Residents who live near the Hamm Buchheim Quarry in western Douglas County walked away frustrated Wednesday night after county commissioners declined to put any new restrictions on how the quarry operates.
Commissioners did approve an agreement negotiated with N.R. Hamm Inc., which operates the quarry, to share the cost of suppressing dust on the gravel road that leads to the quarry. And they approved posting a 40-mile-per-hour speed limit on the road.
But beyond that, they said it was doubtful they had any authority to change the terms of the permit that was issued more than 35 years ago, at least not immediately.
"We didn't get anything that we asked for," said Khara Tan Bhala, one of the residents who urged commissioners to change the quarry's permit. "And it seems as if we have to defend our position. Instead of being the victims, we are supposed to be doing everything."
The quarry is located on about 70 acres just north of Clinton Lake along East 550 Road, formerly known as Route 1029.
Bhala and her husband Raj were among a dozen or so residents who said their quality of life has changed dramatically for the worse since the quarry reopened about eight months ago.
Bhala said the truck traffic along East 450 road is so dangerous she can no longer allow her daughter to ride her bicycle in the neighborhood. And Steve Freidell, who also lives near the quarry, said a blast that occurred Jan. 16 was so powerful it damaged the foundation of his house.
But Ramon Gonzalez, who manages quarry operations for N.R. Hamm, said the company is doing all it can to operate safely. "You can't build stuff without rock," he said. "Are there more people out there than there were in 1977? Yes, but there are more people everywhere than in 1977. We can't just go somewhere else. We don't want to have upset neighbors, but we have to be somewhere as well."
The problem, county officials agreed, stems from the fact that when Douglas County first granted the quarry permit in 1977, the area just north of Clinton Lake was undeveloped, and commissioners at the time believed the quarry would be mined out within 20 years.
As a result, county commissioners at that time attached very few conditions to the permit. They did not even include an expiration date, which means legally it continues in perpetuity.
But the quarry has been idle for most of the time since 1977, enticing many people to build upscale homes in the area, believing that the quarry was no longer an issue. Now that the quarry has reopened, many of the residents describe the area as a "neighborhood" that is incompatible with the quarry operation.
Commissioner Jim Flory said the commission's only job Wednesday was to conduct an annual review of the permit. But it was evidently the first such review the county has conducted since the 1970s, even though that was one of the few conditions that was included in the permit.
Flory said commissioners would have to consult with county counselor Evan Ice to find out if it's possible to change the terms of the permit and, if so, how to do so.