ADEM grants air, water permit to quarry

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Robert J. Dow, the man behind the proposed Middle Tennessee Land Development quarry proposed for the Alabaster area, said the proposed quarry will begin operations within a few weeks.

Dow, vice president of Middle Tennessee Land Development, said he received verbal communication from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management on Monday that it will grant an air and water permit for the proposed quarry off Smokey Road near Meadow View Elementary School.

Citizens, local and state elected officials from Alabaster, Montevallo, Calera and Shelby County, have objected to the quarry.

It has also been the subject of a lawsuit filed by the University of Montevallo and the Montevallo Foundation.

Dow said he was excited that ADEM had found the quarry to be &8220;both ecologically and environmentally sound.&8221;

&8220;We are very pleased that first the constitutional property right issues have proved that we certainly have the right to mine on this site,&8221; he said.

Dow said the ADEM permit will cover 232 acres with 45 acres of access from Highway 119 and 44 acres for the actual quarry operation.

Alabaster Mayor David Frings took a dimmer view of the reported ADEM decision.

&8220;They did not take the opportunity to do the right thing and request the additional studies brought out at the public hearing,&8221; Frings said.

However, Frings noted, recent ADEM decisions have been reversed by the courts.

He recalled that a gold mine was permitted by ADEM in Calhoun County only to have the court and the judge &8220;chastise&8221; the agency for not acting on requests brought up in a public hearing. The court reversed ADEM’s decision.

Frings said there is a 30-day appeal window and, &8220;We are in the process of an appeal.&8221;

A lawsuit filed by the University of Montevallo Foundation and the University of Montevallo against Middle Tennessee Land Development over the proposed quarry is also set for trial Feb. 6.

A countersuit by Middle Tennessee Land Development Company was dismissed on Nov. 10, according to Mike Hardig, associate professor of biology at UM.

The trial will be held in Shelby County Circuit Court in Columbiana at 9 a.m. before Judge Hub Harrington.

Hardig recently discovered a rare species of grass on the edge of the swamp. Now, he says, he’s found it within the boundaries of the swamp along Spring Creek.

Hardig contends that the de-watering associated with the quarry will drop the groundwater table below the outflow of springs, affecting Ebenezer Swamp.

He also said it would dry out the soil.

Since discovering the rare species of grass in the swamp, Hardig said, a doctor from the University of Alabama has discovered an unnamed species of snail as well.

According to the lawsuit, UM and the UM Foundation seek &8220;declaratory and injunctive relief against actions to acquire property in Shelby County for a quarry which would result in the destruction of the Ebenezer Wetlands Ecological Preserve.&8221;

Dow said of the court challenge, &8220;We feel like we will win this because there is no credible scientific evidence that will support their claim that we are going to hurt their swamp.&8221;

Ron Gore, chief of the air division for ADEM, said the lawsuit &8220;is not germane&8221; to his agency’s permitting process.

And he confirmed that permits for the quarry were signed Monday.

Gore said by state law, all ADEM can be concerned about is that the air and water leaving the facility meet standards. He said if an applicant can show that it can meet those standards, it is entitled to the permit.

Gore said people could call traffic, noise and property values environmental issues. But he said those issues are &8220;not covered by us.&8221;

He said zoning could have covered some of those matters.

Gore said if a court ruled in favor of the UM and the UM Foundation, then Middle Tennessee could not operate the quarry, but it would not invalidate the permit.

Gore confirmed there is an appeal process and that a seven-member Environmental Management Commission is the first step of the judicial process.

&8220;People want ADEM to be an omnipotent power,&8221; he said