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Potomac Riverkeeper

A coalition of organizations representing environmental, historical and community interests filed an appeal Feb. 21 in Berkeley County Circuit Court challenging a permit to allow quarrying on North Mountain, the visual backdrop of historic Gerrardstown and a crucial source of water for Mill Creek. After carefully reviewing the Surface Mine Board’s final ruling on North Mountain Shale’s quarry permit, Potomac Riverkeeper, along with Washington Heritage Trail, Inc. and Gerrardstown Presbyterian Church, filed the appeal because of two key flaws in the ruling.

First, the board approved a quarry permit that is not protective enough to adequately control sediment discharge. The approval was based on the quarry’s last minute claim that it is going to add chemical flocculant to its discharges. Despite the fact that the quarry was required to disclose any plans to rely on chemical flocculant with its permit applications, it utterly failed to do so and kept the community in the dark regarding such plans.

“The Surface Mining Board should not have approved the permit without requiring North Mountain Shale to fully explain how it intends to protect the water quality of our community,” stated Upper Potomac River Manager Brent Walls. “The quarry’s own witnesses admitted that their proposed sediment ponds are far too small to protect Mill Creek, so they were forced to claim—for the first time at the hearing—that they intended to use chemical flocculant. However, the community has had zero opportunity to review or comment on the quarry’s use of chemical flocculant and, even more troubling, the quarry’s witness was unable to answer basic questions about what chemicals would be used or in what amounts. Together with the recent disappointing decision of the Environmental Quality Board, both final rulings do not protect a crucial water source for Mill Creek from sediment pollution."

Second, the board also prohibited arguments challenging the adequacy of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP’s) review of the impact of the quarry operations on the historical resources in the area. The quarry intends to run its massive trucks through the heart of the Gerrardstown Historic District, which is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as containing more than ninety historic buildings.

"The Washington Heritage Trail Trustees are disappointed that the Surface Mining Board bluntly refused to review the quarry’s potential impacts on both the scenic and historic values of Gerrardstown,” said Jeanne Mozier, president of the Washington Heritage Trail. “It is extremely troubling that the board and the state are ignoring this and trampling on our right to challenge the impact analysis. Several state rulings have made it very difficult for the Washington Heritage Trail to carry out its mission of preserving and protecting the various attributes which earned the trail its national designation. We are especially concerned that the Division of Culture and History did not object to the violation of this region from the very beginning.”

During the public comment period, WVDEP received nearly 800 comments in opposition to the draft permit. Hundreds of local residents attended the public meetings in the spring of 2010, where 80 people spoke against the proposed quarry operation, with only one speaking in its favor. This appeal is being filed to give voice to the residents of Gerrardstown who were denied the opportunity to challenge use of chemical flocculants and the inadequate impact analysis. The appeal filed with the Berkeley County Circuit Court will be a review of the facts as presented in the evidentiary hearings.

For more information, click here.

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Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. is a clean water 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit that, includes the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. It stops pollution and restores clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries through community engagement and enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. As a membership organization, it has offices in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Shenandoah Riverkeeper

On Feb. 13, Shenandoah Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper officially settled their Federal Clean Water Act lawsuit with Ox Paperboard.

"We are pleased with the settlement," said Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble. "Ox Paperboard provides a green service to the community and the company’s leaders rescued a failing business several years ago and saved local jobs. Yet, before the settlement there remained an ongoing issue with toxic discharges to Flowing Springs Run which had continued in violation of the law for far too long."

In the settlement, Ox Paperboard is required to design and implement a biological treatment system to handle wastewater discharge as part of their planned facility upgrades, to pay more than $100,000 in fines to U.S. Department of Justice, and to fund a $50,000 supplemental environmental project within Flowing Springs run or the Shenandoah River.

After waiting over a year and a half for the promised upgrades to occur, the Riverkeepers filed in order to guarantee that the environmental harm being caused by the facility would be addressed prior to or during the plant’s planned expansion.

"We decided early on that our priority was to resolve the issues with the plant and avoid the courts, so we believed that a settlement was the most expeditious way forward," said Kelble.

The Riverkeepers even tried to diminish the fines levied against Ox Paperboard in favor of a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) that the company will fund.

Flowing Springs Run has the potential to be the jewel of the county. Near Ranson, seven feeder springs come bubbling out of the ground to form the stream. "Working with a number of local groups to implement environmental improvements upstream of the facility, we hope that we can lay the foundation to bring back native brook trout historically supported by this stream and undo some of the damage that has been done from years of excessive discharges,” Kelble said.

In addition, a restoration project upstream from the plant has the potential eventually benefit Ox Paperboard—improving the quality of the water used in its operations could lower operating costs for the facility.

For more information, click here.

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The Potomac and Shenandoah Riverkeepers are grateful for the work of their attorneys, Chris Stroech of Arnold & Bailey, PLLC in Shepherdstown, W.V. and Ken Kristl, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Widener University School of Law. Both attorneys diligently managed the sensitive case with flawless care.

Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. is a clean water 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit that, includes the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. It stops pollution and restores clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and their tributaries through community engagement and enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. As a membership organization, it has offices in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

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Potomac Riverkeeper

Despite strong local opposition and compelling expert testimony advising against the development of a shale quarry that would overshadow the historic town of Gerrardstown, W.V., the West Virginia Surface Mine Board issued its approval for a permit allowing North Mountain Shale to operate its proposed quarry. The local community remains concerned that polluted runoff from the industrial operation could contaminate the drinking water supply.

“This pastoral, idyllic community set with the beautiful backdrop of North Mountain, is the next community in West Virginia that will be devastated by mining activity. West Virginia has always been a pro-mining state. Where the legislature and the regulatory agencies, despite being sworn to protect our environment, work instead to lessen the burden on industry,” Upper Potomac River Manager Brent Walls said upon hearing of the decision.

The decision did not come as a complete surprise considering the pro-industry atmosphere prevalent in West Virginia. However, it is disappointing that despite the efforts of local citizens, who wrote an unprecedented 787 letters to West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) opposing the quarry and participated in large numbers at public hearings, the Surface Mine Board did not reject the permit.

“I find it hard to place much stock in the board’s findings of fact, as they were adopted almost word-for-word from a document written by lawyers for the company," said Walls.

“Though the permit now has a number of provisions that aim to lessen the burden on the community, the conditions stipulated in the permit can still easily be violated. It will depend on WVDEP to enforce the new permit conditions,” Walls said. “I have faith that the field inspectors will inspect the site and write up any violations. The question is whether the administrative side of WVDEP can be trusted to timely take enforcement action in response to violations."

For more information, click here.

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Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. is a clean water 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit that stops pollution and restores clean water in the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and tributaries through community engagement and enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

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