Honoring the quarry law Groundwater pollution: Full public review needed of surface mining damage zones.

April 05, 1996

ROCK QUARRIES have long been both economic boon and environmental bane. Particularly in Baltimore, Carroll, Washington and Frederick counties, where porous layers of limestone are ubiquitous and where water pumped out by mining can cause serious hydrologic changes.

That's why Maryland enacted a law five years ago that makes quarry operators responsible for loss of well water or damages caused by sinkholes within a specified radius.

The law also requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to determine "zones of dewatering influence" around quarries where neighboring properties could be affected. Surface mining companies have had to compensate residents for losses or make suitable repairs. But enforcing the law has been a lengthy battle, evidenced most recently by controversy over a proposed influence zone for Redland Genstar's Medford quarry near New Windsor.

Richard N. Dixon, the state treasurer and former Carroll delegate who sponsored the law, told a public hearing that the proposed zone was too small and charged that MDE regulators were "acting like employees of Genstar," instead of like public protectors. Others attending the meeting were critical of the limited public notice of the proposal, which would have been automatically adopted in the absence of significant comment.

A short history of the law reveals why there are grounds for public skepticism and mistrust.

Implementation of the law was delayed for nearly four years while mining concerns appealed through the state courts and even to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. Then the state environment agency considered not defining the zones of influence around quarries, despite the law's provision.

When the department began to design the specific zones, it relied heavily on geologic studies conducted over the years, with limited input from residents around the surface mines. That's

why people who came to the hearing at New Windsor Middle School last month complained about lack of public knowledge.

The state agency pledges to review the boundaries of its proposed zone, and to consider holding a second public hearing. We think the state owes that consideration to the community, and to the intent of the law.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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