Shelby legislators to push for ADEM permit changes

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

News staff writer

A Montevallo legislator said he and his colleagues in the Shelby County delegation are drafting changes they want to see made in the laws regulating the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

State Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, said he has appealed ADEM's award of water and air discharge permits to a planned limestone quarry near Alabaster while working with other legislators to change the law that allowed those permits to be issued.

In his appeal of the ADEM permits, Erwin wrote that "not enough study was done to ensure the health and safety qualities of the surrounding communities and subdivisions." Those factors, he said, include "possible respiratory problems among the elderly and young children residing in the area."

The appeal cannot be considered until the Alabama Emergency Management Commission meets Feb. 24, said ADEM spokesman Jerome Hand.

The commission will consider whether Erwin has standing and grounds to appeal. If it decides he does, it will appoint a hearing officer to handle the case, Hand said.

He said the quarry planned by Middle Tennessee Land Development can operate under the permits until and unless the hearing officer rules otherwise after hearing the appeal.

Environmental impact:

"I regret deeply that Sen. Erwin does not agree with ADEM's decision. I feel like if Sen. Erwin were privy to all the facts surrounding the subject that his opinion would be different," said Robert Dow, one of the principals in the Middle Tennessee quarry project.

"The 1,000 houses that could be built on our 277 acres would have a much more negative ecological and environmental effect on the area than this quarry," Dow said.

He said a housing development would have generated traffic from 2,000 cars making multiple trips each day. "And think of the impact on the schools."

The quarry probably will put 40 trucks a day on Alabama 119, Dow said.

The plans are environmentally sound, he said. "ADEM would not have approved it if it wasn't. You cannot cause serious ecological harm without repercussions."

Erwin said state law permits such narrow discretion that ADEM could not consider the potential damage limestone quarrying could have on the downstream environmental health of Ebenezer Swamp.

The swamp is an environmental laboratory for the University of Montevallo. The university is suing Middle Tennessee Land Development to try to stop it from operating the quarry. That case is set for trial Feb. 6 in Shelby County Circuit Court.

"We want to expand some of the criteria ADEM uses in these situations so that those making the decisions can consider other factors," Erwin said.

`Collision point':

He said ADEM regulations do not address putting a quarry close to residential neighborhoods and schools. "With all the limestone under this county and our tremendous growth, there are certain situations that have a collision point," Erwin said.

The Silver Creek subdivision off Alabama 119 stands to be particularly affected, he said. "They will be hurt more than anyone else. This is not good for anybody, and it is right in their back yards."

State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he is awaiting a draft of the proposed legislation from the Legislative Reference Service.

"ADEM constantly complains that they do not have enough tools to keep our communities safe," Ward said.

Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, and Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Pelham, said they, too, are interested in seeing what emerges for consideration.

Some of the factors the legislators want ADEM to consider are traffic, population density and dust, Hill said.

But he said Shelby County residents need to realize that anything legislators do to change the laws governing ADEM won't affect the Middle Tennessee quarry.

The next legislative session starts Jan. 10.