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W.Va. quarry reform efforts fail again

March 06, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Efforts to pass new reforms for the quarry industry, such as making quarries subject to land-use laws and setting up land reclamation programs, have failed again in the West Virginia Legislature.

An environmental group that worked on the issue claims the quarry industry sought to "demonize" everything in a bill put forth by Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson. Local quarry operators complained Manuel's bill would have been too costly.

Quarry owners instead supported a bill by Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, who was the first lawmaker to begin putting together new regulations for the industry.

When Manuel started drafting his own bill, it drew the support of environmentalists, which made any compromise difficult, according to Dick Codrington, director of enviornment for Bardon Inc., the Greenbelt, Md. firm that operates the Millville Quarry in Jefferson County.

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"I think it just watered the whole thing down where people just lost interest. We thought the Vicki Douglas bill was realistic," said Codrington.

Interest in how the quarry industry operates began to build 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 were that blasting from the quarry could damage sensitive computer systems at a growing number of high-tech industries in the area, such as 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 the Baker Heights area.

The bills offered by Manuel and Douglas were similiar in some ways, such as calling for a reclamation fund to pay for clean-up efforts in quarries that have caused environmental problems.

But they couldn't agree on how to set up a fund.

Manuel wanted to build the fund by imposing a a 5-cent tax on every ton of rock crushed, but quarry operators complained it was too much. They preferred an annual fee, which would be cheaper.

Manuel said the fee would not allow the fund to grow fast enough.

Manuel said quarry operators did not seem to be interested in negotiating an agreement.

"I know I was willing and ready to come to the table," said Manuel.

Douglas did not say much about the issue. She said the current session of the Legislature, which ends next Saturday, has been a difficult one, and she figured another contentious issue being dragged through the process would not be healthy.

"We're out of time. I didn't expect anything to happen," said Douglas.

Both Douglas and Manuel knew neither bill would get any support in the Senate, so they let it die in the House Judiciary Committee, said Rick Eades, a hydrogeologist with the West Virginia Environmental Council in Charleston.

But just as the issue is dying in this session, there is already an effort to keep the momentum going.

Manuel is drafting a resolution calling for an interim committee to study the issue over the summer. Manuel wants both sides to continue working on regulations so they will be prepared for a possible agreement when next year's Legislative session begins, said Eades.

Besides the quarry that was proposed near the Baker Heights area, there are several large quarries in the area, including Inwood Quarry Inc., Millville Quarry and quarries operated by Capital Cement in Martinsburg, U.S. Silica in Berkeley Springs and Continental Brick Co. in Martinsburg.

Millville Quarry mines limestone from is 550-acre site in Millville, and crushes it to make gravel for railroads and highways. Capital Cement, located off South Queen Street, mines limestone for use in its cement.

One of Manuel's proposals would require quarries to tear down steep inclines causing by mining - also known as "high walls" - to prevent them from being safety hazards.

Codringon questioned how a quarry is supposed to reduce a wall that can sometimes reach 300 feet high. Lawmakers need to be careful that they do not implement overly stringent regulations that could put quarries out of business, he said.

Eades said it is not as if the process would be a total burden to the industry. The high walls contain rock that can be mined when the grade is reduced, he said.

"There is nothing radical about Manuel's bill," said Eades, who added there are no laws requiring quarries to do reclamation work. "And they want to keep it that way," he said.

Gary Gess, environmental manager at Capital Cement, said Douglas' bill calls for reclamation regulations, "but maybe not as much as some people want."

For decades, the quarry industry has been operating under coal mining regulations that do not fit the industry, according to Codrington. The industry wants its own regulations, even those that protect communities, because it believes it is important to have them as the industry grows, Codrington said.

Under Manuel's bill, quarry companies would have to comply with county land-use laws like those in Jefferson County in locating new operations. If Manuel's bill would have passed, a quarry would not be allowed in the site that was considered by Francis O. Day.

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