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Report received after record closed on zoning change request

July 23, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A company seeking a zoning change to expand its mining operations submitted a report to the Washington County Commissioners after the public comment period closed on the case that stated the county would lose jobs and $250 million in "economic activity" if the commissioners didn't approve the request.

County Attorney Richard Douglas confirmed Wednesday that the commissioners received the report from H.B. Mellott Estate Inc."fairly recently" and after the public record closed.

The County Commissioners closed the record on Mellott's application immediately after a Dec. 13, 2004, public hearing on the matter, but allowed Mellott and two opposing groups to submit written closing arguments. The record was officially sealed after those arguments were received.

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Mellott asked for a zoning change for 80.33 acres in an agricultural zone on the east side of Mapleville Road (Md. 66) and north of the intersection with Interstate 70 for its Beaver Creek Quarry. The change would allow an industrial mineral floating zone to be placed over the agriculture zone, according to county documents. That would allow the company to increase the volume of mineral extraction.

Many residents of the Mount Aetna area and several expert witnesses have said a quarry expansion could have negative effects on surrounding property, including causing more sinkholes from blasting near already porous grounds, increasing traffic, and disrupting a peaceful and historic area.

Douglas wouldn't say whether the Commissioners are legally prevented from considering information they receive once the record closes on a case, but he did say he advises them not to consider it.

"I don't think it's fair to the other parties to read it, because the opposition doesn't have the time for rebuttal," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Friday of information received after records are closed on cases.

Wivell said the Commissioners received the Mellott report a few days before they were to announce a decision on the request.

At Tuesday's commissioners meeting, the majority of the five commissioners said they planned to approve the zoning change request. Wivell and Commissioner James F. Kercheval said they would vote against it.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and commissioners Doris J. Nipps and John C. Munson said at that meeting they supported Mellott's application.

The commissioners plan to take the official vote on the request Tuesday.

John Urner, Mellott's attorney, said Friday he had no comment when asked why Mellott submitted the economic report after the record closed.

"I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that while it's awaiting the Commissioners' action here," Urner said.

Wivell said he didn't read the report after consulting with Douglas.

"I don't even know what it says," Wivell said.

Kercheval indirectly addressed the report during Tuesday's meeting, saying the county received information that he couldn't consider because it came in after the record had closed.

On Wednesday, he said it's not uncommon for the Commissioners to receive such information.

"It's not unusual. People send in information all the time," Kercheval said.

Snook, Nipps, Wivell and Munson did not reference the report during Tuesday's meeting. Munson, however, said he was concerned that the county would lose jobs if the quarry wasn't allowed to expand.

Munson said Wednesday that he never received the report and didn't see a copy.

"I wouldn't be allowed to use it anyway," Munson said.

Nipps could not be reached for comment Friday.

Snook said Friday the report came in while he was out of town. It was on his desk when he came back, but he threw it away.

"I pitched it. I didn't even look at it," Snook said.

Snook said he didn't read anything on the Mellott issue since the public hearing.

He said he thought that parties involved in cases would know that the Commissioners are advised not to review material that comes in late.

"I would think that they probably do," Snook said.

The report, called "The Economic Impact of the Beaver Creek Quarry on Washington County, Maryland," states that the quarry "represents an important source of jobs and income within the Washington County economy."

The eight-page report lists financial statistics and detailed economic development information about the quarry and its effects on the county. The proposed expansion would extend the life of the quarry through 2035, according to the report.

"Not approving the Quarry's proposed expansion will result in the loss of $250 million in economic development activity and the direct and indirect employment associated with the Quarry over its estimated 20-year lifetime," the report states. "Additionally, not extending the life of the Beaver Creek Quarry will contribute to higher construction costs and a reduction in the County's ability to achieve its economic growth potentials."

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