Inspired by constituent opposition to two proposed quarries near Fruitland, newly elected state Rep. Donna Lichtenegger is making her first order of business a bill that would prohibit mine development within one mile of schools, churches and public buildings.
The Jackson Republican said she plans to file the bill, known as the Land Reclamation Act, to "protect Missourians from the adverse health effects of mining."
The legislation would allow the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to deny a permit to mining companies that plan to build near certain buildings. Other pending legislation would include residential properties.
"These types of industries produce a health and safety risk to the public," said Lichtenegger, a dental hygienist for nearly 40 years who campaigned on strengthening Missouri health care. "Although it does not affect currently established mining businesses, it does look to the future to protect the general public from the adverse health effects of mining."
It could prevent development of Heartland Materials' 161-acre quarry and Strack Excavating's 76-acre quarry, both near Saxony Lutheran High School in Fruitland.
The bill comes as welcome news to Abby Petzoldt, who lives at 413 Ely Drive, within a quarter-mile of the proposed Strack quarry. Petzoldt said quarry opponents have found the DNR to be sympathetic to concerns, but current laws restrict regulators from denying most permits.
Lichtenegger said her bill, first outlined by her predecessor, Rep. Scott Lipke, gives the DNR some discretion.
"If I can just get the DNR to move them over," she said. "I'm not asking for a bunch of places for them to go, I just want them a mile away from these places."
The bill also would prohibit mining operations near child care centers and cemeteries.
"People ask me, 'Why cemeteries?' I tell them, 'Do you really want to rock the dead?' It's a burial ground, for goodness sakes. I don't think we should mess around with that."
The DNR has received more than 2,600 letters in opposition to Heartland's quarry plan, more than it has received for any other mining application request.
Petzoldt, like many opponents, worries about the effect quarry dust would have on air quality. Her daughter has asthma, uses an inhaler and requires breathing treatments every few weeks, Petzoldt said.
"We chose this neighborhood because it's beautiful, with fresh air to breathe," she said. "It would be heartbreaking if we wouldn't be able to let her go outside on any given day because of the dust blowing all over."
It remains to be seen whether the bill can move through the legislature in time to affect regulation of the quarries.
Despite opposition, Heartland Materials and Strack Excavating have cleared one significant regulatory hurdle.
Mike Larsen, staff director of the Land Reclamation Program, is recommending Heartland and Strack be allowed to build their quarries because the companies have satisfied all of the technical requirements the department has jurisdiction over, mainly air and water quality. Permit approval, however, is in the hands of the Land Reclamation Commission, which could decide the matter at its next meeting, set for 10 a.m. Jan. 27 in Jefferson City.
On Friday, the DNR posted water operating permit applications from both quarry operators. Public comments on the permit requests must be received or postmarked by Feb. 13.
Both Strack and Heartland have declined to hold public hearings on their plans, so the Missouri Land Reclamation Commission at the meeting will decide whether to schedule hearings.
Heartland's Danny Dumey Jr. did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.
In a letter to Larsen, Dumey said Heartland officials felt that "opening ourselves to the mass public would not produce any desirable outcome."
A Strack official did not return a phone call Friday.
Quarry opponents plan to charter a bus to be at the commission meeting. Petzold said the idea is strength in numbers.
"We're hoping that there are enough questions unanswered that they'll give us the hearing, give us the chance to take this to next level," Petzoldt said.
Asked if she thought her bill would slow economic development, Lichtenegger said that is not the intent.
"The last thing I want to do, especially as a Republican, is impede business," the new lawmaker said. "We need jobs, for goodness sakes. All we're asking them to do is be a mile away. That's not that much."
County Road 601, Jackson, MO
413 Ely Drive, Jackson, MO