The county has the legal authority to regulate certain aspects of mining, says a Department of Natural Resources official, clarifying confusion over potential conflicts between state and local powers.
Representatives of the New Windsor Community Action Project, a citizensenvironmental group seeking protections from mining impacts, chargedthe county last month with concealing knowledge that a local mining plan being developed could conflict with state regulatory programs.
A citizens committee has nearly completed drafting a mining plan outlining regulations designed to protect mineral resources while minimizing the impact of mining on residential areas surrounding quarrying operations.
The Department of Natural Resources official told acounty planner in a June letter that the mining plan could exceed county planning and zoning powers and duplicate or conflict with state regulatory programs.
The citizens committee was not informed of the letter or the potential conflict. New Windsor Community Action Project members expressed concern that the committee, which had been working since January, could have wasted its time by pursuing policies that conflict with the state.
However, the DNR official told the county last week that it does have a right to partially regulate mining operations.
"The county clearly has a legal basis for delving intocertain aspects of surface mine regulation," wrote DNR deputy director Robert D. Miller in a Sept. 19 letter to the county planning office.
State mining law allows the DNR to defer to local jurisdictionsto create regulations concerning visual screens and other aesthetic devices separating mining operations, minimum buffer requirements, noise levels, hours of operations, truck traffic and traffic patterns, Miller wrote.
Those issues "are certainly matters that should be of primary local concern," he wrote.
Assistant Planning Director K.Marlene Conaway said those matters are what the county ordinance addresses. "I don't think we'll have any conflicts with the state," she said.
"They realize land-use decisions need to be made close to the people. There needs to be give-and-take with the community, and that's better done locally."
Conaway said the June letter from the DNR was misleading, and that she had solicited comments from the department about the plan.
Miller said that the state and the county share the same goals concerning mining and that conflicts can be avoidedby coordinating work on the mining plan.
The county regulations must be at least as restrictive as the state's surface mining laws in order to take precedence.
Assistant County Attorney Michelle Ostrander, who has been researching the issue, said all the mining regulations must be evaluated, once established by the committee, to determine if they conflict with state law.
The Mineral Resources Mining Committee will have its final meeting Monday. Its recommendations for a mining ordinance and plan -- which will become a component of the county's master plan for development -- then will go to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review. A public hearing is expected to takeplace in December.
Three quarry companies plan to locate or expand mining operations in the Wakefield Valley, a central Carroll regionwest of Westminster rich in limestone deposits.