Rare accord reached on mining bill

February 17, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Carroll Del. Richard N. Dixon said yesterday he couldn't explain how two groups that had fought so hard in the past several years had reached an agreement.

"Believe it or not, we have a friendly meeting of the minds on this legislation," he said during a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee on three mining bills.

Mining industry representatives and citizens from Carroll and Washington counties said the two groups finally talked and compromised on the legislation, which they say strikes a balance between their interests.

But Mr. Dixon, a Democrat who has introduced the legislation for the past several years, said the measures are essentially the same as last year's. Maybe the mining companies finally realized the legislation was fair, he said.

He hinted there was another factor, but said he wouldn't comment further until the legislation is passed.

The committee did not vote on the bills yesterday.

House Bills 505, 507 and 508 seek to balance mining with other land uses while protecting mineral resources. Mr. Dixon and residents have said current law favors mining companies' interests.

The bills would establish tougher requirements for restoring abandoned quarries, increase bonds used as security against damages and require the state to review local mining plans.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll and Howard, is co-sponsoring the measures.

Robert Miller of the Department of Natural Resources supported the bills and testified yesterday that they deal with the perception that mining is a preferred land use.

"And in this case, perhaps perception is reality," he said.

The bills say that while mining is important, it doesn't have to be the preferred land use, he said.

New Windsor resident Linda S. Cunfer, spokeswoman for the Statewide Coalition on Non-Coal Surface Mining, said mining companies must work where the mineral is, which used to be "out in the middle of nowhere."

That isn't true anymore, she said. Homes and schools now surround many mining sites.

It was important to citizens that the law say other land uses, including those on properties surrounding land owned by mining companies, be considered before a mining operation is allowed, said Roger Worthington, president of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County.

"The words are stronger now that land uses should be considered equally," he said.

Samuel W. Christine III, president of the Maryland Aggregates Association Inc., an industry trade group, said the intent of the legislation is the same as it was last year, but the wording is different. "It's a balanced approach," he said.

Last year, mining companies opposed the legislation, claiming the demands were unreasonable and that current law adequately protects public health and safety.

A directive last year from Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat and chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, helped the two sides reach an agreement, Mr. Worthington said.

After the General Assembly session last year, Mr. Guns, tired of listening to the same arguments from both sides, asked the industry, citizens, Mr. Dixon and Mr. Elliott to settle the issue.

Last year, disagreements over a law that protects residents from mining damage to their property overshadowed everything, Mr. Worthington said.

The two sides still are fighting over that law. Mining companies said it is unconstitutional and sued the state in July 1991, when the law took effect. The law presumes mining companies liable for water supply depletions within an area to be determined by DNR.

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