ANNAPOLIS — Carroll residents living near quarries won't get the strengthened legal safeguards they desired to protect against potential mining damages.
Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, who is seeking to protect citizens statewide from the effects of mining, said a House committee'sdecision last week to defer his legislation for further study for atleast one year is a "delaying tactic."
Samuel W. Christine III, president of Maryland Aggregates Association Inc., contends that a more in-depth study of economic and environmental issues during the nine-month interim will allow legislators to better understand the industry and citizens' concerns.
The HouseEnvironmental Matters Committee voted, 12-1, against each of Dixon'sthree bills, which were intended to balance the interests of mining companies with the concerns of nearby residents. Seven -- including Dels. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, and Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard -- abstained on each vote; Del. Tony E. Fulton, D-Baltimore City, voted in favor.
"I think the abstentions are sending a message to the chairman that this is a matter that has to be resolved," said Dixon.
Chairman Ronald A. Guns, D-Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, Caroline, Talbot, was displeased that the Department of Natural Resources had not worked with the industry on the legislation andclearly opposed passing the bills, said Elliott.
Dixon and activists from Carroll and other counties where limestone mining takes place contend that current law favors mining interests and has become outdated as development surrounding quarries has increased. Mining officials say that some of Dixon's demands on the industry are unreasonable and that current law adequately protects public health and safety.
Dixon's bills would have required the state to review mineral resource components of local development plans; changed the law to balance mining privileges against potential adverse effects; established tougher requirements for reclaiming abandoned quarries; and increased fees and bonds used as security against damages or deviance from regulations.
Two mining companies operate quarries in west-central Carroll and plan to expand, and a third intends to locate there. Expansion plans have aroused concern among residents in the Wakefield Valley,New Windsor and Union Bridge areas. They fear the expansions could diminish their quality of life, cause environmental damages and devalue their property.
Dixon said he has put in motion plans to return next year with similar bills, backed by a "broad-based coalition" of legislators and spearheaded by the House Majority Leader, Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.
"These are broad-based issues affecting many people," he said. "It's not my personal issue."
Dixon said interim studies come in two types: "serious ones" geared toward accomplishments, and "delaying tactics." Interim study is a "welcomed development," and site visits could educate lawmakers, said Christine.
Linda S. Cunfer, chairwoman of NEWCAP, the New Windsor Community Action Project citizens group, said she respects the committee's decision. "I appreciate the legislature stepping in and saying we need to sit down and try to work something out," she said.
She added that MAA leadership appears split, with some members seemingly willing to try towork out differences with citizens and others "taking a very hard line to do what they want to do."