Residents do battle over quarry plan

Arundel wants to move two piles of mining waste to new section of property

Health and blight are concerns

Company's lawyers reject complaints as inaccurate

May 02, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Residents of communities surrounding the giant Arundel Sand & Gravel Co. quarry in eastern Harford County are rallying their forces to protest the company's plan to shift two large piles of mining waste from one section of its property to another.

Foes of the proposal argue that Arundel's plan poses a serious threat to the health of people nearby and to pupils at Meadowvale Elementary School.

"They are trying to move two ugly piles that you can see from I-95 to one larger pile," John Blomquist, president of River Hills Club Inc., told a gathering of about 120 people at the community association's meeting Monday evening at Havre de Grace High School. "That's 8 million cubic yards. It will take 10 years."

Benedict Schwartz, a vice president of the River Hill community association, said the moving of the waste, called overburden, and the shifting of mining operations closer to homes represents a health threat.

The two sides will take their debate to the Maryland Department of the Environment on Tuesday night when the state agency holds a public hearing on Arundel's request to modify its permit.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Havre de Grace Community Center, 100 Legaret Lane.

Schwartz told residents at Monday's meeting that Arundel's rock-crushing operation creates silica dust and that "res- pirable crystalline silica is a toxin and a Class I carcinogen." He said this is a known cause of lung cancer, asthma, kidney disease and other respiratory diseases.

"Mining and rock-crushing operations do not belong near schools," Schwartz said, pointing out that the crushing operation would be less than 2,000 feet from Meadowvale Elementary.

Lawyers representing Arundel reject most of the concerns voiced by the residents of the Susquehanna River Hills, Havre de Grace Heights, Meadowvale, Chesapeake Heights. Grace Harbour, Village of Grace Croft, and Shawnee Brooke communities.

Joseph F. Snee Jr., an attorney with the law firm of Gessner, Snee, Mahoney & Lutche in Bel Air, said Arundel has no plans to expand its mining operations beyond what its permit allows.

He said that all the company's request for a modification of its permit does is allow "use to move two piles of overburden, dirt, and combine them into one pile 800 to 1,000 feet from the present location on our own property."

The company wants to move the piles so that it can mine the area where they are now.

The company said that if it is not allowed to move the piles to another site on the property it would move them to a location away from the quarry. He declined to identify other potential sites.

The rock mined from the quarry is used for roads and driveways throughout Maryland and other East Coast states.

Snee acknowledged that the new pile would be closer to some houses than the existing piles. "The point is," he added, "we own the property, and we are putting it on our own property."

Asked about the dimensions of the pile to be created, John J. Gessner, another attorney with the firm, said, "Our position is that it doesn't matter. Nobody will be able to see it. It will be hidden behind trees."

He said the consolidated pile would meet regulations requiring a setback of 800 feet from any house and 200 feet from a farm.

Citizens complain that the new pile will be about a half-mile long and a quarter-mile wide. Although it will only be 140 feet to 160 feet high from the base, Schwartz said that because it would sit on a hill, the pile will be 520 feet above sea level.

Snee called the expressions of residents who say the pile will be a blight on their neighborhoods, "false, not accurate and propaganda."

He used the same phrase to dismiss the health concerns addressed by neighbors.

Snee said Arundel held an open house recently at the quarry that was attended by "hundreds and hundreds of people, who saw there was no risk."

Silica, such as that coming from the rock mined at the quarry, is used in a wide variety of products, including computer chips, he said.

Snee said Arundel has 75 union workers at the quarry and their health is monitored by a variety of government agencies. "There is no public health threat to these people," he said. "You can go to the health records to show that we have no cancer issue."

Community residents have taken their fight against the quarry to the State House.

Judy Blomquist, president of Friends of Harford, a grass-roots group that tracks growth issues, said she had more than 100 signatures on a letter mailed Thursday to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In the letter, the residents say the mining operations "would be moving closer to residential neighborhoods with its attendant silica dust ... blasting and industrial noise. Our wells are at risk, the economic value of our homes is threatened, but most importantly, our children's health may be at risk."

They ask the governor to direct the Maryland Department of the Environment to require Arundel to have a 2,000-foot buffer between its estimated 800-acre operations and neighboring communities.

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