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Blairton decision could hurt water plans in Berkeley County

October 04, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

A cement manufacturer's announcement this week to end quarrying operations at a mining site east of Martinsburg might complicate a long-term plan to access millions of gallons of water for public consumption at the Blairton quarry property in Berkeley County.

"We're going to have to look at it and see if we have to deal with Riverton (Corp.) or someone else," county legal counsel Norwood Bentley said of the potential ramifications of the decision by ESSROC.

Riverton Corp., a subsidiary of Nazareth, Pa.-based ESSROC, will cease quarrying rock from the Blairton property off W.Va. 45 by the end of the year, ESSROC spokesman Marco Barbesta said.

According to county records, ESSROC still owns nine parcels in the Blairton area and at least one is near a water-filled quarry site that has been explored by the Berkeley County Pubic Service Water District as a future water source.

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Paul Fisher, executive director of the water district, said this week that a hydrogeologist's study concluded that the Blairton quarry site north of W.Va. 45, along with nearby Tuscarora Creek and hundreds of acres within the immediate area of the mining site, could yield as much as 6 million gallons per day.

"The findings were that there was not additional water at the Big Springs" site south of Martinsburg near ESSROC's other cement manufacturing operations, Fisher said.

Fisher said Hoy Shingleton, the water district's attorney, is investigating what impact, if any, ESSROC's announcement might have on long-term plans, which include a treatment plant.

"I'm not sure what that means to us quite yet," Fisher said.

Barbesta said ESSROC had "exhausted" its options to continue mining at the Blairton property, referring to a legal dispute between ESSROC and the land owner in state court in Henrico County, Va.

"We have three months to vacate the premises (of the leased land)," Barbesta said. County deeds and state business records appear to indicate the property owner is Van Metre Millennium Blairton LLC, an entity managed by Albert G. Van Metre Sr. of Burke, Va.

ESSROC had mined at Blairton for rock aggregate that Barbesta said was used as a base for road materials. Eight employees were notified Monday of the company's action, Barbesta said.

"It's a very, very small percentage of our business," Barbesta said.

In exchange for ESSROC providing the county with access to water at Blairton and at Big Springs, the county commission's December 2006 agreement also recognized the company's now $460 million investment to revamp cement manufacturing operations and provided ESSROC with tax relief.

Bentley could not immediately say if the county's Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with ESSROC would be affected by the developments concerning the Blairton operations.

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