Rift Between Mining Industry And Dixon Draws Rebuke

February 16, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — The manifest distrust, ill will and lack of cooperation between a Carroll delegate and mining industry officials has irked a General Assembly leader.

At a hearing Thursday on three bills aimed at balancing mining with surrounding land uses, Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, said some mining officials "lack credibility." A lawyer representing a mining company responded that Dixon's efforts to change laws regulating the industry are "a personal matter, almost a vendetta."

House Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, interrupted the hearing to express his displeasure.

Addressing a Department of Natural Resources official, who was offering amendments to the bills sponsored by Dixon, Guns

said, "I don't like what I'm seeing."

He observed that the DNR had worked closely with the mining industry in the past to reach agreements on legal changes in the industry's way of doing business.

"I don't see that now," he said. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but I'm not comfortable with it. I'm not laying guilt, but we're moving in the wrong direction."

The hearing continued the five-year battle between Carroll delegates, representing Wakefield Valley residents who fear their property and quality of life are threatened by nearby mining, and industry officials, who say attempts to regulate have gone overboard. Three mining companies have plans to expand or locate in Wakefield Valley.

In a related vote Friday, the committee killed, 12-9, another billsponsored by Dixon that would have presumed quarry companies liable for sinkholes -- land subsidences -- within a zone around their operations. Last year, Dixon pushed through a law making mining companies more responsible for water supply depletions.

Dixon said he introduced the bills to update obsolete mining laws. He emphasized that he is not "anti-industry."

William Dulany, Westminster attorney for Union Bridge-based Lehigh Portland Cement Co., said Dixon has turned the matter into an "adversarial relationship" between business and government.

Dixon said suggestions that he is waging a vendetta are "totally inaccurate." He is representing the desires of his constituents, he said.

He conceded he didn't work with industry officials onthe three bills, explaining they haven't worked in good faith on similar issues over the last four years.

"Their credibility is woefully lacking," he said.

Dulany said that if laws are to be changed, they should be studied by a group that includes industry representatives.

Dixon's bills, with the DNR amendments, would:

* Require the DNR to review mineral resource protection aspects of local government comprehensive plans to ensure that they are consistent with DNR goals. Dixon opposes Carroll's developing mining plan, which he says caters to industry interests and gives short shrift to residents' concerns.

* Change the intent of mining laws, currently written to protect the resources from encroachment by other land uses, to reflect that mining must be balanced against "potential health, safety and environmental effects of mineral resource extraction."

* Require mining companies to pay more fees toward a land reclamation fund, establish tougher standards for reclaiming land once a quarry has been abandoned, and increase performance bonds guaranteeing that companies willadhere to certain standards.

Maryland Aggregates Association representatives said Dixon's bills are unnecessary. Laws were changed in 1985 to recognize mining's importance to the state's economy, they said.

"We oppose the bills, and there's nothing in DNR's amendments that would lead us to do anything otherwise," said MAA President Samuel W. Christine III.

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