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Local leaders are best positioned to decide land use issues, including quarries

Construction projects are underway across Alabama. more than any other time in the past.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into drinking water and wastewater projects thanks to the Alabama Legislature's appropriations from the American Rescue Plan Act and bipartisan Infrastructure Act funds. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management oversees these projects.

States are making similarly large investments from these funds to expand broadband availability.

A number of road projects have been announced, many of which will be paid for with Rebuild Alabama, revenue from the gas tax championed by the governor.

And the state has experienced tremendous growth in business, industry, and research development in recent years.

It's a great time for Alabama's economy.

However, all these economic activities place significant demands on people and resources. Engineers, construction managers, truck drivers, and machine operators are just some of the many professionals and other workers needed to complete these projects.

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Materials used in construction, such as stone and aggregate, are also in high demand.

Several new quarries have been proposed in Alabama over the past year. In January, ADEM held a public hearing in Oxford to hear residents' comments on one such proposal, an air and water permit application for a quarry in Cleburne County.

Approximately 250 people attended the public hearing, and approximately 24 spoke. Most were residents of the area. Several members of Congress also spoke, including county commissioners, city council members, and state legislators.

Almost everyone, including elected officials, said they didn't want quarries near their homes or businesses.

This Thursday at 6 p.m., ADEM will hold a public hearing at Calhoun Community College in Decatur on a proposed air and water permit for a limestone quarry in the community of Bel Mina in Limestone County. The public has until March 22nd at 5pm to submit comments to ADEM.

Many residents and local officials have publicly spoken out against the quarry.

As the director of ADEM, I understand their feelings. Individuals have a vested interest in how their community's land is used.

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However, it is important to understand that, by law, ADEM cannot determine whether a quarry is a good use of a particular piece of land. Land use decisions should be made at the local level.

ADEM's role is to protect public health and the environment by ensuring compliance with all environmental laws, including federal clean air, clean water, and safe drinking water laws. In our quarry regulatory role, our staff thoroughly and scientifically reviews air and water permit applications.

If a preliminary determination is made that the application meets all state and federal regulations, ADEM will provide a public opportunity for written and oral comment. If there is sufficient local interest, ADEM plans to hold a public hearing similar to Thursday's to maximize opportunities for the public to comment.

ADEM evaluates comments related to specific air and water permit applications before making a final decision on whether to issue a permit.

Many of the comments we receive are unrelated to the details of the proposed permit. In the case of quarries, residents often raise concerns about property values, noise, traffic, and other issues that ADEM cannot regulate.

That's why it's important for residents to work with local officials. Zoning ordinances, building codes, and building permits are rightfully vested in local communities and their elected leaders, who are in the position of making land use decisions.

In fact, actions at the local level are likely to have a greater impact on the fate of proposed quarries than ADEM's decisions regarding permits.

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But let's be clear: ADEM fully accepts its obligation to ensure that various activities do not have unauthorized impacts on air or water quality. Our department is committed to ensuring compliance with all environmental regulations. We welcome feedback from the public and take seriously any comments we receive.

However, some matters, such as land use decisions, are outside the scope of what ADEM can or should do. These decisions are best left to those closest to the community.

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