W.Va. residents seek blasting law

May 26, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Concerned that rock blasting for housing subdivisions could affect the flow of streams and springs, and damage historic homes in the Shepherdstown area, a group of county residents appeared before county officials Thursday to ask that they pass a law regulating how blasting is conducted.

The group wants the Jefferson County Commission to consider formulating a "pre-blast survey" law, which would require developers to survey the condition of homes near a construction site before blasting is conducted, said Shepherdstown area artist Diana Suttenfield, part of the group that appeared before the commission.

The homes would be surveyed again after the blasting, and if damage occurs to a home, homeowners could be compensated, Suttenfield said.

There has been concern in Shepherdstown about recent blasting for various projects and whether it could damage older homes, Suttenfield said.


Now, there is concern whether blasting that could occur for residential development near Morgan's Grove Park could affect historic homes in that area. There is also concern about whether the blasting could affect Town Run, a stream which runs through the park and into town and Morgan's Spring, which is along Flowing Springs Road, Suttenfield said.

Morgan's Spring is one of about 23 springs that feed Town Run.

Town Run has flowed north to the Potomac River for thousands of years. Native Americans at one time had seasonal camps along its banks. In the 1730s, it was discovered by one of the earliest settlers, Richard Morgan, who built a stone house near Morgan's Spring, which still stands, Suttenfield said.

Morgan's brother built a home called Falling Spring, which is also near Morgan's Spring. That home was built in 1830 and still stands, Suttenfield said.

Glenn Kinser, who has a background in geology, said streams have been known to disappear after blasting.

He suggested a buffer be considered to protect Town Run from blasting.

Although commission member Dale Manuel said he does not believe there are any state laws which allow counties to enact pre-blast survey laws, he said more research needs to be done to determine what can be done to address the issue.

State laws that allow a county to do something is sometimes referred to as "enabling legislation."

Commission member Rusty Morgan said the possibility that there is no enabling legislation to allow the county to have pre-blast survey regulations should not dissuade officials from working on the issue.

"We run up against that every day," Morgan said.

Local government officials often express concern about unique problems that crop up in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle and how they are different from issues faced by the rest of the state.

Commission member Jim Surkamp said the blasting issue is another example of how "we're pioneers of a new problem."

For a short-term solution, Surkamp proposed that the commission ask developers to offer pre-blast surveys to owners of historic homes or springs if the property owners ask for a survey and if the historic spots are within 1,500 feet of a blast area.

For a long-term solution, Surkamp wants the county to study blasting laws which other communities have enacted to determine if they could be considered for possible state legislation.

The commission ended up tabling the issue, partly over the concern that they were not sure what they were voting on in Surkamp's plan.

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