County hosts surface mining public hearing
DENTON — Critics of a proposed ordinance meant to establish permitting requirements for mineral extraction facilities in Caroline County said at a public hearing Tuesday, March 27, much of it is already covered by state and local laws, and other parts could set up the county for potential legal trouble.
The commissioners put a oneyear moratorium on issuing new permits for mineral extraction, or surface mining, facilities last May; since then, the proposed ordinance, which would update the county’s code of local laws, was developed and passed along to the commissioners with the recommendation of both the Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes and the Caroline County Planning Commission.
The ordinance is scheduled for a third reading and potential enactment at the commissioners’ next regular meeting, at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 10.
At the hearing, several industry representatives and their attorneys said much of the permitting process described in the ordinance is already covered at the state and local level, and the vague language could lead to expensive lawsuits.
“With the exception of traffic impacts and hours of operation, the state has jurisdiction over all daily operations tied to mining, and the process already in place allows for input from multiple agencies,” said Kyle Murray, representing Chaney Enterprises, which has operated surface mining sites in the county for 14 years.
“The proposed legislation intrudes on what (the Maryland Department of the Environment) monitors and regulates on a daily basis,” Murray said, “and the majority of issues can be discussed and addressed at the county level during the normal special use exception process, without contradicting state law already in place.”
Steven Hyatt, an Annapolis lawyer who represents two mining operations in the county, said the ordinance does not have a timeline for the permitting process to which county agencies must adhere.
“The proposed process, including the special use exception pro-
cess, would require an applicant’s site plan to be reviewed at least four times by three different county agencies,” Hyatt said. “Each time, the agency has the discretion to make more modifications and request more information, again without any timeframe attached to responses — it could go on indefinitely.”
Hyatt and Denton-based lawyer Anne Ogletree pointed out the 200ft. buffer between mining operations and neighboring properties required by the ordinance could conflict with a state law requiring local jurisdictions to ensure mineral resources are available for extraction to meet local and regional demand.
“What you’ve proposed is to remove by way of the 200-ft. buffer millions of tons of mineable ground,” Hyatt said. “You will be hard-pressed to justify it in public interest or general safety when the state accepts a 25-ft. buffer. It’s taking away all economic value from that land, totaling millions of dollars.”
Skip Gardiner, of Annapolis, who owns multiple properties in Caroline and employs more than 40 people in the industry, also criticized the lack of a timeline for the approval process, the 200-ft. buffer requirement and other objectives that are just “someone’s decision to be determined.”
“This is an open-ended piece of legislation written by a big-time law firm,” Gardiner said. “This is only going to help the attorney’s pocketbook because there’s a lot of language here that could have some serious implications and long-running legal battles going forward.”
Mike Davidson, who has been mining in the county since the 1960s, asked why the ordinance was even needed when the regulations already in place seem to be working.
“Consider this deeply,” Davidson said of the ordinance. “What you already had in place was working very well; why would you change it?”
David Bramble, who is actively mining one of three properties he owns in the county, said the 200-ft. buffer would leave a lot of wasted sand on his property.
“The ordinance is overboard,” Bramble said. “What you’ve got now is working.”
Richard Gorleski, who lives on Log Cabin Road, near the site of Schuster Concrete’s proposed surface mining facility that led to the current moratorium, said he supports the industry, but not in residential areas like his.
“I don’t want to see an industrial plant in front of my house,” Gorleski said. “I support sand companies, but just don’t put them in our subdivisions.”
Gorleski called the ordinance “fantastic,” except for a section that would allow the wash plant location to change during the approval process.
Danny Schuster, of Schuster Concrete, said if his company could mine in Caroline County, rather than continuing to buy sand from a Bridgeville, Del.-based supplier, it would only have to haul the sand over three miles of county roads, instead of 23 miles, to get to its closest concrete plant.
Schuster said the people opposed to his company’s proposed development have some good points, but they do not seem to have a plan for what happens if the mining industry is not developed in Caroline County.
“Our tax rate for a sand extraction facility is over 60 times that of agricultural use,” Schuster said. “It’s important to look at where the county will be in 20 years if we don’t bring in quality people in quality industries to develop a better tax base.”
Murray said overregulation of the industry and limiting access to minerals risks companies moving elsewhere, which would eliminate the tax revenue for Caroline County.
“If done responsibly and under the governance of MDE, mining can and will continue to be a strong revenue stream for the county, offering jobs and local material for citizens,” Murray said.
Davidson said the industry has probably created more than 2,000 jobs in the county, directly and indirectly.
“We spend $6,000 a month on (truck) parts,” Davidson said of his operation “(The parts suppliers) need that business.”
Brad Hutchison, of Goldsboro, said he commutes 1.5 hours each way every day for a job in the industry, and would welcome more opportunities closer to home.
“I wouldn’t have to travel as far to make my salar y, and I could spend more time with my family,” Hutchison said.
Ed Richards, of Denton, said the ordinance should require a public hearing during the planning process; the only required hearing is after the planning process is complete.
“There is the potential for some very large operations coming into the county, and plans should be published for public review,” Richards said.
Commission President Larry Porter thanked everyone for their input.
“We’ve heard a range of responses, from ‘We should be able to mine wherever we want to,’ to ‘I don’t want it by me,’” Porter said. “We will take your comments, go back and take a look at this.”
The commissioners are also considering adding a separate element to the county’s comprehensive plan addressing mineral resources. That amendment is viewable on the county’s website, www.carolinemd.org, and a public hearing on the amendment has been set for 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in their regular meeting room in the Caroline County Circuit Courthouse at 109 Market St., Denton.