UNIONTOWN — The mining industry has provided jobs for county residents, an affordable supply of stone products for construction and a reliable tax base, industry officials say.
It also has destroyed a comfortable way of life for some residents, devalued their property and harmed the environment, some Wakefield Valley residents say.
Testimony at a public meeting Monday night about a preliminary mining plan for the county was evenly divided between mining company advocates and New Windsor-area residents. About 75 people attended the meeting at Francis Scott Key High School.
"We're not trying to putthem out of business," Stephen Manning, who lives outside New Windsor, said about the mining industry. "We're trying to coexist."
Carol Collins, a New Windsor resident, said, "We feel it (quarrying) doesnot belong near a housing development. It does not belong in our backyard."
The county Mineral Resource Advisory Committee has writtena plan meant to balance the interests of the mining companies and residents. The nine-member committee has presented its report to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission heard the testimony Monday and will recommend changes to the committee. The Board of Commissioners has the final vote on the plan, which is an amendment to the county's master zoning plan.
All three members of the Board of Commissioners attended the three-hour meeting.
Rebecca Harmon, a New Windsor town councilwoman, said if mining companies aren't allowed to expand, "Union Bridge and New Windsor could easily become something of a ghost town and bedroom community. This is the bread and butter ofthis area."
Two companies mine limestone in the Wakefield Valley area -- Lehigh Portland Cement Co. and Genstar Stone Products Co. -- and a third, The Arundel Corp., wants to begin.
Samuel W. Christine III, president of the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc., an industry trade group, said, "No industry, save agriculture, is so basic to our overall economy than this one."
The committee's report says 165 county residents work for Lehigh and Genstar and earn about $4.7 million a year in wages; Arundel plans to hire 38 employees if allowed to mine. Lehigh and Genstar also spend $7.6 million a year on equipment and supplies in the area, the report says.
David H. Roush, Lehigh plant manager, said county residents depend on jobs at the plant. In the next 15 years, 78 people at Lehigh will retire, which means 78 other people will have jobs, he said.
James M. Mason of Genstarurged county officials not to duplicate existing state regulations when writing their plan.
Linda Cunfer, of the New Windsor CommunityAction Project, said the group wants to meet with county officials to express its concerns about the plan. The group believes the plan will make it too easy for mining companies to obtain zoning approval for new quarries.
NEWCAP also opposes creating a Mineral Resource Commission, which the committee says was designed to give citizens a means to lodge complaints. NEWCAP spokesman David Duree said the Mineral Resource Commission would add another layer of bureaucracy and would not be a true advocate for citizens.
Cunfer said, "Lehigh has been a good corporate neighbor," but that does not entitle the company to "special consideration" in other areas.
Lehigh has a quarry in Union Bridge and plans to dig another south of New Windsor.
Collins gave the committee a petition with signatures of 55 property ownersadjacent to Lehigh's New Windsor site. Many people were not aware that a quarry was planned for the farmland visible from their backyardsor were lied to by real estate agents about plans for the land, she said.
"We feel that the building of new homes across from the siteshould never have been allowed," the petition says. "If building hadnot been 'permitted' by the county, there would not be a problem of this magnitude now."
Residents are concerned about sinkholes, dust, noise, traffic and wells running dry, the petition says.