Mining Bill Attracts Attacks From Industry

March 24, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — A Carroll leader of the five-county citizens coalition battling for protection from mining damages says the industry should heed a message sent last week by the House of Delegates and start working in concert with the quarry bill's proponents.

"I'm an optimist," said David T. Duree of New Windsor, spokesman for the Statewide Coalition on Non-Coal Surface Mining. "When an organization finds that the course it's been on is not appropriate, it's time to re-evaluate. I think it's time the industry re-evaluates the adversarial approach it's been taking and takes heart that the citizens have been reasonable."

But as the bill moves to the Senate, the mining industry shows nosigns of weakening its resolve to fight the legislation and either have it killed outright or amended so heavily that it would enfeeble the cause two Carroll delegates have championed for four years.

Even though House amendments to the bill provided concessions to the industry, the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc. president says the legislation is "not palatable," primarily because it presumes quarry companies liable for damages that can't be proven scientifically.

"There's a heck of a lot more we'd like to see done," President SamuelW. Christine III said. "We don't think anything ought to pass, really."

The bill requires quarry companies to compensate property owners for depleted water supplies or sinkholes -- subsidences of land that can occur naturally or by extracting water -- within a state-established "zone of influence" around quarries.

The House Environmental Matters Committee amended the bill, limiting its scope to Carroll, Frederick, Baltimore and Washington counties -- where there is karst terrain, or limestone deposits. Also, the committee excluded protection for development built within the zone after it has been established.

Mining officials say they were excluded from discussions that produced the amendments.

The bill passed committee, 17-3, and then the full House on Wednesday, 119-14. Eight of the floor opponents were Baltimore County delegates.

The bill was inspired in 1988 by Wakefield Valley residents who fear that quarry companies planning expansions in the area pose a threat to their water supplies, property andquality of life. Those companies -- Lehigh Portland Cement Co. of Union Bridge, Genstar Stone Products Co. and the Arundel Corp. of Baltimore County -- have led the battle against the bill.

The bill's co-sponsors, Delegates Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, and Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, say they are working to gain support in the Senate, where they expect the mining lobby to work overtime. AggregatesAssociation leaders met Friday to determine strategy.

"It's very important the Senate resists amendments on the bill," Elliott said. "That can cause the problem of going to conference committee to resolve it. The bill has been massaged over four years to accommodate as much as we can the quarry interests. I hope the Senate accepts the House bill for that reason."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, said he supports the bill, which his Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee will consider.

The Aggregates Association contendsthat the bill is fatally flawed. Christine said all language concerning sinkholes should be eliminated, since the land depressions can occur naturally.

Also, he argues that it is unfair that mining companies would have to prove by "clear and convincing evidence" in court that they were innocent of causing water or property damages.

"It's a very high standard of law, and when you're dealing with an inexact science, it's a situation where it's impossible to prove," he said.

"We do understand as an industry the fact that neighbors of quarries have fears. We appreciate that and want to be good neighbors. Butnobody at the hearing said they actually had any problems. If there's a problem, our people are willing to help and drill wells. This lawis not the way to approach the problem."

He added that industry officials and coalition leaders, who have begun to meet, should be allowed more time to work out differences away from the legislature.

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