A state mining association has challenged in court a new law that protects residents from mining damage to their property, prompting the bill's sponsors to question the industry's integrity.
"It's a clear sign to people they lack integrity and lack concern for citizens who live near mining facilities," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, who worked with another Carroll delegate for four years to get the law passed.
Although opposed to the bill since 1988, the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc. agreed in writing last April to support it with amendments once it became clear it was likely to pass.
The associationfiled suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court Monday -- the day the law took effect -- against the governor, attorney general, Department of Natural Resources and the State of Maryland.
"We don't want to have to comply with the law because we think it's unconstitutional," MAA President Samuel W. Christine III said.
The law presumes mining companies liable for water supply depletions within an area to be determined by the DNR. Companies are required to replace the water supply unless they present "clear and convincing" evidence -- the highest legal standard of proof -- to the department that the water losses were not caused by mining.
The law's sponsors made concessions to the mining industry concerning sinkhole damages. Instead of presumingthe companies liable for sudden land depressions, the law requires that the DNR determine the cause.
In the suit, the association charges that the law unjustly singles out quarry companies in four counties for water losses when other users, such as municipalities and other industries, extract water from the same supplies. The law applies only in Carroll, Frederick, Baltimore and Washington counties, where limestone is mined.
The association is asking the court to determine the validity of the law and suspend enforcement -- through an injunction -- until a decision is made.
In an opinion written to Dixon last year, the attorney general's office had "no legal objection" to presuming quarry companies liable as long as they had an opportunity to rebut the evidence. Though the 1990 bill was different than the bill that passed, the opinion referred to the issue of presumed liability that was contained in both versions.
Assistant Attorney GeneralThomas A. Deming, DNR counsel, said he could not comment on the suitbecause he hadn't read it.
Christine repeated Friday the same argument the industry has made for four years: The law presumes companies "guilty until proven innocent."
Dixon and Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, the bill's co-sponsors, have criticized the industry the last four years for stalling and attempting to kill the legislation.
Dixon said Friday that the industry went back on its word to support the bill.
"The process of filing suit is contrary to their stated intent of being a good neighbor," he said.
Elliottsaid he felt the bill was reasonable.
"I'm disappointed the aggregates are moving to challenge this legislation."
Two members of the Senate committee who worked with mining officials to amend the billsaid they are wary of the industry's intentions.
"They say they want to work with you, then they shoot you down," Sen. Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore City, the committee chairman, said during debate on thebill.
"I don't trust the industry."
Christine said his association wrote the letter in support of the bill only to help ensure thatamendments would be passed, making the law "more palatable."
"That was the political arena," he said. "This is different. There was always the possibility that we would challenge it in court."
Two quarry companies operate between Westminster and New Windsor in the Wakefield Valley, and a third wants to dig a quarry there. All three -- The Arundel Corp., Genstar Stone Products Co. and Lehigh Portland Cement Co. -- are association members.
Even prior to passage of the law, the industry has been meeting with a five-county coalition of citizens, including members from the Wakefield Valley who are concerned about mining in populated areas.
Two Carroll members, David Duree and Linda Cunfer, said Friday they were not sure what the ramifications of the suit will be.
"The industry should be viable," Duree said. "There's a need for their products. But they have resisted meaningful change to adapt to operating in more populated areas."