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Efforts grow to control quarries in W.Va.

February 07, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Rock quarries have been a mainstay of the Eastern Panhandle's economy for years, but efforts are growing to change the way the industry operates.

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Much of the debate began after a Maryland firm's attempt to build a controversial rock quarry that would have straddled the Berkeley and Jefferson County lines.

The four-year battle over the quarry proposed by Francis O. Day Co. ended in 1994 when the state Supreme Court upheld a state Division of Environmental Protection decision that the 310-acre facility would be a threat to the environment.

Among the concerns at the time was that blasting from the quarry could damage sensitive computer systems at a growing number of high-tech industries in the area like the U.S. Coast Guard Operations System Center, the Internal Revenue Service computing center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, all located off W.Va. 9 in the Baker Heights area.

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It's something Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, still thinks about.

"I had quite a few concerns. I think it would have reduced our ability to use the area," said Manuel, who believes the Baker Heights area should be designated as "high-tech corridor" to promote similar development there.

Manuel is one of two local delegates who have introduced bills in the Legislature this year that would put new regulations on the quarry industry.

Manuel's bill strives to seek environmentalist support while another bill sponsored by Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, is more supportive of the industry, according to Manuel.

More than 70 people turned out Sunday for a public forum on the bills held by the Division of Environmental Protection at Shepherd College.

Under Manuel's bill, quarry companies would have to comply with county land-use laws, or zoning, in locating new operations.

Currently, quarries are exempt from state zoning laws.

Because of their size and potential impact on the environment, quarries should come under zoning control, Manuel said. A quarry will not be allowed in the site that was considered by Francis O. Day if his bill passes, he said.

Manuel's bill would also make it easier for homeowners to have their water systems replaced by quarry companies if their wells are damaged by blasting. It would also require quarries to set up groundwater monitoring systems to detect diesel fuel and other contaminants that could leak from quarries and into local water supplies.

Manuel's bill also requires quarry companies to tear down steep inclines caused by mining - also known as "high walls" - to prevent them from being safety hazards.

That is a concern Douglas has with Manuel's bill.

Douglas, who said she has become intrigued by the industry in her research to develop a bill, said sometimes a company needs to let a high wall stand.

A company may need several high wall reserves of rock in a quarry to make different blends of gravel, Douglas said. Or a certain high wall may need to be abandoned because it does not produce the type of rock demanded during a certain market period, said Douglas.

But it may be needed 20 years later, said Douglas.

Although Douglas' plan is described as an industry bill, it also sets up environmental standards, like how quarries should be reclaimed after they are shut down. The bill also requires quarry companies to put down money, known as bonding, to guarantee certain environmental standards are met.

Douglas said it is not unusal for equipment or chemicals to be left inside quarries after they are shut down.

"We have some abandoned quarries that should have been dealt with in a far better manner. Most of the country is well ahead of us on standards," said Douglas.

So why two bills?

Douglas said she and Manuel tried to work together for several years to develop a quarry bill. They invited people from all sectors to help them: company representatives, environmentalists and community members. But molding everyone's wishes into one proposal became difficult, said Douglas.

"We had to reinvent the wheel everytime we got someone new in there," said Douglas.

Douglas and Manuel said they are both open to the idea of a compromise bill that would include parts of each proposal.

Both bills, for example, call for the establishment of a reclamation fund that would be used to clean up abandoned quarries that have environmental problems. Manuel said his fund, which would be built through a 5-cent tax on every ton of rock crushed, could be used to clean up sites like the old Standard Quarry in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had an option to buy the 406-acre quarry to build its National Conservation Training Center, but abandoned the plans because of cleaning solvents, fuel tanks and traces of PCBs on the land, officials said.

"The best thing for us to do is get together in the middle," said Manuel, who suggested that the "best parts of each bill" be combined into one.

There are a number of existing quarries in the Eastern Panhandle, including Inwood Quarry Inc., Millville Quarry Inc. in Jefferson County and quarries operated by Capital Cement in Martinsburg, U.S. Silica in Berkeley Springs and Continental Brick Co. in Martinsburg.

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