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Quarry statements don't add up

February 28, 2005|by Claudia Eklund

What were you doing the day after 9/11? Most of us were attempting to make this world a better place by helping, however possible, to ease the pain of disaster.

On Sept. 12, 2001, H.B. Mellott Estate purchased 80.33 acres adjoining the property on the east pit off Mapleville Road, continuing onto Mount Aetna Road. This purchase, however, was made under the name Orchard Business Park.

Few people were aware of this transaction. Those who did know were reassured this property was to be a buffer between Mount Aetna and the quarry. They were informed that no mining on this property would occur, in keeping with the quarry's public statements during previous expansion hearings.

On Nov. 1, 2004, residents who own property adjacent to Orchard Business Park were served with a notice of rezoning from agricultural to industrial mineral overlay. People were still unaware of who owned Orchard Business Park.

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Having little time to understand the plans of H.B. Mellott Estate, citizens attended a Nov. 15 public hearing at the courthouse. During the H.B. Mellott presentation, it was stated that there were no plans to increase production. The purpose of rezoning was to increase the life of the quarry. If production would not increase, traffic would not increase, so the State Highway Administration saw no problem with rezoning and granted approval based on this information.

The presentation also stated that the water tables will not be tapped into at the east pit's northern extension. This means that by remaining above the water tables, local area wells would not be affected by either contamination, depletion of water supply or drying up completely.

Due to the large attendance, continuance was granted for the opposition to present itself on Dec. 13, 2004.

The following day, Nov. 16, 2004, H.B. Mellott Estate filed an application with Maryland Department of the Environment to increase production from 400 tons an hour to 650 tons an hour. That's a 61 percent increase in mining production.

Why were such statements made the night before? Apparently, to mislead. By increasing production, traffic will increase, noise will increase, blasting will increase, water tables will be affected, air quality will be worse and sinkholes will increase.

The Maryland Department of the Environment monitors air quality, water quality and noise/vibration quality. Please be aware, the MDE monitors the information supplied to them by H.B. Mellott Estate's in-house, self-monitored reports. The only time a field agent with MDE comes out to actually "monitor" is when there has been a complaint.

Late in November, there was a turbidity problem reported at the Albert M. Powell trout hatchery. One MDE official stated from preliminary data that the problem arose from new wells dug on White Hall Road, and that the problem was not from the quarry. However, when a tracer dye study test was performed, word got out that the dye did in fact end up at the spring of the hatchery - but no information was given out, as the report was not complete. Why was the department so free in supplying preliminary information, while the actual reports are being kept hush-hush?

The latest comment made by the director in charge of the investigation is that the findings are being analyzed. However, he did divulge that the monitoring well in Orchard Business Park did in fact have dye traced into Beaver Creek.

This means there is in fact a direct connection with the dewatering efforts of the quarry and the compromising of Beaver Creek.

Back on Nov. 9, 2004, a group of citizens representing Friends of Mount Aetna Creek went before the weekly public Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting to request postponement on the initial hearing for Nov. 15, 2004. The request was denied, however, it was clearly understood that a continuance may be granted and possibly an extension of public input time as well. Yet the public input time was closed at the Dec. 13, 2004, meeting.

In Washington County, rezoning cases are given 10 days of public input time after the public hearings - however, not in this case. During the previous case of H.B. Mellott Estates rezoning hearings, the residents received an extension beyond the 10 days. Why was this closed? Are area officials afraid of learning the truth? Even if the record is closed, write to your commissioner and share your disgust with the ethics displayed.

The planning department staff report is being compiled and will be given to the Washington County Planning Commission for review and deliberation. The Planning Commission meets the first Monday of every month at the County Annex Building planning office at 80 W. Baltimore St. As per the senior planner, the planning commission is likely to meet and deliberate over this in March. Tentatively, the date is March 7. This is a public meeting.

However, no comments can be made by citizens. The Planning Commission compiles its recommendation and gives it to the County Commissioners for the final decision.

Will you make this world a better place and write?

Claudia Eklund
Mount Aetna

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