Quarry not held liable for damage Mining companies not responsible for dry wells, sinkholes

April 10, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Medford Quarry's Wakefield Valley neighbors were told yesterday that they may not look to the quarry owners to repair sinkhole damage or replace wells that went dry in the past five years -- a period when the mining industry fought a law that made it responsible for that kind of damage.

Assistant Attorney General M. Rosewin Sweeney advised the Maryland Department of the Environment that quarry owners will become responsible for well and sinkhole damage caused by their operations only after the MDE adopts a "zone of influence" map outlining each quarry's area of responsibility.

C. Edmon Larrimore, head of the minerals, oil and gas division of the MDE's Water Management Administration, relayed the legal opinion to New Windsor-area residents at a hearing yesterday on the zone of influence proposed for Redland Genstar Inc.'s Medford quarry.

Mr. Sweeney refused to discuss the advice, citing attorney-client privilege.

The Maryland Aggregates Association challenged the law soon after the 1991 General Assembly passed it and obtained an injunction that prevented state agencies from enforcing the law while it was under court challenge. The case ended in 1995 when the Supreme Court refused to hear a mining company's appeal.

The mining companies "bought four years of exemption by challenging the law," said New Windsor resident David T. Duree, chairman of the county Planning Commission.

The zone of influence outlined last night by MDE geologist Janine S. Mauersberg extends roughly from the branch of Turkeyfoot Run near Nicodemus Road on the south to 250 feet north of Little Pipe Creek on the north. On the east and west sides, it lies 300 feet beyond the edges of the limestone formation. Ms. Mauersberg called the line "conservative" because it extends beyond the water-bearing limestone into metabasalt, a harder, less porous rock.

The audience at the hearing ranged from residents who wanted their properties included in the zone to a developer who wanted his land removed.

Nicodemus Road resident Winston Griffin found the zone-of-influence line drawn through the center of his property, leaving it half in, half out.

"One of the headaches is that if you're on that line, the quarry is going to disavow any responsibility," he said. Mr. Griffin said he hasn't had problems with loss of well water but would like his entire property included in the zone.

Jeff Powers, president of Powers Homes, told the MDE officials that he would like his land excluded. "This is extremely detrimental to my development of the property," he said, adding that he believes the mining companies gain a limit on their liability through the law's application only to wells and sinkholes.

By holding quarries responsible unless they could prove damage did not result from their operations, the bill, sponsored by Richard N. Dixon, reversed a 1968 law that had made it difficult for nearby property owners to recover damages from mining companies.

Mr. Dixon, a Carroll delegate at the time, is now state treasurer.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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