Path cleared for lawsuit by mining group

March 31, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- The path has been cleared for a mining association to pursue its lawsuit against the governor and state to overturn a 1991 statute intended to protect residents from property damages.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr. has denied the state's request to dismiss the case brought by the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc. (MAA), which represents 30 mining companies.

The ruling Wednesday means the mining association will be able to pursue its constitutional challenge of the law to a resolution in Circuit Court. The state had sought to pre-empt the mining association's challenge before the case went to trial.

The law presumes mining companies liable for water supply damages within a predetermined area around their quarries and requires them to compensate property owners. The state has yet to define those areas. On March 9, the judge granted the mining association a suspension of that statute while he considered the state's motion to dismiss. The suspension remains in effect as the case proceeds.

"Obviously, we're delighted" by the decision, said Samuel W. Christine III, MAA's president.

The law applies in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties, where limestone mining takes place. Carroll County delegates, at the urging of constituents who live in a mining region, worked on the legislation for four years before it was approved in 1991.

Last year, groups from seven counties, including Anne Arundel, Carroll and Harford, joined to create the Statewide Coalition on Non-Coal Surface Mining to battle for legal protections from potential mining damages. Residents living near limestone mining operations, which pump large volumes of water, fear quarry expansions could cause their wells to run dry or create depressions on their land.

"Hopefully, a decision will be made to say this is constitutional and it will be settled," said Carroll County resident Linda Cunfer, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

MAA, which sued the state July 1, the day the law took effect, argues the statute is unconstitutional because it applies only to mining companies, and not to other water users in the same area. It also contends the law goes beyond the state's powers and violates legal principles.

A state attorney argued that the case should be dismissed since "zones of responsibility" have yet to be delineated around quarries and no citizen complaints have been lodged to trigger the legal process.

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