Bill could boost quarry opponents' case
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Legislation now sitting on the governor's desk could strengthen the position of opponents to quarry developments near Saxony Lutheran High School.
A provision of House Bill 89, an omnibus bill with many natural resources law changes, prohibits the state from issuing surface mining permits within 1,000 feet of any accredited school that has been there for least five years.
This language was inserted into the bill by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, when as it was reviewed in the senate.
A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon's said Thursday he is still reviewing the legislation. If the governor's office takes no action to sign or veto the bill, it will automatically become law 45 days after the legislature adjourns. July 14 will mark the end of the 45-day period.
"I am not one that always wants to micromanage from Jefferson City, but I see the value of Saxony Lutheran High School. The location of these quarries this close will jeopardize them continuing as the productive high school they are," Crowell said.
He believes the school employs more people than the two new quarries would. The fact that Saxony was there first led him to get behind their efforts.
The legislation does not apply to a request for an expansion to an existing mine or to any underground mining operations.
Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, had sponsored House Bill 299, which allowed, but did not require, the Land Reclamation Commission to deny a mining permit within one mile of the school. The measure did not come up for a vote in the House. Lichtenegger said Friday that she would not comment on Crowell's legislation until after it became law.
For nearly a year, Saxony administrators and Fruitland residents have been working to keep two companies, Heartland Materials and Strack Excavating, from opening limestone quarries off County Road 601.
In February, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Commission granted Heartland Materials a permit for a 17-acre mine plan. It included a self-imposed buffer zone of 1,100 feet between mining activity and the school property line, developers said in a January hearing before the commission.
Saxony Lutheran High School was granted an administrative hearing by the commission on Strack's application for a mining permit from the DNR, not on Heartland Material's application. The hearing, expected to take several days, is scheduled for July 5. The Strack mining plan included only a 55-foot buffer distance between the mining area and the school property line.
Stephen Jeffery, attorney for Saxony and a group of Fruitland residents incorporated as the Save our Children's Health, filed a lawsuit in March in Cole County Circuit Court asking for judicial review of the commission's decisions.
Last week, Jeffery filed a motion to dismiss Strack Excavating from the case. He's confident that House Bill 89 will become law and the state will then be prohibited from issuing Strack a mine
A phone call to Strack Excavating was not returned Friday. Strack's attorney, Brian McGovern, would not comment on the case.
While Renea Bungardt, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, couldn't comment on the ongoing litigation or the impact of House Bill 89, it was discussed at a Missouri Air Conservation Commission meeting May 26.
Kyra Moore told the commission the bill may affect the Strack permit appeal. A video of the meeting is posted on the DNR's YouTube site.
"It's a little unclear what this would mean for already issued permits. The way we are currently interpreting it is that the issued permits would still stand," Moore said.
She told the commission the DNR is assuming the Heartland Materials Permit would still stand.
This permit, however, is only good for one year, expiring in 2012.
"Now a legal question is can't he permit be reissued," Jeffery said.
Heartland Materials representatives would not comment on the ongoing litigation.
Until Gov. Nixon signs the bill, or until July 14, opponents of the quarry are in a holding pattern said Abby Petzoldt, president of Save our Children's Health.
"It's frustrating for us. I'm sure it's frustrating for the quarries, too," she said.
Jeffery said work continues on all sides to prepare for the next circuit court hearing Aug. 10.
County Road 601, Jackson, Mo.