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Advocacy group announces new legal challenge against state permit for quarry in Snow Camp

An environmental advocacy group has announced it’s taking legal action in response to a mining permit that state officials have granted to a controversial stone quarry in the unincorporated community of Snow Camp.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League released a formal announcement on Friday to declare that it had initiated an administrative challenge to this permit, which was issued on November 30 to a Wyoming-based firm dubbed Alamance Aggregates.

The Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources division of the N.C. Department of Environment Quality ultimately approved this firm’s request for a mining permit after a two-year review process that included a well-attended public hearing in December of 2018.

Among the concerns that surfaced during the state agency’s review of this project was the quarry’s potential impact on nearby natural gas lines owned and operated by Colonial Pipeline. Although Colonial had initially shared many of these concerns, the natural gas distributor eventually reached an accommodation with Alamance Aggregates that went a long way toward securing the aforementioned permit.

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But as Colonial’s own objections have subsided, the worries they’ve inflamed have apparently remained as potent as ever for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

Louis Zeller, the league’s executive director, notes the proposed quarry’s proximity to several utility lines, including the natural gas conduit, in a news release about his organization’s newly-lodged legal challenge.

“Proposed mining activities will take place in close proximity to three of Colonial Pipeline’s fuel pipelines and to Duke Energy’s [electrical] transmission lines,” the group’s executive director goes on to assert. “The existence of Colonial Pipeline’s highly flammable liquid transport lines located within 1,000 feet of the mining operation should have been enough to prevent state approval of the permit.”

In further explaining the group’s legal challenge, Zeller alludes to other concerns about the quarry’s potential impact on the local water supply.

According to the league’s news release, the group formally filed paperwork on February 15 to obtain a “contested case” hearing about the permit that state regulators issued to Alamance Aggregates. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality concedes that state law allows neighboring landowners and other parties to petition for such hearings. It nevertheless adds that the request must be filed with the state’s office of administrative hearings “within sixty (60) days” of the notice about the permit’s approval – which, in this case, was mailed out on December 15, 2020.

A clerk at the office of administrative hearings told The Alamance News on Monday that her agency had received the environmental defense league’s request for a contested case hearing. She nevertheless confessed that the petition hadn’t been reviewed to establish its validity – which could be an issue given its submission 62 days after the date of the aforementioned notice.

The environmental defense league’s latest legal assault on the quarry comes a little more than a month after a local superior court judge agreed to dismiss Alamance County as a defendant in another legal action concerning this project.

The league and several local property owners had originally filed this suit against the quarry’s developers as well as the county due to perceived inadequacies with an “intent to construct” permit that the county’s planning director had issued in January of 2018.

Tom Lambeth, Alamance County’s senior resident superior court judge, ultimately dropped the county from this lawsuit on January 11 of this year after he determined that the plaintiffs hadn’t exhausted their opportunities for administrative appeal before they took legal action against the county. Lambeth nevertheless agreed to let the lawsuit proceed against the quarry’s developers. He also dismissed the claims against the county “without prejudice” – a legal term of art which essentially means that the plaintiffs can resubmit their complaints in a modified form within a certain period of time.

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