ANNAPOLIS -- An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge yesterday suspended enforcement of a state law protecting residents in four counties who live near quarries from property damages that could be caused by mining.
The ruling by Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. enables the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc., which represents about 30 mining companies, to pursue its constitutional challenge of the law without having to adhere to it in the interim.
The mining association still must clear one hurdle to continue its court case to render the law invalid. Judge Duckett said he will rule later on the state's motion that the case be dismissed.
Enacted last year, the law presumes mining companies liable for water supply depletions in an area around their operations to be determined scientifically by the state. The companies are required to replace water supplies within that area, unless they demonstrate that mining did not cause damage to the wells.
"The state assured us that there would be no problem with the legislation and that these protections would be in place," said New Windsor resident Linda S. Cunfer, spokeswoman for the Statewide Coalition on Non-Coal Surface Mining. "Temporarily, it's not the case."
The law applies in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties, where limestone mining takes place. Increased residential development near quarries and expansions proposed by mining companies have caused tensions. Nine companies operate 17 quarries in those counties.
Responding to citizens' concerns, Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll County Democrat, introduced legislation for four years before getting the bill passed in 1991.
MAA filed a lawsuit against the governor, attorney general and Department of Natural Resources July 1, the day the law took effect.
The injunction "just delays protections for the people," Mr. Dixon said.
At yesterday's hearing, Richard A. Reid, MAA's attorney, argued that the law unfairly singles out mining companies as water appropriators when other entities, such as municipalities and businesses, also pump large volumes of water from the ground. He challenged whether land or water well damages could be linked conclusively with mining activity. A DNR official said complaints the office had received from residents could not be linked.
"Nothing has changed except for one thing," Mr. Reid said. "More people have moved to the country, and they've found quarries waiting for them. They do not like them, and now we're into a state of quarry bashing."
Sharon D. Benzil, an assistant attorney general representing DNR, argued that MAA has brought its case prematurely.