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Speakers at hearing oppose Gerrardstown quarry project

April 15, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

GERRARDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Hundreds of people concerned about a company's proposal to quarry shale just outside the historic Berkeley County community of Gerrardstown turned out for the Department of Environmental Protection's "informal conference" Wednesday evening concerning required permits for the project.

DEP spokesperson Kathy Cosco estimated that at least 500 people packed into the dining area of Mountain Ridge Intermediate School for the hearing, which lasted for about two and a half hours.

Cosco said 47 people spoke about North Mountain Shale LLC's proposal to quarry Martinsburg shale at a 100-acre site off W.Va. 51 west of Dominion Road. North Mountain Shale is an affiliate of Continental Brick Co. in Martinsburg.

DEP will continue the hearing regarding the company's permit applications at a yet-to-be scheduled date because people expressed concern that they didn't get the opportunity to speak after hearing officer Richard Roy ended the informal conference, Cosco said.

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By 9:15 p.m., only one of the speakers, an employee of Continental Brick, spoke in favor of the project.

"Continental has provided work opportunities to support the families of Berkeley County residents since it opened in 1917 and it needs this shale ... as a blending material to continue to operate," Victor Barrett said.

"For this new operation, DEP requires that the runoff and stormwater control structures be built to control surface runoff from the permit and excavation area. North Mountain has designed ponds bigger than required and the DEP would not accept the designs and these structures if they were inadequate."

"Discharge from the ponds would be regulated and sampled regularly," Barrett said.

Barrett also noted the conclusion of the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer that the permit would have "no adverse affect" on cultural resources and that viewshed impact would limited.

All three Berkeley County Commissioners, State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson and a number of other community leaders joined Gerrardstown residents in voicing their concerns about the project's impact on water, air, road conditions, property values and overall quality of life.

Because of the turnout, Roy announced that those signed up to speak would be limited to three minutes each. They were directed to speak into a microphone at a table facing Roy, who said the ultimate decision on the permit applications filed by North Mountain Shale would be made by DEP officials in Charleston.

No matter what DEP's decision is, Unger, who chairs the Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources, promised a review of it.

"If you're in doubt, I ask you to deny (the permits), I ask you to protect the public, do the job, protect the welfare and benefit of the people, particularly here in the Eastern Panhandle," Unger said.

Unger's comments, like those of dozens of others, generated hearty applause and cheers.

Given the overwhelming concerns aired about the project, Gerrardstown resident Richard Talbott said the DEP's decision should be "easy."

Though he lives "on the other side of the county" 20 miles from the proposed site, Clint Hogbin said he was "absolutely convinced without a shadow of a doubt that this operation, if permitted, will directly harm the positive economic development in this region."

"Yes, we do want economic development, but not all economic development is good and North Mountain LLC is not the type of economic development for Berkeley County."

Hogbin recalled another proposed quarry project near Kearneysville several years ago that the DEP denied, and that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the agency's denial.

"Today there are easily over 1,000 high paying, clean jobs within a mile of that once proposed quarry site."

"If you issue the permit, you risk the risk the community's water source, you damage property values, you risk incompatible traffic patterns and you risk our future -- please deny this permit."

The DEP received comments by Berkeley County Health Department, Health Officer Diana Gaviria. Paul Wilson of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and members of Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment (CARE).

Wendy Hudock of CARE noted letters of concern about impact on the environmental and historic resources had been sent to the DEP by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Trust in Washington, DC.

"We are not going away," Hudock said of the group's opposition.

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