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Boards Hold Hearings in Martinsburg on North Mountain Shale Project
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by Paul Wilson | 2011

Oh, Yeah! The WV DEP will save our community from pollution and irresponsible development!

To address appealed permits granted by the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the North Mountain Shale quarry near Gerrardstown, the Surface Mine Board and the Environmental Quality Board held hearings in Berkeley County on June 6, 7 and 8.

Early on the first day, the DEP and DOT (Dept. of Transportation) argued about the use of a public road as an industrial haul road. Curiously, those of us in the rear of the packed room at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn, could not hear the speakers. A comment was made by one in the audience and we were promptly told by Surface Mine Board Chairperson Wendy Ratcliff that no one in the audience was allowed to speak and that testimony was strictly for the Board members.

Thus, DEP and DOT lawyers argued about roads and access points till about 9:15am. The finer points I do not know as I could not hear very well either. Typically, the regulatory agencies of WV exist only to further the profits of corporations, usually at the expense of public health and private property.

North Mountain Shale is limited by the DEP permit to five truck loads of shale per shift, and Continental Brick (North Mountain’s holding company) declared that they usually work one shift and sometimes two shifts per day at their Martinsburg plant. The company acknowledges that road dust may be an issue (they have had numerous dust complaints in Martinsburg), but the DEP has specified that the road must be watered down regularly to contain dust.

Obviously, this means the DEP must actively enforce the restrictions it has applied in the North Mountain Shale permit. Unfortunately, the WV DEP does a very poor job of enforcement in the Eastern Panhandle, and probably throughout the entire state.

Over two days, the appellants presented expert testimony on the effects of the proposed quarry on local water resources, the historical resources of Gerrardstown, and the health, welfare and character of the local community. Counsel for North Mountain Shale LTD refuted all points of the appellants’ experts and counsel. On a positive note the Surface Mine Board extended the hearing until July 11 in Charleston to allow testimony by one missing expert to discuss sediment ponds.

The third day of hearings was the Environmental Quality Board’s review of the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) limits under the Water Control Permit. With a totally different Board, and hearing atmosphere, the members asked succinct, pertinent questions of all parties, in a manner that indicated they actually reviewed the material and understood the issues at stake.

Any decisions by the two Boards will be made 6-8 weeks after final testimony is presented. Chances on a reversal of the DEP permit may not be much better than those of the slot machines at the Hollywood Casino at the Charles Town Races.  Good Luck with that!

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