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Mining decision upsets group opposed to quarry in southern Berkeley County

February 08, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — An organization opposed to a proposed shale quarry in southern Berkeley County has criticized the West Virginia Surface Mine Board for affirming the state Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to issue a mining permit for the operation.

Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., one of three organizations that challenged the DEP’s action to issue the mining permit to North Mountain Shale LLC, did not indicate Wednesday whether it would appeal the mine board’s decision in circuit court.

A court appeal must be filed by Feb. 24, according to DEP officials. A separate, but related appeal regarding the quarry that was filed with the state Environmental Quality Board last year by Potomac Riverkeeper still is pending, according to the DEP.

The mining permit issued by the DEP in January 2011 allows North Mountain Shale to mine shale in a 100-acre quarry site off Dominion Road near W.Va. 51 in Gerrardstown, W.Va. The shale would be hauled to Continental Brick Co.

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North Mountain Shale is a subsidiary of Continental Brick, according to a final order signed Jan. 25 by mine board Chairman Don Michael.

The mine board unanimously concluded in its 18-page order that the five-year permit was properly issued by the DEP, but also modified it and added conditions to “minimize potential impacts” of the quarry.

The conditions include limiting the removal of shale to five truckloads from the permit area per working shift at Continental Brick Co., with a maximum of two shifts per day; allowing no more than two acres in the mining area to be disturbed in the first year of active mining; and reclamation of wooded areas by planting between 400 and 450 tree saplings per acre and planting of grasses to reclaim hayfield/pasture areas.

Shale extracted from a 41-acre area would done in 5-acre increments, with reclamation required to begin in a mined area before new areas are mined, according to the order.

Potomac Riverkeeper acknowledged in a news release that the conditions aim to lessen the burden on the community, but maintained that Gerrardstown would be the next West Virginia community to be “devastated” by mining activity.

“West Virginia has always been a pro-mining state; where the legislature and the regulatory agencies, despite being sworn to protect our environment, work instead to lessen the burden on industry,” Brent Walls, Upper Potomac River manager for Potomac Riverkeeper, said in the release.

North Mountain Shale purchased 421 acres at the Gerrardstown site in January 2008, and has worked with numerous consultants and government agencies to obtain the permit to mine, Continental Brick Co. Vice President Donald Sult said.

The position of Continental Brick and North Mountain Shale is that the facts, the law and reviews of the quarry plans, and scientific and historic studies support the issuance of the permit, Sult said.

Potomac Riverkeeper, however, said the mine board’s failure to overturn the DEP’s decision to issue the permit was disappointing considering area residents wrote 787 letters to the state agency in opposition to the quarry and participated in large numbers at public hearings.

The nonprofit organization also said the community remains concerned that polluted runoff from the industrial operation could contaminate the drinking water supply.

Sult said the company’s operation would have a very minor effect on Gerrardstown, and the company would not build a plant there because it isn’t feasible.

Sult said the company has no reason to greatly expand the quarrying operation in the future. And given the economic downturn involving the housing market, the 95-year-old brick plant has been running about 25 percent of capacity for the last two years, Sult said. 

“This is the worst economy that we have ever seen,” Sult said.

Sult said the company has mined shale within a mile of the brick plant off W.Va. 9 near Martinsburg since it started in 1917. According to Sult, the company doesn’t have a “massive” mining operation there and has reclaimed areas that are now well-vegetated.

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