Lawmakers want state to look into quarry plan

MDE asked to make health-risk assessment

May 23, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Members of the Harford County legislative delegation have asked the state to look into the possible health hazards to area residents of a proposed change in mining operations at the Arundel Sand & Gravel Co.'s big quarry off Interstate 95 near Havre de Grace.

In a letter mailed Monday, nine of the county's lawmakers asked the Maryland Department of the Environment to respond to residents' concerns about potential air-quality degradation and elevated incidence of lung cancer in the Havre de Grace area before awarding the company a requested modification to its mining permit.

They asked that the state agency address the concerns of citizens living near the quarry who fear that the silica dust from the mining operation might cause a higher rate of cancer in the area.

"These are legitimate questions," said Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Republican who represents the Havre de Grace area.

"Airborne silica is a known carcinogen," Boutin said. "All we are asking is, `Is there any evidence of higher cancer rates among the people who work at the quarry or live in the surrounding hills?'"

Boutin was one of nine members of the county delegation to sign the letter that went to state Secretary of the Environment Kendl P. Philbrick and to C. Edmon Larrimore, administrator of MDE's mining program.

The lawmakers expressed their concern over the company's plan to combine two large piles of overburden -- dirt from mining operations. The move would allow for mining of rocks used in road construction at the site where the piles now stand.

In a separate letter, Republican state Sen. Nancy C. Jacobs wrote: "The Maryland Department of the Environment should sign off on this site modification, if and only if it can guarantee that the air quality and consequently the health of the neighborhood residents will not be negatively affected."

She asked that MDE "carefully examine the potential air quality problems associated with movement of the existing piles."

Jacobs said she was not aware of any "study on the particulate dust that will increase with the shifting of this mining waste."

Del. Barry Glassman, chairman of the delegation, said his biggest concern involves the dust coming from the movement of the piles of dirt and the potential risk to children at nearby Meadowvale Elementary School.

Glassman said the delegation also wants to know whether Arundel Sand & Gravel is in compliance with all permits and agreements.

He said he expects a response from MDE by the end of the month.

At that time, Glassman said, the delegates would consider the information when taking a position on Arundel Sand & Gravel's request to alter its operations.

Glassman said the delegation's involvement was prompted by the concerns of residents in communities near the quarry.

Glassman said that Arundel Sand & Gravel also needs zoning approval from the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning before it could move the two piles of dirt. "I don't think MDE should move forward on the permit modification until the proper zoning is obtained from the county," he said.

The Planning and Zoning Department has its own concerns about Arundel Sand & Gravel's plans for the quarry.

"Based on our initial review of the plans, the Department has concerns regarding the height of the stockpile and the buffers provided" for nearby Lapidum Road and Route 155 (Level Road), J. Steven Kaii-Ziegler said in his own letter to Larrimore. Kaii-Ziegler is director of planning and zoning.

"The height of the stockpile needs to be reduced and the buffers increased," he wrote.

He pointed out that, according to Arundel Sand & Gravel's plan, the stockpile would reach an elevation of 520 feet at its highest point. It would be 800 feet from Lapidum Road and 300 feet from Route 155.

About 100 residents living near the quarry wrote to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this month, saying that if the modification to its permit were approved, Arundel Sand & Gravel's mining operations would be moving closer to their homes.

"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 said in the letter.

They asked the governor to require Arundel Sand & Gravel to establish a 2,000-foot buffer between its estimated 800-acre operation and neighboring communities.

Joseph F. Snee Jr., an attorney with the law firm of Gessner, Snee, Mahoney & Lutche in Bel Air, which represents Arundel Sand & Gravel, said Friday that he had not seen the letters and could not respond.

He said this month that Arundel Sand & Gravel has no plans to extend its mining operations beyond what its permit allows.

At that time, Snee said that all the company's request for a modification of its permit does is allow "us 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."

He added that Arundel Sand & Gravel 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."

Arundel Sand & Gravel is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Florida Rock Industries. Arundel Sand & Gravel first proposed moving the two piles of overburden in 1997 as part of an expansion of its operations.

In the face of community opposition, the company withdrew its application for a change in its permit.

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