Quarries pit old residents against new

December 09, 1991|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Carroll County Bureau of The Sun

A plan to reserve undeveloped land in Carroll County's Wakefield Valley for marble mining is pitting newcomers who want to protect the land against residents who long accepted the quarrying as a part of rural life.

The county government plan seeks to balance the interests of three companies vying for rights to the valley's rich marble deposits against those who complain of disruptions to their new-found lifestyles.

Two companies are mining in the valley, and a third wants to begin operations there.

State regulations require jurisdictions without charter government, such as Carroll County, to include a mineral mining policy in their comprehensive master plan. In October, after months of research, an 11-member advisory group submitted the proposal to the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

A public hearing is scheduled later this month.

The county's plan would designate mineral-rich lands that may have some future economic importance and would prohibit permanent building on them. It also would authorize the county government to buy development rights on land where minerals have been detected.

The plan seeks to protect residents by prohibiting mining within 700 feet of an established town. It would require new homeowners to be notified of future mining plans within designated zones around quarries.

After reviewing the proposal, some residents who moved into subdivisions unaware of mining operations said the proposal may warn prospective homeowners of the hazards. But, they complain, the plan does not go far enough to protect those already living in such areas.

"The plan permits zoning for mining without any criteria other than the fact that the mineral exists in the land," said Linda Confer, president of NewCAP, a group in the New Windsor area that includes nearly 300 residents.

This coalition petitioned the county commissioners earlier this year, seeking stronger regulations on mining operations that were expanding near their homes in the western part of the county.

Left unregulated, the residents complained, quarry operators would blast all day, polluting the air and water with dust. They worried about their wells going dry, cracking foundations beneath their homes and creating sink holes in their back yards.

"The industry should not have more rights than people who live here. We are the taxpaying voters," said Carol Collins, whose home purchased in 1989 borders a cow pasture designated to eventually be quarried.

"We moved here because we wanted to enhance the quality of our life, and we were led to believe that this was an agricultural zone and would remain farmland," she said.

"I want to know that when I raise my bedroom window in the morning that I'll get a breath of fresh air and not a mouth full of soot," Mrs. Collins said.

Some residents disagree with the New Windsor group's position, however.

"I think those people in New Windsor are all good people," said Parker Smith, 44, whose family has farmed in the community for seven generations.

But, he added: "They only bought a half-acre, and they want to tell everybody else what they can do with their ground so that they can look at it.

"I've lived beside a quarry all my life, and I've got to tell you, they are the best neighbors," he said.

K. Marlene Conaway, assistant director of the county planning department, said a lack of foresight by past county officials allowed suburban sprawl to go unchecked, resulting in a number of communities being built upon vast deposits of minerals, making them unobtainable.

"So many people look at the plan in terms of profit for the quarry companies," Ms. Conaway said, "but what they fail to see is that the county has been made steward of a dwindling resource, and we have to do whatever we can to protect it."

"It's disappearing slowly but surely," said Ms. Conaway, who added that the county plan would permit mining on 1,100 acres in the Wakefield Valley -- less than 1 percent of the land that contains marble.

Carroll's pink-gray and white marble was once used as a decorative stone, but its surface is so rough that more often it is crushed, mixed with other substances and used to build and resurface roads.

The county's three quarrying companies -- Lehigh Portland Cement Co., Arundel Corp. and Genstar Stone Co. -- reap the profit from the product. But county officials said residents will, ultimately, also gain benefits in revenue, employment and technology.

John H. Gease, a Genstar spokesman, said the company tries to maintain dialogue with the community to prevent problems.

In answer to complaints, he said, the company has repaired broken wells, reduced the noise in its night-time operations, built new roads and bought property to discourage further housing development in the mining area.

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