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Rescuers call for area quarries to be fenced

June 09, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Community Rescue Service medical technicians who were the first to reach the body of a youngster who died last month in a fall on St. Lawrence Cement property are asking that a fence be built around the quarry and others like it in Washington County.

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"They're the ones digging the hole. They have a responsibility for public safety," said paramedic Michael Mooers.

A Washington County Planning Commission mandate requiring the installation of chain-link fence on top of a 8- to 10-foot berm along the perimeter of the Security Road quarry was overturned by the Washington County Zoning Board of Appeals in 1992.

In the 1992 decision, signed by former Zoning Appeals Board member Richard W. Douglas, the appeals board said the company would not be required to install a fence and berm immediately along the entire site, but rather as excavation progressed.

"This requirement imposed by the Planning Commission was in excess of that recommended by the staff and would provide little additional protection to adjoining landowners," the decision signed by Douglas said.

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Douglas refused to comment on the matter Wednesday.

A company spokeswoman said Wednesday that St. Lawrence Cement is in compliance with federal, state and local requirements but will take steps to prevent future accidents on the property.

"In addition to existing safety precautions, the company is investigating installing fencing at several locations on its property. However, fencing is subject to mining permit requirements and must be reviewed by regulators," said spokeswoman Cynthia Oates in a written statement.

A 15-foot high by 20-foot wide dirt and slab rock barrier berm is in place with the intent of preventing access to the extraction areas, she said.

St. Lawrence Cement owns 1,200 acres of land. Its 6.5-mile perimeter encompasses Antietam Creek, dense woods and CSX railroad tracks, said Oates.

She refused to answer additional questions.

Avery James Snyder, 6, of 20029 Old Forge Road, was standing atop a berm near the lip of the cliff at the quarry when he fell more than 100 feet to his death on May 22.

The boy had been playing in the area about a mile from his home when he lost his footing near the ledge.

The area where the boy was found wasn't fenced, said Mooers. He noticed only one 8-by-10 inch "no trespassing" sign in the area, he said.

Michael Mooers said he and other rescue workers are concerned about the safety of other children in the community.

Mooers requested during a Washington County Commissioners meeting last week that an ordinance be imposed retroactively requiring industrial mining companies to install fences around their perimeters.

He was told that it might not be possible to make such a law retroactive.

Mooers said he might pursue the matter on the state level if necessary.

An inspection of the site last week by the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration determined the company met safety regulations, according to Washington County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Thomas Newton.

The boy had climbed a 15-foot rocky berm to reach the spot where he fell, Newton said.

A berm was the only requirement for that section of the quarry, he said.

A full report of the investigation with its conclusion regarding liability is expected to be available today, said Newton.

The boy's family could not be reached for comment.

Snyder's death was the second at a quarry in Hagerstown in 11 months.

On July 28, Robert James Wells, 16, of 13545 Halifax Drive, died after he jumped off a cliff 75 feet above the water at the Hagerstown Block Co. quarry off Hump Road.

A partial fence was set back from the ledge of the cliff in that area, according to paramedics who recovered the body.

The Washington County Planning Commission had placed the fence and berm conditions on St. Lawrence Cement in 1991 before granting permission for a 109-acre expansion.

St. Lawrence appealed, maintaining that the Planning Commission did not have the authority to impose the restrictions and had no substantial evidence on which to base the conditions.

The county Zoning Board of Appeals later agreed.

The Zoning Appeals Board's 1992 decision signed by Douglas said the decision was based on the quarry's 100 years of operation and the lack of factual or anecdotal evidence showing a need for it.

"The small additional margin of safety, if any, is far outweighed by the expense and damage to the surrounding land by the necessity of constructing the berm," the opinion said.

Homeowners in the Cedar Hills development near the quarry had hired Hagerstown attorney William C. Wantz to present their side of the story to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

In a memorandum to the appeals board, Wantz said residents expressed concern about dangers the quarry terrain might pose.

"Witnesses at the Planning Commission hearing expressed concern about children and animals wandering into the unfenced pit area. Construction of the pit is characterized by sheer drops and steep slopes," the memorandum of law prepared by Wantz said.

A footnote to that paragraph notes, "The installation of perimeter fencing before expanded mining progresses may lessen the risk of harm from these hazards."

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