Judgment in quarry dispute upheld
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A public hearing before the Missouri Land Reclamation Commission must be held on behalf of a local high school and community group that oppose a limestone mining permit held by Heartland Materials LLC in the Fruitland area, the Western District Missouri Court of Appeals said Tuesday.
Saxony Lutheran High School and Save Our Children's Health Inc. [SOCH] expressed opposition when Heartland was granted a permit based on an October 2010 application to mine limestone on its 161-acre quarry, which is adjacent to school grounds.
The court's decision stated the school and SOCH have standing to demand a hearing on the permit, which had been denied by the commission. Standing in this case means the school and community members had to provide "good-faith evidence of how their health, safety, or livelihood will be unduly impaired by the issuance of the permit," according to the decision text.
Stephen G. Jeffery, attorney for Saxony Lutheran High School and SOCH, said "a possible outcome of an evidentiary hearing" could be a revocation of the permit held by Heartland, which has been in continuous operation since October 2010.
The school and SOCH had requested a public meeting to discuss the permit, which Heartland denied. They appealed to the director of the commission, who referred the matter to the commission to set a public hearing. The commission decided the two groups did not have standing to demand a hearing and declined to hold one.
The school and SOCH filed a petition for judicial review and declaratory judgment in an effort to reverse that decision. They provided testimony from two public-health experts and from students and community members about potential adverse health affects from limestone dust produced by quarry operations.
Heartland and the commission argued the evidence was merely "beliefs and concerns," and did not contain enough concrete facts to necessitate a hearing.
The trial court concluded that Saxony and SOCH did have standing and ordered the hearing.
Heartland and the commission appealed that decision, adding a point of argument that said the commission has independent authority to decide whether to hold a hearing.
The appeals court ruling filed Tuesday upheld the standing of the groups and denied Heartland's assertions that the commission had discretion in deciding to hold a hearing. Pointing to a review of legal language that controls the hearing process, the appeals court said, because Heartland had denied the groups a public meeting, the commission did not have the authority to refuse them a public hearing.
In a related case, Tuesday was the deadline for Saxony Lutheran to submit a reply to a brief filed by Strack Excavating LLC as part of an appeal to an October ruling that blocked operation of its quarry, which also is near the school.
Representatives for Saxony Lutheran High School, SOCH and Heartland Materials declined to comment on either case Tuesday.
The commission is not scheduled to meet until March, having canceled its January meeting.
"Due to the light agenda, the Land Reclamation Commission meeting scheduled for Jan. 24, 2013 is canceled. The commission will meet again on March 28, 2013," an emailed statement from the commission said Tuesday.
County Road 601, Fruitland, Mo