Residents ready to fight quarry

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2005

&uot;I think this is a fight we can win and justifiably so.&uot;

Those were the words of Alabaster Mayor David Frings during a May 17 meeting attended by some 400 people to oppose a proposed quarry in the vicinity of Meadow View Elementary School.

The meeting, conducted by Alabaster city officials and hosted by Meadow View Elementary, was attended by elected officials and their representatives from city, county and state levels of government, a representative from the Shelby County Board of Education and a biologist from the University of Montevallo.

The quarry is poposed to be located in the vicinity of Smokey Road and Meadow View Elementary School.

According to Cam Ward, who serves as executive director of the Alabaster Industrial Development Board and as a Republican member of the state House of Representatives, a permit has been applied for with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) by Middle Tennessee Land Development Co. LLC. for a 233-acre site.

While Ward said the quarry would be surrounded by the city of Alabaster, he said it would actually be located in unincorporated Shelby County.

Representing the city of Alabaster were Mayor David Frings, council president Rick Walters, city administrator Tony Rivera and councilmembers Mike Sherwood and Tommy Ryals. Representing Congressman Spencer Bachus was his legislative assistant Gilbert Johnston. He said Bachus is against the quarry and would be drafting a letter to ADEM stating his objection.

Representing the University of Montevallo was Dr. T.M. &uot;Mike&uot; Hardig, associate professor of biology. Attending from the city of Montevallo were Mayor Sharon Anderson and councilmembers

Hollie Cost and Becky Cox-Rodgers.

Also in attendance were State Rep. Cam Ward, Shelby County Commissioner Jon Parker and Assistant Superintendent of Operations for Shelby County Schools Tom Ferguson.

In announcing the meeting to oppose the quarry and calling upon concerned citizens from both inside and outside the corporate limits,

Frings wrote, &uot;Even though the proposed location (of the quarry) lies outside the city’s jurisdiction, the mayor and city council of Alabaster have serious concerns about granting this permit due to adverse environmental impact it could cause the citizens of the area.&uot;

Frings disputed any notion the quarry represents the last reserve of limestone in Shelby County.

Ryals said developer Robert Dow, whom he identified as a principal of the proposed quarry, has come before the Planning and Zoning Board of the city twice without ever mentioning a quarry or a road to a quarry.

He said Dow wanted to extend the retail section for property near the location of the proposed quarry where a retail development, Lion’s Gate, is also proposed.

In the proposed retail development, Ryals said, Dow shows a road with a cul-de-sac which connects to Highway 119.

Ryals said it is the opinion of the city, however, that Dow wants the road for access to the quarry.

Ryals said despite reported claims that Dow has access to Highway 119, the Planning and Zoning Board has not granted any such access.

Ryals also said Dow was expected to come before the Planning and Zoning Board for a third time after presstime last night.

Frings also said Dow had approached the Planning and Zoning Board about a shopping center near County Road 80, but action was delayed because it &uot;did not seem right.&uot;

Frings told those gathered for the opposition meeting last week that to quarry limestone, water must be pumped from under the ground, which over a period of years will produce sinkholes in the surrounding areas. He also spoke of the dire affects a quarry would have on surrounding wetlands.

Frings stressed that the quarry cannot be defeated on feelings, or emotions, but on geologic hazards and environmental damage to the wetlands and species of life that exist there.

Ward stressed that keys to success include everyone who is opposed to the quarry sticking together.

Parker said he is opposed to the quarry but could not speak for the entire County Commission. He said he did not want a quarry in the middle of his district.

Hardig said the quarry would mean the death of Ebenezer Swamp which includes a 65-acre preserve conserved by the University of Montevallo.

But Hardig had even more concerns.

&uot;As a local botanist with a familiarity of the region, I can assure you that a limestone quarry at this site will have widespread and profound effects on the ecology of the region. It will adversely impact the local flora and fauna as well as the people that live in the area.

&uot;These effects will likely include: extirpation (destruction) of local plant and animal species due to loss of wetland habitat, higher average stream flow with more-frequent and more severe downstream flooding, increased downstream sedimentation, contamination of aquifer-supplied drinking water, loss of aquifer-supplied drinking water and accelerated sinkhole development in the surrounding highlands.&uot;

Hardig continued, &uot;A quarry operation in southern Cahaba Valley will not only devastate the ecology of Spring Creek but will also affect the people living in the region. The southern Cahaba Valley is already home to many people, and new developments are going in almost daily; this is an area of explosive population growth. Quarry-associated sinkhole development will place financial burdens on homeowners and their insurers. Noise and dust produced by quarry operation will have a high nuisance value. Many homes are situated on the adjacent ridge lines, locations that will provide homeowners with unobstructed views of daily quarry operations.

&uot;Downstream residents should expect more frequent flooding and higher flood levels during peak rain events. Three municipalities draw portions of their drinking water from the underlying aquifer by wells. Drinking water supplies could become contaminated during the quarry operations by spillage or dumping of petroleum products and chemicals.&uot;

Hardig said those problems would increase the cost of water purification.

&uot;Further, if the groundwater level is lowered to a point below the well bottoms they will go dry,&uot; he warned.

When asked if the city could restrict access to the property such as denying an access road, Sherwood said, &uot;You bet we are going to do that.&uot;

Frings said the proposed quarry expects to be in operation for 42 years and he said that means several hundred acres being involved as opposed to a reported initial proposal to use 44 acres.

Frings said of the public meeting, &uot;All we’re doing is letting you know where we are. We haven’t done anything yet. But we’re getting ready to. We need your support … your help.&uot;

Landowners understood the potential damage the quarry could bring.

&uot;I don’t want my property value to go down or fall into a hole,&uot; one woman said. And she asked, &uot;Who’s going to be responsible?&uot;

Frings said that is the reason city officials were working with county and most state officials to get the information to homeowners in the area.

Frings said the fact that various levels of government are involved in the fight will have an affect. And he said of voiced public concern, &uot;I think it will definitely help make (ADEM) hold a public hearing.&uot;

As Meadow View Elementary School is also located on Smokey Road, Ferguson said, &uot;We (the school board) have concerns.&uot;

He said blasting at existing quarries is already shaking the foundations of a school in Alabaster. In addition to the shaking and the noise, Ferguson expressed concern about traffic in the area and air quality.

Sherwood said if the quarry is approved, it could be in operation &uot;as early as next year.&uot;

Dow was contacted for comment but did not return telephone calls