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Lightly Through the Minefield

Proposed limestone mine ignites 11-month zoning dispute

By Matthew Cunningham · June 24th, 2009 · News

The area near the intersection of Roundbottom and Broadwell roads in Anderson Township features manufacturing buildings, a landscaping company, a park, a few blocks of small, older houses and signs.

Lately, lots of signs.

They consist of a red circle with a slash through it, crossing out the word “blasting.” Many homes and some businesses sport the signs, the most visible symbol of a fight that has become one of the longest zoning disputes in the region’s history. At issue are quality of life, environmental and economic issues, and access to a major natural resource.

International mining corporation Martin Marietta owns 480 acres adjacent to the roads’ intersection. In August, the company filed requests for several zoning variances and conditional use permits to allow construction of an underground limestone mine.

“There’s a significant amount of high quality limestone under this property, and there’s a market for it,” says Richard Brahm, Martin Marietta’s attorney.

Under the proposed plan, the mining company would build an office and research park above the mine, then build a facility on the northeast side of the intersection where the limestone would be brought up, sorted, crushed and prepared for shipment to end users such as concrete manufacturers. The office park was nothing out of the ordinary – the property is zoned for light industrial use, and was a gravel mine for more than 50 years – but the limestone mine and processing operation ignited a firestorm of protest from an alliance of nearby communities and environmental groups.

Terrace Park resident Cathy Burger launched Citizens Against Blasting On Our Miami, or CABOOM, after learning about Martin Marietta’s application.

“When you look at a map and look at the close proximity to all these different areas, you have all these wonderful communities,” she says. “It’s such an urban area here. That it doesn’t belong here.”

Burger mobilized, connecting with groups including residents from Terrace Park and Indian Hill, and local members of the Sierra Club and Ohio Citizen Action. She estimated more than 200 supporters joined her at the first zoning meeting in 2008.

“That’s when (the board of zoning appeals) said, ‘OK, we need to take a look at it,’ ”Burger says.

“They erred on the side of caution and said, ‘We want to know as much information as possible,’” says Paul Drury, the township’s assistant director of development services.

Beyond public outcry, board members say they recognize that issuing a decision about the permits could have major implications.

Board Member Kevin Osterfeld noted during a June 17 hearing that the mine has an estimated lifespan of 50 years. Adding to the consequences could be the township’s lack of enforcement power: If the mine ever violated the terms of its conditional use permits, the township’s maximum fine would hover around just $100 a day.

“I don’t know where I stand on the case right now, but my concern is not Martin Marietta’s ability to control dust, blasting vibration, et cetera,” he said during the meeting. “My concern is that I don’t think they will. My understanding is that there will be violations, and because there will be violations, we have no enforcement as a township. We’re stuck with a limestone mine and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The board members have had difficulty sorting through the facts surrounding the case, and for good reason. The facts, presented by expert witnesses for both sides over 11 months of meetings, change depending on who’s doing the talking.

Martin Marietta’s operation will add 250 trucks per day to the local traffic flow, Brahm says, but Burger believes the actual figure is between 500 and 700 per day. CABOOM’s Web site features a stock photo of a surface mine during blasting, and alleges Martin Marietta will blast tunnels under Broadwell Road. But Brahm says the mining operation will take place 400 to 800 feet below ground, requiring “significantly less” blasting than surface mining, and that tunnel boring machines – not explosives – will cut the tunnels under the road.

Both sides presented experts on water contamination, blasting vibration, dust control and more, then cross-examined each other’s witnesses. As a result, the records for the case include more than 5,000 pages of testimony.

“Most of these things are one- to two-nighters,” said Cincinnati-based attorney Timothy Mara, who represents CABOOM. Only one other case, the zoning process for a Wal-Mart in Deerfield Township, came close to this case’s length and complexity, Mara says.

Brahm agrees.

“I don’t think in my career I’ve ever had 11 months of testimony and 5,500 pages of transcripts on any proposal,” he says.

The board heard its final round of citizen input last week and will hear Martin Marietta’s response to a series of board-drafted clarification questions July 22.

Board Member Brian Eliff knows the toughest work might lie ahead. “I think it’s going to be extremely valuable when this board tries to get its arms around the situation.”

Depending on the length of the company’s answers, the comments of opposing attorneys and board requests for additional information, the hearings could continue into late fall of this year.

“If Martin Marietta presents new material, we think we’d have the right to a sur-rebuttal, said Mara. “We’ll see how it unfolds.”

At the end, the board of zoning appeals will have to wade through a mountain of paperwork and sift through hours of testimony, filtering the core zoning issues out of the surrounding static of corporate spin and not-in-my-backyard hype. Is Martin Marietta’s proposed use of the land in accordance with the township’s overall use plans? Will granting the requested permits and variances place the township at the mercy of a massive extractive corporation? Can some compromise be reached that will keep neighbors safe and happy while allowing the mining company to access the significant mineral resource it owns?

The questions are complex, and as Osterfeld said at the June 17 meeting, the ultimate direction the board moves may not be known until the very end of the process.

“What we’re trying to go in is the best progression we can,” he said, “knowing none of them are perfect.”



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