Strategic compromise on quarries

March 01, 1993

After years of bickering, citizen groups and quarrying companies appear to have reached a compromise on statewide legislation regulating rock quarrying that seems to satisfy both parties.

If the General Assembly passes the legislation, stone, gravel and cement companies will be able to mine the rock they need and nearby residents will be assured that the land will be restored after the mining ends. The state will also have more regulatory powers over the companies' mining plans.

Residents of Wakefield Valley in Carroll County, the site of two operating quarries -- Lehigh Portland Cement Co. and Genstar -- and one planned by Arundel Corp., will welcome this regulation, as will people who live near quarries in Baltimore and Harford counties. The Carroll valley sits atop one of Maryland's prime limestone formations. Residents who treasure the bucolic appearance of the countryside have found themselves pitted against the rock-mining companies who are running out of sites to quarry.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Carroll County Del. Richard N. Dixon, recognizes the reality that quarrying operations no longer take place in remote locations away from populated areas. By their very nature, quarries are not the best of neighbors. The blasting, digging and grinding generate great amounts of noise and dust. So does the heavy equipment used to dig up the rock and the trucks that transport it.

Even though the bills are essentially the same as those that were defeated in Annapolis last year, the mining companies apparently have decided to compromise. The companies may have realized they are operating on borrowed time. The politically sophisticated residents who are moving out to the rural counties can be very effective in opposing the expansion of existing quarries or the opening of new ones.

With a number of Maryland quarries at the end of their productive lives, the mining companies have to get new sites approved and running. Continued opposition to this legislation may jeopardize those approvals.

The thrust of the new legislation is to get abandoned quarries restored and to increase the state's oversight of quarry plans and operations. For Wakefield Valley residents, and for those who live near quarry sites in other counties around the state, the new legislation would not end mining but it would mean a greater measure of protection for their homes and farms.

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