The county has a new way of regulating mining. Do you understand it?
You aren't alone if you don't. County planners have fielded many questions from Wakefield Valley-area residents who want to know how the plan affects them.
The plan regulates mining of any kind of mineral, but it was written as a result of the demand for limestone in the Westminster-New Windsor-Union Bridge area.
The plan seeks to balance the interests of mining companies with those of area residents.
County planners and a citizens committee worked on the document for more than a year and presented several drafts to the public.
Late last month, the county commissioners modified the last draft and approved it. The plan took effect March 1.
The county now has a Mineral Resources Overlay area (MRO) in which mining could occur. The overlay is allowed onlyin agricultural and industrial zones and would be superimposed on existing zoning.
The MRO includes three subdivisions: areas where mining is allowed, areas protected for mining, and areas where potential land owners are notified that mining could occur within a half-mile.
The commissioners designated 10,200 acres to be included in the MRO.
To obtain the overlay on additional acres, a property owner must petition the county and meet a number of criteria spelled out in the plan.
Below is an explanation of the alphabet soup that comprises the different parts of the MRO:
* MR -- The Mineral Resource recovery area is where mining may occur.
Land uses that would prohibit mining -- such as residential development and agricultural preservation -- are prohibited.
Land already permanently saved in the state agricultural preservation program is not eligible for MR zoning.
The commissioners designated 1,250 acres currently owned by three mining companies as MR zoning.
The zoning doesn't mean a company may begin mining immediately, planner Gregg Horner said.
The company first must complete separate county and state review processes.
The first includes a tour of the company's property for county officials and interested citizens and a "community involvement meeting," atwhich citizens may make comments about the company's initial proposal to mine.
The process "gives citizens an opportunity to really make a difference," said K. Marlene Conaway, assistant planning director.
After the meeting, the company must submit a more detailed mining plan to the county.
Some of the criteria required in the site plan are more stringent than the state requires, Horner said. They also are more extensive than the county required in the past, he said.
* VRA -- The Viable Resource Area is land underlaid by economicallyvaluable minerals but not owned by mining companies.
This 650 acres will be protected from land uses that would preempt mining.
Newagricultural preservation districts are not allowed, but the owners of 344 acres in existing districts will be allowed to sell the permanent development rights to the state.
A land owner may build homes on his property in the VRA, but they must be clustered on the part ofhis land not underlaid by minerals.
If his entire property is on the mineral, he may sell the development rights for his residential lots to a builder who will use them to increase density in a housing development in another part of the county where minerals will not be affected.
This is called a "transfer of development rights" and allows land owners to receive equity from their property.
The commissioners included an incentive for land owners to use this option: Owners will be able to sell the rights to twice as many lots as they actually are entitled to.
If the owner does not choose to transfer hisdevelopment rights, he may build houses in the VRA, but the county Planning Commission has the authority to say where the homes will be clustered to protect as much mineral as possible.
* MRN -- The Mineral Resource Notification area is a half-mile area around the MR zonein which all subdivision plans, site plans, record plats and building permits for land will contain notations that the property lies in amineral resources area. The MRN contains 8,300 acres.
Land use isnot restricted in this area. Any development that is allowed in the agricultural zone is permitted in the MRN.
The commissioners included a special provision requested by New Windsor town officials that Lehigh Portland Cement Co. -- which plans to dig a quarry just south of the town -- cannot mine within a half-mile of town limits.
Lehigh Plant Manager David H. Roush said this and other setback requirements will prevent the company from mining 19.5 million tons of stone, or enough to operate its cement plant for 13 years at current production rates.