Gravel Corp.’s proposed mine in West Bloomfield. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Administrative Law Judge Molly T. McBride will oversee the process. It will include two hearings; one for public comment and another to define, narrow, and possibly resolve issues related to the mine. Participation at that conference will be limited to DEC staff, the operator, and others requesting party status prior to the conference. In addition to the DEC permit, Elam requires a special-use permit from the town of West Bloomfield, which has adopted a moratorium on new special-use permits. The operator has filed lawsuits to force the town to act on the permit and to void the moratorium.
Some Saginaw residents are upset by increased evening activity at Northwest Mineral Resources, KVAL 13 reports. The company has increased activity on Delight Valley School Road to supply its involvement in a repaving project for Interstate 5, but that paving can take place only between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. Lane County is reviewing the company’s operation plan, and the county’s sand and gravel committee is expected to address the project’s impact on residents.
A state appeals court has ruled against Cemex in a suit that claimed the company owed Texas a half-billion dollars in mineral royalties from its quarry in McKelligon Canyon. The El Paso Times reports that Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson sued the company, seeking $558 million in fees he says should have gone into the Texas Permanent School Fund. Texas property owners are generally required to lease mineral rights prior to extraction of oil, gas, and other materials from the ground. They then pay state royalties — a percentage of the market value — of what is removed from the land. While Cemex owns the land, the state claims the rights to minerals in the land. Cemex bought the quarry in 2005. Through the lawsuit, the company argued that “dirt, caliche, sand, gravel, limestone, and other materials at issue are not ‘minerals’ reserved to the state and therefore belong to Cemex.” It also argued it could not be held responsible for any royalties before 2005 when it purchased the land. The case will be returned to the trial court to determine how much the company owes.
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