State legislation designed to protect residents living near quarries has a better chance of passing in the General Assembly this year because residents and the industry reached a compromise, say some of those involved.
"We're really pleased with the breakthrough," said Samuel W. Christine III, president of the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc.
"We're very optimistic," said David Duree, a member of the New Windsor Community Action Project.
Del. Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, who has worked for years to get mining legislation enacted, said yesterday the three bills essentially are the same as those that were introduced last year.
"There was a meeting of the minds," he said.
Three bills, sponsored by Mr. Dixon and Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, will be heard in the Environmental Matters Committee at 1 p.m. today in Room 160 of the House Office Building.
House bills 505, 507 and 508 would establish tougher requirements for restoring abandoned quarries, increase fees and bonds used as security against damages and require the state to review local mining plans.
The legislation seeks to balance mining with other land uses while protecting mineral resources.
Last year, the committee voted down the legislation, 12-1, but said it should be studied further.
Mining companies opposed the legislation, claiming that the demands were unreasonable and that current law adequately protects public health and safety.
Mr. Dixon and activists from Carroll and other counties said last year that the current law favored mining companies and was outdated.
Citizens, industry representatives and delegates worked on the bills for about six months after the last session and found common ground, Mr. Duree said.
Mr. Elliott said he expects today's hearing to go smoothly because all sides were involved in revising the legislation.
However, while they say they've compromised on these bills, citizens and the mining industry are continuing to fight over a new law that protects residents from mining damage to their property.
Mining companies said that law, enacted in 1991, is unconstitutional and sued the state when it took effect. An Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge ruled that the companies did not have to comply with the law while they pursue their legal challenge.
The law presumes mining companies liable for water supply depletions within an area to be determined by DNR. Companies are required to replace the water supplies unless they prove the water losses were not caused by mining.
The Maryland Aggregates Association had agreed in writing to support the bill in 1991 when it became clear that it was likely to pass.
After the industry sued to block implementation of the law, Mr. Dixon said the industry had gone back on its word and that it lacked integrity and concern for citizens.
Mr. Duree said he, Richard H. Offutt Jr., of New Windsor, and two Washington County residents were allowed to become parties to the lawsuit in order to fight it.
Three mining companies that would be affected by the proposed legislation operate in Wakefield Valley between Westminster and New Windsor. They are The Arundel Corp., Genstar Stone Products Co. and Lehigh Portland Cement Co.