A win for quarry opponents
- Published: February 11, 2021
It’s been nearly four years since neighbors of a proposed limestone quarry north of Yellow Springs banded together to fight the mining effort.
They formed a group, Citizens Against Mining, or CAM, based in Mad River Township, to challenge the company, Enon Sand and Gravel, in a multi-pronged battle.
Along the way, there have been both setbacks and victories, but so far mining has yet to get underway on the 420-acre property.
And in December 2020, the citizens group celebrated another win — a private lawsuit settled in favor of five neighbors of the mine who successfully argued that mining could damage their property values and private wells.
“It’s a significant step,” said Kathleen Mathews, a CAM member.
In his decision, Judge Dale Crawford, a visiting judge in the Clark County Common Pleas Court, granted an injunction against Enon Sand and Gravel, preventing the company from mining about 100 acres of its property.
The company had claimed that the property, which was previously used as a limestone quarry, was grandfathered in when county zoning rules took effect in 1964. But the judge disagreed, pointing to evidence that company maps for years listed the area as an “abandoned mine.”
Neighbor Carol Culbertson, who was party to the lawsuit, called the decision “huge.”
“After spending the money and the time, to feel like justice was served, is a huge thing,” she said.
Enon Sand and Gravel is appealing the latest decision, according to CAM. If the company is not successful, it will have to acquire a conditional use permit from the Clark County Board of Zoning Appeals, or BZA, to mine the section. That permit process involves a public hearing and the consideration of health and safety concerns of neighbors.
Representatives from Enon Sand & Gravel did not respond to multiple News requests for comment. The Springfield company is owned by Jurgensen Companies, of Cincinnati, which produces materials for road construction, paving and other projects.
For CAM, the victory stands out as a bright spot in a fight that has been waged on several fronts and involved authorities at all levels — federal, state and county.
“We have tried everything possible,” Culbertson said.
CAM will host a virtual meeting to give an update on the quarry fight and answer questions on Wednesday, March 24, from 7–8 p.m. A Zoom link will be posted ahead of the meeting at https://citizensagainstmining.org.
A short history of the quarry fight
A group of neighbors and other citizens lept into action after learning Enon Sand and Gravel filed a mining plan with the state in 2017, merging and modifying its mining permits on a 420-acre area north and south of Fairfield Pike and along South Tecumseh Road. The area in question starts, on the southern end, about two miles north of Yellow Springs and ends at Greenon High School just outside of Enon.
Although mining had previously taken place on some of the properties, the company sought to mine hundreds of additional acres at a substantially greater depth, a change significant enough to require the approval of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Mineral Resources Management.
In 2017, concerned citizens, including many Yellow Springers, packed commissioner meetings and other public meetings to speak out against the quarry expansion, which they feared would lead to increased traffic and blasting noises, dry up private wells and wetlands, contaminate surface waters and harm property values.
Around that time, “No Quarry” signs popped up around the village and surrounding rural areas. Citizens Against Mining formed, growing from a small group of concerned neighbors to more than 70 families and a dedicated group of nine board members.
“Our big concern is maintaining the health and safety of citizens,” Mathews said of the group’s mission.
Opponents were delighted after the Clark County Commissioners had decided that Enon Sand and Gravel would need a conditional use permit to expand the mine, portions of which had been a quarry going back to the 1950s. Then, a setback occurred when ODNR granted a permit to Enon Sand & Gravel in 2017. The permit was then upheld the following year after CAM’s appeal to the Ohio Reclamation Commission was denied.
In addition, on the day the ODNR mining permits were granted in 2018, Enon Sand and Gravel sued the county commissioners in federal court, and the two parties settled, paving the way for mining after all.
But that wasn’t the end of it. CAM appealed the Ohio Reclamation Commission’s decision, with a hearing scheduled for that case in Clark County’s Common Pleas Court likely in 2021.
“We don’t think that ODNR fairly evaluated when they granted the permit,” Mathews explained of that challenge. Among the issues for CAM is whether a plan detailing how the company will reclaim the area after mining is complete.
Efforts to raise awareness of the unique ecological features of the area succeeded when in 2018 the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency designated two wetland fens in close proximity to the southern portion of the proposed quarry along Garrison Road. The Ohio EPA has since requested additional studies from the company about how mining would impact the wetlands and other area waterways, a precursor to them granting the company a water discharge permit. A related effort saw the official naming last year of one impacted tributary, which is now known as Coyote Run.
For its part, the company continues to fight back. In 2019, Enon Sand and Gravel told the Ohio EPA that it would not provide the hydrology studies the agency sought about the impact on area waters, stating that the company would evaluate the impact of mining on area groundwater as mining proceeded. At each juncture, the company has appealed an unfavorable decision, asserting their rights as property owners of land that has long been used for limestone mining.
That hasn’t stopped CAM, which in 2019 sent its own letter to the Ohio EPA about the importance of learning more about how mining could affect area waters.
Last year, both progress toward the mine’s opening, and the opposition, slowed considerably with the pandemic. CAM had to postpone its fundraisers and public events, while the court system seemed to grind to a halt. But it’s starting to ramp up again.
The lawsuit, and beyond
Among other things, the recent private lawsuit victory signals the need for CAM’s efforts to continue, organizers said this week.
If Enon Sand and Gravel’s appeal does not overturn the decision, then CAM must be ready to gather experts and community members to speak out at the Clark County Board of Zoning Appeals, which Mathews said would then give the final “yay or nay” to the project.
Culbertson said that if the matter does come before the zoning appeals board, she wants area citizens to know how important it will be to show support in opposition to the mine.
“It will be imperative that every community member show up against this quarry,” she said.
CAM also needs to raise the funds to hire experts to testify at any public meetings. Tens of thousands have already been raised in order to pay for legal support and the work of a geologist, who has pointed out problems with Enon Sand and Gravel’s estimations of the mine’s impact on area groundwater and private water wells.
“We have contended all along that their water model is not accurate,” Culbertson said of the company.
The recent lawsuit case also brought to light previously unknown information about mining activities. During testimony, for instance, a company representative estimated that between 60 and 100 trucks will pass through the area on a daily basis, depending upon the season.
Another outcome of the December decision was the judge’s determination that area neighbors did have standing to challenge the mine based upon health and safety issues. While the company had argued that the interests of neighbors had been covered by the settlement with the county commissioners, the judge saw private property owners as having their own interests with regard to the project.
The judge went further, agreeing with the plaintiffs that they could be “specially damaged by the proposed surface mining,” with possible impacts to their private wells along with their property values, which may be harmed by increased traffic and blasting noises.
Will the next judge to take up the case agree with those conclusions? Will the Ohio EPA continue to push for more information about the wetlands, or grant the water discharge permit? If the issue comes before them, how will the Clark County BZA respond to neighbor concerns and company arguments?
Those are among the unknowns that CAM is navigating as the quarry fight enters its fifth year.
In the meantime, at least, CAM has succeeded in delaying the start of mining, Culbertson noted.
“Each year we delay the mine brings us a larger base of people in support of our cause,” she said.