Environmental testimony planned in zoning hearing Sand, gravel firm seeks resumption of mining

October 22, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,SUN STAFF

A top state environmental regulator is expected to testify on behalf of Harford County tomorrow when a zoning hearing continues on Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc.'s plans to resume surface mining next to its closed rubble landfill in Abingdon.

The company is contesting a county zoning administrator's decision last fall to block a state permit that would have allowed the mining operation to expand.

County Attorney Nancy Levy Giorno said she will call Edward Dexter, chief of the Solid Waste Compliance Division of the Maryland Department of the Environment, to testify about the history of the Abingdon company under state environmental regulation.

The Department of the Environment monitors rubble landfills and other waste-disposal facilities. Last month, it cited Spencer for operating a waste-disposal facility without a permit.

In the 1980s, Spencer Sand & Gravel ran a private rubble landfill along with its sand and gravel business on its 84-acre property on Abingdon Road near Interstate 95. The landfill was closed in August 1992 by the Department of the Environment when Spencer's permit expired and conditions for a new permit were not met by the owners.

At issue in tomorrow's hearing is a surface mining permit approved by the state Department of Natural Resources in September 1994 allowing Spencer to expand its mining operation by 18 acres, contingent on county zoning approval.

However, Harford officials opposed the expansion and issued a letter in November instructing Spencer to ask the county Zoning Board of Appeals for special exception status. That would allow the mining operation to expand in an area that has become largely residential in recent years.

John Spencer, owner of the company, is appealing the administrative ruling. His attorneys claim that the entire 84 acres, including the 18 acres in the latest permit request, should be excluded from zoning regulations under "nonconforming use" because the family-owned sand and gravel business existed long before zoning was established in the county.

In testimony last week, county civil engineer Daniel Pazdersky said that in a recent visit to the Spencer property, he saw oak trees as old as 80 years standing next to shallow excavations. He said there was no evidence that roads, which would have been necessary for hauling mined sand and gravel from the property, ever existed in those areas.

His testimony appeared to refute that of Robert R. Jones, an environmental manager hired by Mr. Spencer to assess the site. Mr. Jones testified at an earlier hearing that aerial photographs taken over the last three decades suggested that mining had been conducted throughout the property over several years.

Neighbors of the Spencer property testified that they opposed resumption of surface mining for fear it would lead to reactivation of the rubble fill. They told the hearing examiner they had observed bulldozers and trucks operating on top of the closed landfill in recent months.

"When I first looked at my property, the mountain had grass on it," said Chris Greaver, who selected a homesite on Pouska Road last fall and moved into the house in February. "Now it's more dirt-covered."

Mr. Greaver said he is concerned about potential noise and dust from truck traffic if the business expanded.

"Three years ago we were told the landfill was closed, and that's why we purchased our home," said Elizabeth Andresini, who testified that she telephoned the state Department of the Environment before moving into the Village of Bynum Run.

"We were lied to. We were told it was closed, but we saw activity there."

On Sept. 19, the department cited Spencer Sand & Gravel for operating a system of refuse disposal on the Abingdon Road site without a permit. The citation, issued after a routine inspection, noted that Spencer illegally accepted construction and land-clearing debris, including concrete, scrap metal, used lumber and tree stumps.

The company also was cited for operating a natural-wood waste recycling facility without a permit. It was the first citation the department issued to Spencer since the rubble fill closed in 1992.

Mr. Dexter is expected to testify about the circumstances under which the rubble fill was closed and what recent inspections of the property have shown, said Ms. Giorno.

The hearing begins tomorrow at 7 p.m. on Level A of the Circuit Courthouse in Bel Air.

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