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Brick firm's exploration alarms W.Va. landowners

December 29, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

GERRARDSTOWN, W.VA. - Residents in Gerrardstown said they will fight a brick company's proposal to move its operations to a 224-acre site off W.Va. 51.

Continental Brick Co.'s evaluation of the property has alarmed residents, who have refused to sell their land and said this week they will fight the proposal.

Don Sult, vice president of operations for Continental Brick Co. near Martinsburg, W.Va., said Friday that the company sent a letter Dec. 11 to property owner Stevan Hudock, which indicated shale testing had been taking place at the Carr property site, which neighbors a historic 200-year-old farm known as Prospect Hill.

Sult would not elaborate on the company's intentions or whether the current available supply of shale used for making bricks at their plant off Charles Town Road was running low.

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"We haven't bought anything," Sult said.

In the letter faxed to Hudock from a local radio station owned by Rick Wachtel, Sult said right-of-way access through Hudock's property off W.Va. 51 (Gerrardstown Road) would provide the company with a more direct path to the road.

"If we decide to proceed with our plans on the Carr property, I want to assure you that our activities will be done in a manner that will have minimal impact on the neighbors and nearby property owners," Sult wrote.

Sult wrote in his letter that the company's evaluation was in a preliminary stage, and it is "far from certain" that the shale on the Carr property is suitable for manufacturing brick.

No sale

Hudock's wife, Wendy Hudock, said she and her husband were visited at their home about possibly selling part of Prospect Hill to Continental Brick, but have refused to sell.

Wendy Hudock isn't convinced that an industrial development on the adjoining property site, which can be accessed off Dominion Road, can be done without significant environmental harm.

"It would just ruin this community," Hudock said of potential problems with truck traffic, storm-water drainage and scenic viewsheds "My husband is very environmentally concerned."

Nearby property owner Roger Palmer said he received a letter from Wachtel, who also is a real estate agent, earlier this year regarding the possible sale of 60 acres he owns along W.Va. 51.

"I said 'no,'" said Palmer, who said he since has met with Sult and was led to believe that the company wanted to build a brick plant on the property being tested.

Palmer said he is preparing to launch a petition drive because he didn't believe many Gerrardstown-area residents were aware of the company's raw material exploration.

"We really don't want the side of the mountain to disappear," Palmer said.

Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins, who resides off Dominion Road, said he heard a rumor that the company was exploring options on the property, but little else.

Collins said he thought the surveying and engineering activity was being done in advance of residential development, and it wasn't until later that he put "two and two together."

"Nobody has called me," Collins said.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said he was contacted about the situation, but has not talked with the company.

Stubblefield said the county's zoning ordinance was designed to address such situations and that quality of life should be balanced with prosperity.

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