Quarry closure examined

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By Rebekah Martin

Assistant Editor

The limestone quarry that has made its home in Lee County for over a century will soon close its doors. As previously reported by the “Observer,” the quarry on Alabama Highway 166 in Opelika will be closed by the end of the year.

Midsouth Aggregates, Inc., and its holding company, Oldcastle Materials, Inc., made the decision to close the quarry that has been in operation since as early as the mid-1800s for various reasons. Community rumors spoke of an imbalance of revenue and cost of production, and others blamed the numerous sinkholes around Lee County and the cost of repairing them for the closing.

In 2007 the city of Opelika and Lee County brought a lawsuit against the owner of the quarry, MidSouth Aggregates, as well as its holding company, Oldcastle Materials, Inc. The case was eventually settled outside of court. According to the Lee County Commission, there were eight items in the settlement. The quarry agreed to the following:

– pay for and repair sinkhole-related damages, present and future. They will repair damage on public and private property, with a financial cap of $1.6 million;

– make significant road repairs, at its expense (Lee Road 148 had been closed because of sinkholes);

– conduct initial sinkhole susceptibility testing and weekly inspections, at its expense;

– provide defense and indemnification of Lee County, at its expense;

– agree to the continuing jurisdiction of the Lee County Circuit Court;

– stay in strict compliance with operating restrictions and its Alabama Department of Environmental Management discharge permit limits;

– provide a $5 million performance bond, which will remain in effect for seven years after closure if the quarry closes; and

– repay Lee County $2 million for legal fees.

Tom Aley, president of Ozark Underground Laboratory in Missouri, was heavily involved in the litigation process of the 2007 lawsuit. His company was hired to evaluate the validity of the claims brought against the quarry and Oldcastle Materials, Inc.

Aley worked extensively in Opelika, accessing the formation of sinkholes and the drying up of  the Spring Villa area surrounding the quarry.

“In my opinion, once the quarry has ceased its operations, the spring that has been dry for so many years will flow again,” Aley said. “The timeline of course depends a great deal on the amount of rainfall Opelika gets, but I look for the flow to resume within a couple of years.”

Justin Hardee, Lee County engineer, said  MidSouth Aggregates and Oldcastle Materials have dutifully upheld their settlement responsibilities. The highway department reported a sinkhole under the asphalt of Lee County Road 148 in April of this year, and Hardee said the quarry took care of the problem in accordance with the settlement agreement.

“The closing of the quarry is a bittersweet thing for the highway department,” Hardee said. “It employed county residents and also provided our department with a great deal of the materials we use in road construction and repair. We are, however, looking forward to the safety concerns the sinkholes caused not being an issue.”

The quarry will officially close later this fall.

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