Talk about irony.
A citizens group formed as a watchdog of the local mining industry testified last week in support of a mining company's appeal of a county order to limit its mining to limestone.
The New Windsor Community Action Project said Tuesday that Genstar Stone Products Inc. should be granted its request to also mine metabasalt at its 800-acre operation near Westminster.
A year ago, thecounty ordered Genstar to stop mining metabasalt, a non-carbonate material sometimes found surrounding limestone beds. The company previously has mined the material to get to limestone, said John T. Gease III, Genstar's technical director.
But county Zoning Administrator Solveig L. Smith ruled that the zoning ordinance barred mining metabasalt in the so-called "agricultural- extraction" district. Smith saidthe ordinance allowed limestone mining only in that zoning designation.
"This is not an adversarial hearing," Smith told the county Board of Zoning Appeals during Tuesday's hearing.
"This is just a job I have to do. I'm bound by what the law says."
The company was told that it could apply for a conditional use permit, which, if granted, would allow the extraction of metabasalt.
But the company disagrees with Smith's ruling, and appeared before the board to appeal.
Genstar argued that the term "limestone operations" in the zoning ordinance was meant to be applied more broadly, to include incidental materials such as metabasalt.
After the company took NEWCAP members on a tour of the site and explained its position, the group came out in support of Genstar.
"We are supportive of a prosperous Genstar," NEWCAP's Neil Endsley told the board.
NEWCAP, which is active in rural planning and mining issues, represents about 300 people in the Wakefield Valley area, the mineral-rich land surrounding New Windsor and extending to Westminster and Union Bridge.
Genstar's miningoperation would not grind to a halt if the company couldn't extract metabasalt, said Gease.
The area where the metabasalt coexists with limestone makes up 10 percent to 20 percent of the operation.
But the ban would hamper the company's plan to expand one of its primary mining pits.
Moreover, Genstar said it can't get to the limestone in many cases without removing some metabasalt.
And a slowdown in even a portion of its mining operation could lead to layoffs among the company's 43-member work force this winter, Gease told the board.
The company also is interested in marketing metabasalt, which is used in road construction because it is non-porous and skid-resistant, Gease said.
The company decided to appeal Smith's ruling insteadof pursuing other options, which included trying to get the zoning ordinance changed, or getting the land rezoned.
One New Windsor resident turned out Tuesday to oppose Genstar's appeal.
John J. Wingert, a Nicodemus Road resident, said the company should be required tocompensate the community in exchange for being allowed to mine an additional marketable material.
"What increase is there for citizensif (Genstar) has a gain in capital income?" he told the board.
The board said it will render a decision on the appeal in the coming weeks.