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Quarry using bad tactics for bad result

February 06, 2005|by Allen R. Dean

To the editor:

The H.B. Mellott Estate Inc. of Hagerstown is a horse of a different color. Most companies, when they expand to a new location, are proud to proclaim: "Future Home of the (XYZ Widget) Corporation." For the Mellott company, however, the acquisition of a new site is strictly a hush-hush affair. 'Course they may have their reasons: Mellott doesn't produce widgets; it blasts holes in the earth and rips out huge quantities of stone.

The residents of the Mount Aetna area of Washington County are in serious conflict with the Mellott stone quarry's plan to expand northward into the midst of a growing residential area. Much of the trouble has arisen precisely because Mellott kept its expansion plans under its hat, which put the affected residents at a serious disadvantage. In fact, when acquiring those 80 acres now under dispute, the company listed the ownership with a name not associated with the stone quarry.

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Had any knowledge of their plans been circulating in public, certainly my real estate agent, a Washington County native and a person of integrity, would not have directed us to the Crest Valley house that we bought more than two years after the stone quarry had its sights set on a "north pit." Certainly, the people who recently had substantial, half-million-dollar-plus houses erected on acreage immediately flanking the quarry expansion site would have gone elsewhere for the tranquility and mountain views that they were after.

H.B. Mellott is a stone quarry operation on the move. In 2000, it acquired the right, after a court challenge, to expand south toward Interstate 70. At the same time it assured Beaver Creek and Mount Aetna community representatives that it had no more interest in mining adjacent lands. In a county with 17 quarries, it just might have reasoned that enough stone was already coming out of the ground. But in less than two years it was back in the market for more earth to dig up, this time to the north. So much for their assurances.

So what is wrong with this quarry expansion, apart from the stealthy approach the company has taken? Well, just about everything. The quarry's northern operation would be at a higher elevation than the surrounding residential areas and would loom over them. Fact is, the other Washington County quarries are at lower elevations than their adjoining land, and are not located in residential areas.

Quarry operations at the "north pit" would spread noise from blasting and mining equipment, as well as increase air pollution, all over the nearby Mount Aetna Road residential areas. It would almost certainly cause blasting damage to close-by structures, threaten the community water supply and wipe out the well-known historical sites scattered over the property. Without any doubt, it will depress residential property values.

In short, it would be a noisy and unsightly operation completely at odds with life in the rolling hills at the foot of South Mountain, an unwelcome addition to all parties except the absentee owners.

H.B. Mellott's attempt to rezone the northern parcel came to public awareness only in November of the past year, some three years after its acquisition. "Friends of Mount Aetna Creek," an organization intent on preserving the qualities and charms of the Mount Aetna community, quickly rallied the local residents and secured the services of legal and technical experts. An unhappy aspect of the citizens' fight against rezoning this land has been that the role of the county government does not inspire.

It was initially pushing for a single public hearing with a "wrap up" before Christmas, on a schedule that left no time for the community to present an organized objection to Mellott's years of planning and analyzing. Moreover, the Planning Department had little notion of the primarily residential character of the area (Crest Valley, Beaver Creek Estates, Cannon Forge Estates, Mountain View Properties and older homes along nearby Md. 66 and all along Mount Aetna Road); it referenced dismissively, "some scattered low-density residential development."

Clearly they need an updated map or maybe a field trip to the area. Despite the disadvantaged position, the community's true temper and interest was signaled when hundreds of citizens poured into two public hearings to make their case against the quarry move.

The rezoning matter is not yet decided. Citizens concerned with the orderly and rational growth of population and commerce in Washington County need to make their voices heard.

Allen R. Dean
Mount Aetna

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