As students start classes today at Saxony Lutheran High School, two court cases challenging mine permits granted for two quarries near the school continue.
"We want to make sure we continue to do the things we can to ensure the health and safety of our children and the livelihood of the school," Saxony principal Dr. Craig Ernstmeyer said.
A hearing is now scheduled before Judge William Syler for Sept. 6 on Saxony Lutheran High School's challenge to the state mining permit issued to Strack Excavating last year. Saxony is asking the judge to reverse the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' decision and take away Strack's permit to construct a 76-acre limestone mine near the high school.
Strack Excavating has been operating at the site for nearly a year, crushing and selling rock, J.W. Strack said. His quarry entrance is on U.S. 61, north of the school. The school's entrance is on County Road 601.
In the mine plan submitted by Strack Excavating, the boundary showed a 55-foot buffer between the mine's and the school's property.
Strack's permit was granted in July 2011 following an administrative hearing at which Saxony Lutheran High School presented witnesses to support its claims the mine would be detrimental to the health of its students and staff as well as the livelihood of the school.
During the summer of 2011, House Bill 89, which prohibits the DNR's Land Reclamation Commission from issuing a mining permit to an applicant whose mine plan boundary is within 1,000 feet of a school, was signed into law.
In September, the commission approved Strack's permit with the condition that the mining plan boundary be 1,000 feet from Saxony's property line.
Saxony's attorney, Stephen Jeffery of St. Louis, believes the Land Reclamation Commission doesn't have the authority to impose a condition in a mining permit and that its decision to do so was unlawful.
"The Land Reclamation Commission improperly issued the mining permit to Strack because its mine plan boundary was located, at the time the permit was issued, within the 1,000-foot buffer zone enacted by the General Assembly," Jeffery said.
It is Saxony's position that Strack should have to resubmit its permit application with a mining plan that indicates the new boundaries and repeat the permit application process with the revised boundaries.
Strack said he is following the 1,000-foot setback requirement.
A second mining company, Heartland Materials, was granted a mine permit by the DNR in February 2011, but Saxony also appealed that permit. That case, originally filed in Cole County Circuit Court, is now in the Court of Appeals in Kansas City.
In November, Judge Daniel Green's order granted summary judgment in favor of Saxony and Save Our Children's Health Inc., a group of local residents. The order required the Land Reclamation Commission to conduct a formal public hearing on Heartland Materials' request to operate a 161-acre mine adjacent to the school, but it did not take away Heartland's mining permit.
Both Heartland Materials and the DNR appealed Green's decision. The state filed its initial brief in the case Friday. Saxony has 30 days to file a response. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.
Ernstmeyer said thus far, the quarry operations have not interfered with the school day and hasn't negatively affected the school's enrollment.
"We're fortunate we had a very big eighth-grade class in our Lutheran feeder schools, and we're up about five students this year," Ernstmeyer said.
This year has the school's largest-ever freshman class, with 52 students.
"Saxony in and of itself still has a reputation, and that is what people are coming for," Ernstmeyer said. "Hopefully that will continue and we can move forward from this stage in the process."
Strack said he doesn't understand why Saxony is continuing with its appeals when he considers the commission's imposition of the 1,000-foot buffer to have been in their favor.
"I think we're just wasting the county's time and Saxony's money and my money," Strack said. "We're neighbors. We'll get along with them."
County Road 601, Jackson, MO