Douglas County commissioners said Wednesday that the operators of the Big Springs Quarry near Lecompton can mine that area in any sequence they want, regardless of how the various sections are numbered on their permit.
That came as a disappointment to nearby property owners who said the change would disrupt plans they had made for their property.
"We want them to follow the sequence that was set up so we feel some certainty," said Robert Best, who owns land that will be mined next as a result of the change. "We don't know what they're going to ask for next. We're afraid we'll have to come up here every year."
The controversy dates back to the original permit that Douglas County issued in 1990, when the quarry was operated by Martin Marietta. It divided the 720-acre portion of the quarry lying within Douglas County into six separate areas, or "phases," and required the company to mine and reclaim one phase at a time before moving to the next.
The permit identifies each of those areas and labels them as Phases 1 through 6. In 1992, an additional 80-acre tract was added to the permit, and it was labeled Phase 1A.
In 2006, the operation was transferred to Mid-States Materials LLC, which now operates the quarry. But Mid-States argued that there was never any requirement that the areas be mined in sequential order according to their phase numbers.
As a result, in February, Mid-States sent out notices that it intended to move from the Phase 3 area to the Phase 6 area, which abuts the Shawnee County line. The reason, it said, was so the company could mine an adjacent tract in Shawnee County at the same time and service both areas with a single haul road.
Several nearby property owners objected, saying the change in phasing schedule would interfere with plans they had made for their properties.
But Commissioners Jim Flory and Mike Gaughan sided with Mid-States.
"The word 'phase' seems to be confusing people," Flory said. "It does not mandate completion of quarrying in any particular order."
Commissioner Nancy Thellman, however, sided with the neighboring property owners, saying she thought it was clear from the record that the phases were meant to go in sequential order.
Flory and Gaughan voted for a motion to amend the permit to make clear that the separate phases could be mined in any order, as long as Mid-States adheres to other terms of the permit, including the requirement to finish reclamation on each phase before moving to another.
The motion passed, 2-1, with Thellman dissenting.