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Commissioners sign resolution against quarry

May 28, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- Opponents of a quarry proposed in the Gerrardstown, W.Va., area heartily applauded and thanked the Berkeley County Commission, which voted Thursday to adopt a resolution opposed to permitting a mining operation there.

The resolution presented to the commission Thursday by Len Griffith of Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment (CARE) opposes a state permit being issued for the project by North Mountain Shale LLC, an affiliate of Continental Brick Co. near Martinsburg.

"We are of an opinion that a mining operation ... will not benefit the county," Griffith said. "It will only benefit the mine owners."

After reading the resolution aloud, Griffith told the commission the advocacy group had obtained the support of several thousand people, and CARE had collected more than 900 signatures on one of two petitions.

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The one-page resolution cites county residents' fundamental and inalienable rights to a healthy environment and protection of cultural heritage. The statement concludes quarry mining in the southwestern Berkeley County community "will be incompatible with the historic and cultural setting of the area."

Don Sult, vice president of operations at Continental Brick, said in an e-mail Thursday night he needed more time to review the language of the resolution and "understand what it means before deciding what, if any, comment (he) will have."

Sult did not provide any information about the status of the project south of W.Va. 51 and west of Dominion Road. In March 2008, an attorney for the company indicated Continental Brick owned three parcels near Gerrardstown that comprised about 422 acres. The total proposed permit area outlined in a February 2008 letter between the State Historic Preservation Office and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was 246 acres.

But DEP permit supervisor Randy Moore said this week the mining plan changed in more recent documents.

Moore said the DEP also is waiting to receive a groundwater hydrology analysis, and the State Historic Preservation Office is waiting on additional information it requested, he said.

When the application is technically complete, residents will have the opportunity to request a public hearing or "informal conference," and Moore said he anticipates the DEP will have additional comments.

"I know there are a lot of concerns," Moore said.

The resolution adopted Thursday indicates North Mountain Shale proposes to operate an "expansive industrial quarry mine" on a property that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in a designated historic residential community.

One of several historic properties in close proximity to the proposed mining site is On Hall, a farmhouse built in 1825 by a prominent merchant that is part of North Mountain Shale's property.

The resolution also indicates the mining is proposed to happen at "up to 900 feet elevation on a slope difficult to reclaim," but makes no statements about the potential impact on residential wells and other water resources.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield commended opponents of the quarry for leaving out references to the water table in the resolution.

"This is a resolution, because it's based on fact, that I can sign and I will sign it today," said Stubblefield, who indicated he had significant reservations about "what ifs" in a resolution submitted in February.

Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he was well aware of the "deep reservations" residents of Gerrardstown and neighboring communities have.

"It certainly has been a concern of mine through the whole process for about a year and a half," Petrucci said.

Petrucci also reminded the large group of concerned residents who joined Griffith Thursday that even a county zoning ordinance would not have stopped industrial development because state law doesn't give counties jurisdiction or authority to act.

Commission President Ronald K. Collins, who lives about three miles from the proposed mining site, said the quarry project has put him in an awkward position.

"For me, it's a tickly situation because I live there and I also have to do what's best for the county, so I kind of got to wear two hats and I have to be careful," Collins said. "But it's something that does not fit in with the historical nature of the area."

Collins said he was not that concerned about the project when it first surfaced because he did not have all of the information about it.

"You can get concerned in the beginning and not know what you're doing, or you can get concerned when you got all the information and know what you're doing," Collins said. "We can't sign a 'what if' resolution."

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