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North Mountain Shale LLC's water quality-related permit affirmed

February 18, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The only apparent potential stumbling block for a company to mine shale at a quarry in Gerrardstown, W.Va., is the possibility of litigation in circuit court now that the state’s decision to issue permits for the quarry operation have been upheld.

North Mountain Shale LLC’s water quality-related permit was affirmed last Monday by the Environmental Quality Board, and the Surface Mine Board acted similarly on the company’s mining permit.

The permits issued by the DEP in January 2011 allow North Mountain Shale to mine shale in a 100-acre quarry site off Dominion Road near W.Va. 51 in Gerrardstown. The shale would be hauled to Continental Brick Co. in Martinsburg. North Mountain Shale affiliated with Continental Brick.

The appeal of the water pollution discharge permit was filed by Potomac Riverkeeper Inc. and neighboring property owner Stevan Hudock. The appeal of the mining permit was filed by Potomac Riverkeeper Inc., Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church and Washington Heritage Trail Inc.

Donald Sult, vice president of Continental Brick Co., was pleased with the Environmental Quality Board’s decision. Opponents of the quarry, however, were disappointed and said they strongly disagreed with the board’s decision, but did not indicate whether they would appeal the decision to circuit court. The deadline to appeal the Surface Mine Board’s decision is Friday.

In a prepared statement, Sult noted that the appellate boards dismissed most of the claims cited in the appeals for lack of evidence in lengthy hearings held last summer in Martinsburg.

“The recent SMB and EQB decisions discuss the evidence concerning the remaining claims and in both cases affirm the issuance of the permits,” Sult said. “There are now no technical, administrative, scientific, or legal issues which have not been properly addressed to the satisfaction of the DEP, the SMB, and the EQB.”

Sult has said the shale to be mined in Gerrardstown has a plasticity that is important for the company’s continued operation.

“It is the position of Continental Brick Co. and North Mountain Shale that the facts, the law, a careful examination of the proposed operating and reclamation plans, scientific and historic studies, and an impartial examination of the site have supported the issuance of the permits,” Sult said.

CARE, a citizens group that formed in opposition, said it was critical of the Environmental Quality Board’s findings in a statement released last week, claiming the permit issued to North Mountain Shale was not complete because significant information regarding North Mountain Shale’s plans to use chemical flocculants in their discharge ponds was not disclosed.

“The public was denied their legal right to be informed and comment about unknown chemical substances that could affect our water and waterways. Citizens should not be burdened with fees for costly water treatment facilities. We should not have concerns about what is in our drinking water.”

While affirming North Mountain Shale’s permit, the Environmental Quality Board’s final order did remand it for a minor modification to identify any flocculent it would use to control drainage from a particular outlet at the mining site.

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

CARE also asserted that quarry operations in close proximity to residential areas can detrimentally affect the environment and impair the quality and purity of water, but sometimes not be evident for years.

“The final order illogically attempts to place the blame on the public for not using the Freedom of Information Act to uncover undisclosed information of all practices North Mountain Shale will implement. The permit legally should have given all pertinent information up front during public permit process.”

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