Environmental group opposes the quarry

Published 3:38 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Following is a copy of the Jan. 26 letter presented by the Alabama Rivers Alliance to the Town of Vincent regarding the proposed quarry. The letter was written by Program Director Mitch Reid. I find it very telling, don’t you?

“The Alabama Rivers Alliance asks that the planning commission recommend that the city council reject the proposal to undertake rezoning which would allow White Rock Quarries to engage in mining activities within the town limits. If allowed, this Quarry will have adverse impacts on the Coosa River (including the structural integrity of the Logan Martin Dam), the Spring Creek Tributary of the Coosa River, the groundwater on which the citizens of Vincent and Shelby county rely, as well as the established property rights of the neighboring landowners. Formed in 1997, the Alabama Rivers Alliance is Alabama’s statewide nonprofit river-protection organization. Our mission is to protect Alabama’s rivers through water quality and quantity policy advocacy, grassroots organizing, and the providing of information to citizens in order to achieve clean and healthy watershed ecosystems, healthy people, strong economies, and a functioning democratic system of government in Alabama. Approving this rezoning would effectively sanction an unavoidable infringement of the rights of the town’s citizens to the peaceful enjoyment of their property.

For over 125 years, the Alabama Supreme Court has recognized that property owners have a right to use their property free from unreasonable interference. For example, in an 1899 case, the court declared that “every man has a right, by the common law, to the pure air and to have no noxious smells sent on his lands.” The draining of groundwater from adjoining property is a particularly troubling interference with property rights in Alabama. A little over ten years ago, the Alabama Supreme court held that property owners could not take groundwater from a common aquifer if the adjoining landowners are injured.

More recently, Alabama has been at the forefront of states’ efforts to protect private property. In a controversial 2005 decision involving a town in Connecticut, the U. S. Supreme Court declared it constitutionally permissible for a government to take a citizen’s private property for the use of another private citizen, so long as there was a perceived public benefit. Public outrage ensued, and more than 40 states passed legislation prohibiting such a taking. Alabama was one of the first, passing that same year a law stating that no governmental body may “condemn property for the purpose of nongovernmental retail, office, commercial, residential, or industrial development or use.

The Vincent City Council is now poised to decide a rezoning request from White Rock to build a quarry. Approval of this rezoning would sorely test more than a century of Alabama state policy and law. If the rezoning is approved, could it be fairly said that the council permitted White Rock’s quarry to “take” the private property of its neighbors by emitting dust and noise, and draining their groundwater for use by the quarry? Even if this rezoning is not technically the same as a taking, the consequences to adjacent property owners could actually be unable to demand fair market value or other just compensation from the government for their loss.

In light of the direction of the Alabama State Legislature and judicial system, the Vincent City Council needs to thoughtfully consider whether it wishes to take an action that seems to be so clearly at odds with the established state law and policy. We therefore request that this commission recommend that the city council reject this request for rezoning.”