Environmental advocates challenge quarry permit

February 27, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Environmental advocates have appealed permits issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection that would allow North Mountain Shale LLC to operate a quarry in Gerrardstown, W.Va.

Potomac Riverkeeper Inc. announced Friday that it challenged the DEP’s January decision to issue quarry and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for a 100-acre site off W.Va. 51.

Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church and Washington Heritage Trail Inc. also joined the not-for-profit, clean- water organization in appealing the quarry permit to the West Virginia Surface Mining Board, according to copies of the appeal released by Potomac Riverkeeper.  

Potomac Riverkeeper is the lone appellant of the NPDES permit in a separate action filed with the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board by Shepherdstown, W.Va., attorney Christopher P. Stroech.

“The Gerrardstown community is heartbroken over West Virginia’s decision to grant North Mountain Shale LLC a quarry permit which they believe threatens their peaceful, historic town,” Brent Walls of Potomac Riverkeeper said in a news release.

Walls, who is the Upper Potomac River manager for the group, said overwhelming opposition to the quarry best exhibited by more than 700 complaint letters and multiple town meetings was ignored by the DEP.

“People here have said overwhelmingly that they do not want a quarry in their town,” Walls said. “Their pleas were ignored despite the abundant environmental and human health hazards. This cannot stand.”

Objections outlined in the quarry appeal include claims that the permit failed to require adequate control of fugitive particulate matter and that the DEP failed to investigate the potential impact on the public health of the particulate emissions and pollutant discharges to surrounding waters.

The appeal also claims the proposed hauling road does not meet state regulations, that heavy truck traffic from the quarry will constitute a public nuisance and that the quarry operation will adversely impact Gerrardstown’s historic and cultural resources.

Walls recounted that hundreds of people attended multiple public hearings about the proposed quarry, crediting CARE, a local group concerned with protecting the tranquility of North Mountain, for spearheading the community’s response.

“The community is worried that the porous ground will allow pollutants to seep into their drinking water,” Walls said in the news release.

“Just a moderate rainstorm will send a surge of pollution from the site into Mill creek, a state-stocked trout stream, choking the fish with sediment,” Walls said. “The operation of this quarry will turn this area into an industrial zone, with hundreds of trucks pounding over the roads, threatening air quality and the historic structures in town. Nobody in town wants to live in that kind of extreme disruption.”

In the NPDES appeal, Potomac Riverkeeper claims the permit’s monitoring requirements are incapable of determining compliance, among other technical allegations.

DEP officials have said they did factor the concerns of the residents into their decision to issue the permits and have included a number of conditions to mitigate visual intrusion on neighboring historic properties. The agency said it also limited the amount of acreage from which shale could be removed at any given time.

North Mountain Shale 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 archaeological 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 access road, according to permit documents.

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

The company would be permitted to remove shale up to the 900-foot elevation mark with only 10 acres of active mineral removal at any time. North Mountain Shale would be required to reclaim each section before moving on to the next one, DEP officials have said.

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