Fruitland quarry hearing begins for Saxony Lutheran, Strack Excavating
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Attorneys representing both Saxony Lutheran High School and Strack Excavating questioned the state's top mining official during the first day of testimony in an administrative hearing to review an application by Strack Excavating for a 76-acre limestone mine near Fruitland.
The hearing on Strack's application for a new quarry with a proposed mine boundary only 55 feet from the school's property line was granted to Saxony in February by the Missouri Land Reclamation Commission. Strack already has a general operating permit and an air construction permit for the site. The hearing will determine whether the company secures a mining permit and can eventually extract limestone from the site.
The hearing is scheduled to continue through the middle of next week and will be broadcast online daily by the Department of Natural Resources.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer, Bart Tichenor, who serves in a capacity similar to a judge in a courtroom, will make a recommendation to the Land Reclamation Commission on whether or not the mining permit should be approved.
It's been three years since a similar hearing was held on a mine permit application, said Renee Bungart, DNR spokeswoman. In that case, Magruder Limestone Company applied to expand its mine site near a sewer line easement held by Osage Beach, Mo. In that case, the commission did grant a permit, but the area approved was only about 1/3 the size Magruder had originally proposed. In addition, several blasting restrictions and monitoring requirements accompanied the permit.
During Tuesday's testimony on the Strack permit application, Mike Larsen, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Program, discussed the process his department goes through when evaluating a mine application.
He was questioned by Stephen Jeffery, attorney for Saxony, who also represents a group of Fruitland residents incorporated as Save Our Children's Health. This organization requested to be part of the hearing, along with the school, but its request was not granted.
Larsen had recommended Strack's application for approval by the Land Reclamation Commission in January. He said the application was complete and in compliance with all regulations and statutes.
During its review process, more than 2,600 public comments were received by the Land Reclamation program, the greatest amount of public input it ever received, Larsen said.
Primary concerns raised about the proposed mine referenced dust, truck traffic and blasting, Larsen said.
In a memo to the Land Reclamation Commission sent in January, Larsen and his staff attempted to address many of the concerns raised by those submitting public comments.
Jeffery asked Larsen to respond to public comments stating that if a quarry were to open up near the school it would jeopardize both student enrollment and the jobs of those employed by the school.
"We simply do not have the information to project whether or not there would be any kind of impact to the future well-being or livelihood of Saxony," Larsen said.
Jeffery asked Larsen, who is a registered geologist, if he or any of his staff were in a position to evaluate that kind of information if they had it. Larsen said no. Jeffery asked if a third-party would have to evaluate this kind of information, and Larsen said yes.
Brian McGovern, attorney for Strack Excavating, asked Larsen if many of the letters the program received were form letters, to which he responded they were.
McGovern also said many of the letters were from Lutheran Church congregations that were not in proximity to the mine site, and some were even out of state.
Larsen said his office did not track the commenters' locations, but that he and his staff did review each one and treated them all equally.
Following the conclusion of Larsen's testimony today, attorneys and hearing officer Tichenor discussed scheduling of upcoming witnesses including Kendall Hale of the DNR Air Pollution Control Program, a pediatric health expert and several Saxony students with respiratory conditions.
Abby Petzoldt, who lives near the proposed Strack mine site and serves as spokeswoman for Save Our Children's Health, said she is glad to see the hearing underway after months of waiting, but is frustrated by the entire process.
"The system is set up to approve these applications, not question them. To even get to this point, we have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars just to protect the existing school and community," Petzoldt said. "Many of us feel as though we had no given rights to protect ourselves in this process since the statues are set up to recommend approval if the application is simply deemed "complete."
The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. today, and a livestream can be viewed at www.dnr.mo.gov/env./fruitland.htm.
Both McGovern and Jeffery declined to comment on hearing in progress.
Jefferson City, Mo