No action taken on DEP's decision to issue quarry permits

Berkeley Co. Council president suggests partnership with Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment

February 17, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council on Thursday took no action on whether to appeal the state Department of Environmental Protection's decision to issue permits for a controversial quarry operation in Gerrardstown, W.Va.

"I'm not sure what we could do that we haven't already done," said Council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield after recounting actions the county had taken to express its opposition to North Mountain Shale LLC's project.

"I think if it's going to be reversed, its going to have to be reversed in the court system," Stubblefield said. "I don't think it's going to be reversed at DEP level."

Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Environment, a group that formed in opposition to the North Mountain Shale project off W.Va. 51, could not be reached for comment Thursday on whether it would challenge the DEP's decision.

"If the Gerrardstown group wanted to prepare an appeal and present it to us to see if we would sign on as a partner in the appeal, we could entertain that," Stubblefield said.

County legal counsel Norwood Bentley III advised council members on Thursday that the county's 30-day window to file an appeal challenging the permits with the state Surface Mine Board and Environmental Quality Board will end on March 5.

"If you're going to appeal, you need grounds for appeal and you've got to attack specific things," Bentley said.

"You can't just write a nice letter and say 'we don't agree, we wish you hadn't issued the permit.'"

Council member Elaine Mauck said she had received a number of phone calls from residents who are concerned about the quarry project and want to know the county's position on the issue. Opponents have questioned the project's impact on groundwater, air quality and nearby historic sites.

County Council member Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he would be in favor of appealing the decision and remains opposed to the project. Council members Doug Copenhaver and James "Jim" Whitacre took no position on the issue, but Copenhaver agreed with Stubblefield's position that the county appears to have exhausted its options.

Thomas Clarke, director of the DEP's Division of Mining and Reclamation said Thursday that permit conditions imposed on North Mountain Shale by the agency probably will not satisfy opponents.

"I can't say we satisfied everyone," Clarke said. "We probably didn't and we'll probably get an appeal."

The DEP's permit conditions include mitigation of visual intrusion on neighboring historic properties, including the nearby Gerrardstown Historic District.  

The company would have to provide state officials with a status report on a revegetation and landscaping plan within one year of the permit being issued. A complete archeological survey, if not already done, also must be submitted to state officials.

North Mountain Shale, which is affiliated with Continental Brick Co. in Martinsburg, also would have to limit excavation and hauling to daylight hours Monday through Saturday and make reasonable efforts to avoid conflicts with funeral or memorial services in a cemetery next to the haulage access road, according to documents released by county officials this week.

Mineral excavation in the permit area would be restricted between May through October, according to conditions outlined in a four-point attachment.

The company is permitted to remove shale up to the 900-foot elevation mark with only ten acres of active mineral removal at any time, and is required to reclaim each section before moving on to the next, Clarke said.

The permit does not allow North Mountain Shale or any other company to target any mineral other than Martinsburg Shale.

Clarke said North Mountain Shale also is limited as to how deep in the ground they can quarry to protect the water table and irregularly formed karst topography.

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