Howard County's only quarry is in danger of going out of business after a 1 1/2 -year battle over environmental regulations, its owner says. But state regulators say they've approved a plan for him to operate -- and to stay in business -- all he has to do is follow it.
James "Skip" Piccirilli runs Piccirilli Quarries -- located on Marriottsville Road near Driver Road, close to the border with Carroll and Baltimore counties -- with his father, William. Skip Piccirilli insists he's being harassed by state and federal regulatory inspectors. He says the regulators seem always to bother him when he is being pressured by other mining interests to sell them his 35-year-old family business.
At the quartzite quarry, the Piccirillis have a history of community service, from donating stone for refurbishing the neglected Whipps Cemetery in Ellicott City to letting the Army Corps of Engineers haul away truckloads of earth and stone to rebuild bridges, roads and buildings devastated by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
But those deeds don't exempt the quarry from environmental regulations, and Skip Piccirilli believes that state regulators are forcing him to do unnecessary work.
On Nov. 10, 1993, mine regulators from the state Department of Natural Resources ordered the part of the quarry closest to Marriottsville Road shut down; the Piccirillis say the area is vital to their business.
In February, Skip Piccirilli says, he was told by state officials that he would be permitted to operate the entire quarry.
Then in March, he says, state inspectors told him the 1993 order shutting down part of his quarry still stood.
The explanation for the off-and-on signals from the state is simple, says C. Edmon Larrimore, chief of the DNR division that regulates mines.
The Piccirillis' five-year mining permit, which expired in April 1994, has been renewed because the quarry filed a valid sediment-control plan, Mr. Larrimore said. All Mr. Piccirilli needs to do to satisfy regulators is install a sediment-control trap -- an earthen gutter filled with rocks to catch dirt and allow it to settle -- along Marriottsville Road.
Skip Piccirilli concedes that a sediment trap could be constructed of rock from his own quarry and wouldn't be that expensive or time-consuming.
To him, however, the requirement doesn't make sense because he voluntarily built a small sediment pond in his front parking and loading area and recently paved much of that area with concrete to keep tires from churning up mud.
"They want me to go down and do a bunch of work that's of no benefit," he said.
But regulators do see a benefit: better protection from sediment runoff, which would get onto the road and eventually get washed into the delicate Patapsco River ecosystem. There it would silt over the gravel river bottom, destroying plant and fish habitats, Mr. Larrimore said.
Regulations dictate that any activity that breaks up soil, such as grading for quarrying, be accompanied by sediment-control systems. These routinely include a pond that muddy water can drain into and percolate into the ground, leaving the sediment behind.
State Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a 14th District Republican, questions whether the state regulations are being applied in this case in a way that penalizes small businesses.
"It's my view that the state is investing entirely too much time and energy and resources scrutinizing every action of Piccirilli Quarries, and really they should be using them [state resources] for other operators," such as the massive Genstar Stone Products Inc. quarry, about two miles north of Piccirilli Quarries on Marriottsville Road in Baltimore County, Mr. McCabe said.
Mr. Larrimore, the state regulator, agrees the quarry's contribution to the problem of siltation is of little significance by itself. But he says it must be considered as part of the larger environmental picture.
"It's something that we require everywhere," Mr. Larrimore said. "We're trying to keep sediment from running off all mining operations as much as possible."
That was something anticipated by Kirby Leitch, another small quarry operator across the road from Genstar. Mr. Leitch, who knows the Piccirillis, says he understands their frustration. He says he is now working with state officials to complete a plan to control silt runoff from his quarry.
The Piccirilli operation, which is about twice as large as Mr. Leitch's, became subject to the runoff regulations about seven years ago. Smaller operations like Mr. Leitch's Jones Quarries were exempt until about four years ago.
"So far, it doesn't seem to be a problem, other than making a few changes," such as lining a sediment pond with a porous material and stones, Mr. Leitch said.
At Piccirilli Quarries, however, the state is viewed as less than friendly. Skip Piccirilli has asked an intermediary to deal with state officials and continues to resent intrusions by inspectors.