Mining protection law upheld by Arundel judge

March 08, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge yesterday upheld a 1991 law intended to protect residents in four counties from property damage caused by mining operations.

"This is a victory for the state and property owners," said Assistant Attorney General Sharon B. Benzil, who represented the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the case.

The law, which applies in Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties, is constitutional, Judge James C. Cawood wrote in his opinion.

A state mining association -- after agreeing to support the law during the 1991 General Assembly -- filed a civil lawsuit against the governor, attorney general, DNR and the state on July 1, 1991, the day the law was to take effect.

The Maryland Aggregates Association Inc., representing nine mining companies in the suit, said the law was unconstitutional because it applied only to mining companies.

The law, which Carroll lawmakers and citizens had pushed for since 1988, presumes mining companies liable for water supply damage within certain areas and requires them to compensate property owners unless they can present evidence that water losses are not caused by mining.

People who live near limestone mining operations, which pump large quantities of water, worry that quarrying could cause their wells to dry up or create sinkholes on their land.

The law was not enforced while the court considered the case.

Association President Samuel W. Christine III said yesterday that his board of directors plans to meet March 15 to decide whether to appeal the judge's decision.

The plaintiffs have 30 days to appeal.

In his 10-page decision, Judge Cawood wrote that the state was not required to prove the wisdom of the law, but only that there was a rational basis for the law. He also said DNR Secretary Torrey C. Brown was the only proper defendant.

The General Assembly had "a rational basis" for passing the law after hearing testimony from experts on both sides of the issue, the judge wrote.

David Duree, who lives in New Windsor, Carroll County, and one of four state residents who asked to become defendants in the case, said yesterday, "This is a validation of the citizens' correctness in their initiative, and it's a validation the law was well-founded."

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