The largest amount of public opposition it has ever seen wasn't enough to sway the Missouri Department of Natural Resources from announcing Friday it will recommend approval for a mining permit to allow a 161-acre quarry near Fruitland.
In a letter posted on the DNR website Friday, Mike Larsen, the staff director of the Land Reclamation Program, said he is recommending Heartland Materials be allowed to build because the company has satisfied all of the technical requirements that the department has jurisdiction over, mainly air and water quality.
DNR has received more than 2,600 letters in opposition to the Heartland Materials quarry development, which is more than it has received for any other mining application request.
"After considering all of the written comments received I have come to the conclusion that this is, without question, an issue of extensive and extreme concern to thousands of citizens in the area," Larsen said in the letter.
Larsen points out later, though, that many of the residents' concerns, such as traffic and noise, are not governed by the DNR.
Jim Maevers, who is chairman of the board of regents at Saxony, said he is disappointed with the DNR's recommendation to approve the quarry. The proposed quarry would go in south of the school.
"We will continue to fight to keep the quarries from locating within such a proximity to the school," Maevers said. "Our attorney is already at work outlining why the quarry shouldn't be there."
Now the issue rests with the state's Land Reclamation Commission, which is the ruling body over Missouri's mining issues. At the next commission meeting Jan. 27 in Jefferson City, commissioners will be asked to take action on requests for formal hearings for two proposed quarry projects near Fruitland, including the second from Strack Excavating.
Opponents will try to demonstrate at that meeting that they have "standing" for a hearing. In letters sent to opponents, they have been asked to explain to the commission why they feel their health, safety or livelihood will be "unduly impaired" by the issuance of a mining permit.
A hearing would not be held to discuss merits or drawbacks of a quarry, Larsen said. It is a formal judicial proceeding that occurs before a hearing officer, who functions like a judge. If a hearing is granted, the hearing will delay the issuance of a permit until the matter is heard by the hearing officer. If a hearing is granted, opponents will be asked to submit scientific evidence to support their claims. The hearing officer will then issue a recommendation to the commission for issuance or denial of the permit. Commissioners will then have final say.
Maevers said he understands that the department made its recommendation based on what it feels responsible for.
"But we're still planning on a very visible presence at the commission meeting," he said. "We have a lot of concern."
Neighbors who leave near the proposed quarry also expressed disappointment at the recommendation, but not surprise. Abby Petzoldt, spokeswoman for Fruitland's Community Protection Society, said that the group feels that the laws are set up to represent the interests of the quarry operators.
"They fail in any way to protect the rights of the people who will be most negatively affected," she said.
She said that the sheer volume of opposition is being disregarded astounds her.
"If the Land Reclamation Commission is unable under the law to deny this permit, then I honestly don't know how they would ever deny anyone," she said. "And that means there really isn't anything to protect the citizens at all."
County Road 601, Jackson, MO