Residents prepare to protest quarry expansion plan

Public hearing will give them a chance to express their concerns about a proposal for waste piles.

July 31, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Concerned residents of communities surrounding Arundel Sand & Gravel Co.'s big rock quarry off Interstate 95 near Havre de Grace will have their say next week on the company's expansion plans.

"We've waited a long time, and we have a lot to say," said Bob Carson, a resident of Susquehanna River Hills and a leader of community opposition to Arundel's bid for an exception to its zoning permit. "It's time to hear the rest of the story."

Until now, the zoning hearing examiner's sessions have been mostly limited to Arundel's arguments in support of its zoning request.

The company is asking for an exception to its operating permit that would allow it to consolidate two large piles of mining waste into one pile about half a mile long and an eighth of a mile wide.

The move would allow the company to mine the rock, which is used primarily for road construction, from beneath the current piles.

Public hearings began in September and are expected to end in December.

Testimony by residents is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.

"We are certainly going to be expressing our concerns about the amount of noise coming into the communities of Susquehanna River Hills, Meadowvale and Grace Harbour," Carson said.

Moving the waste, technically called overburden, would create an eyesore and would have a negative impact on home values, Carson said.

"We are going to be testifying about the significant amount of dirt and dust that will be making its way into our communities and the health risks associated with that dust," Carson said.

Valerie H. Twanmoh, a Bel Air lawyer who is the people's counsel for Harford County, said: "We know that the rock mined there has crystalline silica as one of its components, and if a certain amount is inhaled it can cause serious health problems. It can cause silicosis or other lung diseases."

Twanmoh said a health study should be conducted before concluding that the silica dust from the quarry expansion would not present a health problem.

Carson said the community is concerned about children who attend Meadowvale Elementary School, a few hundred yards from the quarry.

Carson said other concerns include the threat to wildlife and forestland, increased truck traffic "and explosions that will rock our houses even more than they do now."

"Real estate values of our homes will depreciate significantly if Arundel is allowed to do this awful thing," he said.

Health concerns

During testimony at the zoning hearing examiner's sessions, Arundel officials argued that concern about silica results from misinformation.

Kelly Henry, a spokeswoman for Arundel, said the air-quality tests performed by the company were enough to convince the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Harford County Health Department that there was no evidence of any airborne health threat from the quarry.

The MDE has granted Arundel conditional approval of a permit needed to move the overburden. It stipulates that the company must first obtain zoning approval from the county.

It is that approval from the county that is the subject of the hearings.

In a statement last week, Arundel said it welcomed the opportunity the public hearings gave the company "to set the record straight."

It said it has permits and the county approval required to quarry rock from beneath the two existing piles of waste on its property.

"The focus of the hearings and the testimony given over these past 10 months has been on moving that dirt from one side of our property to the other," said Henry. "No more, no less."

She said experts in wildlife and habitat protection, civil engineering, noise compliance, air quality, property values and wetlands protection, along with the MDE, have testified in support of the company's plan.

Henry said scientists and health experts testified under oath that there would be no community health effects from moving the dirt.

Dozens of conditions

The next hearing on the quarry issue is scheduled for Wednesday. Anthony McClune, acting director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, is expected to give the county's views on the company's zoning request.

He is expected to say that the department recommends approval subject to nearly a dozen conditions.

The county requires that work on the stockpile be limited to Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., that equipment be installed with noise suppression devices, and that the forest buffer between the quarry and nearby homes be retained.

Work is to be stopped temporarily if a dust cloud is created.

The county also requires that the overburden storage area be at least 1,000 feet from properties along Lapidum Road and 500 feet from Route 155 (Level Road).

Arundel said it has agreed to all but two of the county's recommendations, the setbacks from Lapidum and Level roads.

"The hearings are like a trial," Twanmoh said. "When the hearings are completed, probably in December, [Zoning Hearing Examiner Robert F. Kahoe] will make his decision. He can approve or deny Arundel's request, or he could approve it with conditions."

Either side can appeal Kahoe's decision to the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Further appeals, she said, would be through the courts.

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