Plans to expand mining in area cause concern
- Published: April 13, 2017
A recent proposal by Enon Sand & Gravel to significantly expand mining operations in Mad River Township, just north of Yellow Springs, has many area residents deeply concerned.
Carol Culbertson, a teacher at Mills Lawn School, lives on two-and-a-half acres on Garrison Road abutting the proposed mining expansion. She’s put a lot of work into her property, removing invasive species, planting prairie grass. There’s a creek on the land, and a wetlands. Over the years, she’s spotted various wildlife and 66 bird species.
A local grassroots effort, Citizens Against Mining, is maintaining a website to inform area residents about the proposed expansion of Enon Sand & Gravel’s mining operation. Background, updates, maps, a petition and other information can be accessed at citizensagainstmining.org. The group is holding a free ice cream social and sign-making party on Sunday, April 9, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Young’s Dairy. See the website for details.
Citizens interested in offering their written comments to Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR, may contact that agency before April 21, 2017, at Chief, Divisions of Mineral Resources Management, 2045 Morse Rd., Building H-2, Columbus, OH 43229-6693, or by email at email@example.com. The agency may also be contacted by phone at 614-265-6633.
“It’s so scary to me,” she said. “I have a lot to lose here.”
The company applied last November to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR, to merge two existing mining permits that together cover about 420 acres in Mad River Township, north and south of Fairfield Pike along South Tecumseh Road. Currently, there are just two sand and gravel pits on a small portion of the land, though the permits also allow for limestone mining.
Then in February, Enon Sand & Gravel applied to ODNR again to significantly alter the mining plan for the whole 420 acres. Specifically, the company is looking to substantially increase mining depth to extract limestone deposits, a move that would entail blasting and a process known as “dewatering,” the removal and discharging of ground water.
“The modification allows us to go deeper to get all the limestone that’s there,” Enon Sand & Gravel President Dennis Garrison said on Tuesday.
According to an email from ODNR spokesperson Stephanie Leis, the mining modification would allow the company to mine for limestone down to 141 feet below the surface. That’s about 60 feet deeper than one of the exisiting permits allows, and over 100 feet deeper than the other.
The scope of the company’s plans have many area residents worried.
In an April 3 press release, Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, cited concerns about contamination to area drinking water and the Mud Run Creek, which runs through the acreage targeted for mining. In addition, TLT holds conservation easements on about 400 acres of land downstream from the Mud Run.
“We have serious concerns about the proposed operation contaminating the creek and jeopardizing the conservation values we are bound to protect,” the press release reads in part.
The mining operation is adjacent to more than 200 homes, a few businesses and Greenon High School. The proposed project would be undertaken in three phases, with no more than three to four acres being mined at any given time, according to Garrison. The operation could grow, depending on how the market for the mined materials develops, he added.
“It depends how we capitalize the site,” he said.
Yellow Springs, about four miles to the south, is not expected to be directly affected. But there are questions about the impact of a major mining operation so close to home. Noise, dust and the unlikely but not impossible contamination of local water are some of the factors that worry TLT’s Executive Director Krista Magaw. She is urging villagers concerned about the mining expansion to contact ODNR during a public comment period, which ends April 21. (See sidebar on page 1 for details.)
At the prompting of some local citizens, Village Council resolved at its April 3 meeting to write a letter to ODNR voicing opposition to the mining expansion.
Enon Sand & Gravel’s permit requests are currently under review by ODNR. There is no set time frame for a decision, according to ODNR spokesperson Leis on Tuesday. Once a decision is reached, there is a 30-day appeal period, she said.
Citizen opposition builds
The issue caught the attention of some township residents in late February and early March, when the Enon Eagle ran the company’s mandated public notice. A March 7 Mad River Township trustees meeting was overflowing, according to Kyle Peterson, who lives in Echo Hills, near the second phase of the proposed mining operation. (Peterson is the owner of Blockhedz and Brick Forge, companies previously located on Dayton Street in Yellow Springs.)
“It was packed,” he said of the initial meeting. He and other area residents began organizing “the resistance,” a grassroots effort called Citizens Against Mining, soon afterwards. (See the sidebar for more information about the group.)
Citizen concern prompted Mad River Township officials to schedule a second meeting, on March 27, inviting representatives from ODNR and Enon Sand & Gravel, as well as officials from several county agencies. More than 350 citizens showed up, according to Township Trustee Kathy Estep. And what they and the trustees heard was not reassuring, Estep said.
“A lot of people are concerned. This is a major increase in the size of the current operation, which has not been active in the last few years. It has the potential for creating huge adverse effects. … Our concerns were not adequately addressed,” she said on Monday.
Those concerns include a lowering of the local water table and potential contamination of public and private wells in the area; ecological damage to area waterways, including Mud Run Creek, where the company proposes to discharge ground water from its excavation operations; a decrease in property values in the vicinity; air quality issues; wear and tear on township roads; and noise from blasting operations.
Enon Sand & Gravel President Dennis Garrison, who spoke at the March 27 township meeting, said the company’s activities are “heavily regulated and require permits” from agencies including the ODNR and the Ohio EPA. The company also has a well monitoring program it will put into place.
“At the end of the day I think we’re good stewards of the land and enviroment. We’re not out to create a situation where there’s liability,” he said. Enon Sand & Gravel is owned by Cincinnati-based Jurgensen Companies, which operates about 20 aggregates mines in Ohio.
Mad River Township trustees met for a third time on the issue on April 3. They had previously sent a letter to ODNR voicing their concerns. But at the most recent meeting, the trustees approved a second, stronger letter, citing 10 areas of opposition.
The letter concludes: “This property is in close proximity to over two hundred homes and our local Junior/Senior High School. We understand that a small portion of this property has previously been an active gravel pit, but this permit would allow very significant changes and a large expansion of that operation that we believe will be detrimental to the quality of life and the property values of our community. We strongly oppose this permit application.”
‘Nothing to be gained’
The township trustees are not alone in expressing opposition to the project. In addition to the citizen effort, led by Peterson, Culbertson, area resident Diana Pry and others, several area agencies and officials have weighed in with concerns.
Clark County Commissioner Richard Lohnes is one of those voices. He said on Tuesday that believes Enon Sand & Gravel needs to go before the Clark County Board of Zoning Appeals, something the company does not believe its existing permits require. Allan Neimayer from Clark County Community Development, the county zoning authority, agreed that local zoning issues need to be clarified before the project can move ahead.
Lohnes also stated his concern that the company’s proposed mining operation generates big risks to the community, with no corresponding gain.
“There’s nothing to be gained here,” he said.
Enon Sand & Gravel’s Garrison cited lower price of limestone aggregates for local building projects as one gain.
The company’s mining permits were purchased together with over 400 acres of land from Mad River Township residents Dan and Anne Demmy in 2015. But the Demmys had previously had a small-scale sand and gravel operation on just a few acres of the land, with the majority of the rest farmed, Township Trustee Kathy Estep pointed out. The limestone mining Enon Sand & Gravel is proposing to undertake is much larger in size and depth, which makes it incompatible with the township’s 2002 land use plan, she said.
Clark County public health officials have also voiced reservations. Larry Shaffer, director of environmental services for the Clark County Combined Health District, said on Monday that his agency was concerned that Enon Sand & Gravel’s deeper mining could jeopardize both the quality and quantity of water in the many wells in the area. This could occur because of the release of contaminants during the mining process and because the dewatering of the mines would lower the water table, perhaps leaving some wells dry.
“We’re concerned about the contamination of water wells,” he said.
The Greenon school district board of education issued a statement on March 28 in opposition to the permit approval, stating in part that “the potential risk to water quality, the decreased quality of life and the environmental and economic impacts … would be detrimental to our community.”
Asked whether there are any potential economic benefits to expanded mining in the area, Township Trustee Estep was decisive.
“There aren’t,” she said, adding that potential property value declines are a “huge concern” for many township residents, and for local institutions, like the school district, that rely on funding from property taxes. The Greenon school district has a levy on the May 2 ballot.
And TLT has drafted a letter to ODNR, adding its voice to the local opposition. Of particular concern is contamination of Mud Run Creek, a tributary of the Mad River, and possible “spoiling” of hundreds of residential wells, according to Executive Director Magaw on Friday.
“There are no assurances that this can be done safely,” she said.
TLT’s draft letter concludes, “There seems no gain to this community and to our watershed by permitting such expansive and deep mining right next to the creek.”
Plenty of public input is being forwarded to ODNR, but it is not clear what role local opposition will play in the state agency’s decision. An online petition opposing the mining operation is also circulating among area residents.
Impact on Yellow Springs?
It is also not clear whether or how the proposed mining expansion would affect Yellow Springs. In a written response to ODNR last month, the Ohio EPA identified 48 public water system wells, in addition to referring to numerous private wells, within a five-mile radius of the mining site. Included in these are wells that serve John Bryan State Park and the Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center. The village of Yellow Springs itself is just outside the area of concern.
“Ohio EPA is concerned that the dewatering operations could further affect the ground water quality for nearby water systems,” the letter reads.
According to villager and biologist Vickie Hennessy, former head of the Green Environmental Coalition, the mining operations are unlikely to have a direct impact on the quality or quantity of Yellow Springs water, given that local wellfields are located south of the village. But “anything can happen” regarding the flow of ground water, she cautioned.
“It’s possible for cross-contamination to occur between aquifers,” she wrote in an email to Village Council member Marianne MacQueen, included as part of the April 3 Council packet.
TLT’s Magaw also noted the potential for movement of contaminants between aquifers. “[Aquifers are] underground rivers that are connected,” she said on Friday.
Hennessy went on to say in the email to MacQueen that resident opposition is understandable.
“If I lived in this area of Mad River Township, you can bet I would be wildly protesting,” she wrote.
And that’s what some township residents seem prepared to do. Diana Pry, whose property abuts the proposed mining operation, said she doesn’t want trouble with her neighbors, the Demmys, who sold the land and permits to Enon Sand & Gravel. But “a big old gravel pit in my backyard” isn’t something she wants, either.
“I’m going to fight this tooth and nail,” she said.