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A proposed 4.5-mile long conveyor belt to move tons of rock from Lehigh Cement Co.'s New Windsor quarry to its Union Bridge plant appears to be headed underground -- at least a good portion of it.

Last week the plans for the conveyor belt project were released to various community groups and to Carroll County government and company officials are scheduled to meet Tuesday, Sept. 8, with the county's Environmental Advisory Council.

The conveyor belt project has been under consideration by Lehigh for several years, and has raised the scrutiny of local community groups. The route is the latest incarnation of three years worth of work, said Kurt Deery, Lehigh environmental engineer.

One of the groups that has received a preview of the evolving plan is New Windsor Community Action Project, which has operated in that area since the late 1980s.

"From what I saw, I was very impressed," said George Malroney, NEWCAP's chairman at an August meeting of the group. "It was less bad (than previous concepts)."

Lehigh uses stone from its quarries to make concrete, and expects the life of the Union Bridge quarry to be about 10 to 12 more years.

To increase production, the quarry is expanding further into Frederick County toward Clemsonville, and will also depend on limestone from the company's New Windsor quarry, which has about 80 years worth of limestone reserves.

The conveyor belt is needed to move about 10,600 tons of limestone per day, said Deery.

About 40 to 50 percent of the belt -- or 1.8 miles of the overall 4.5-mile long conveyor -- would be underground, running south of New Windsor, he said.

In other areas the conveyor belt would be at-grade, and would be about 12 feet high, though in some areas it'll be recessed into the ground, possibly cutting that height in half. In two areas -- leaving the quarry and arriving at the plant -- the conveyor will actually be elevated above ground.

The conveyor would be covered to contain dust from the crushed rock. The structure would be made of metal, with an insulated interior to cut down sound, Deery said.

The conveyor would go under roads and streams -- those plans must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, he said. The proposed path is along the outskirts of Linwood and McKinstry Mill between Union Bridge and New Windsor (see map).

Lehigh already operates a similar conveyor belt at its Nazareth, Pa., plant.

Concrete decisions

NEWCAP President Dan Strickler said he wants to see more done to the design to lessen its impact on the community.

"We think (Lehigh) hasn't made enough concessions, because we think the whole thing should be underground," he said.

Lehigh plant manager Kent Martin said that's physically possible, but financially impossible.

"The conveyor is costing tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars, and we're pushing to envelope (on the budget)," Martin said.

Strickler concedes that the conveyor will likely be built; he said he just wants to make sure it will be built according to specifications -- and with the community in mind.

The majority of the conveyor would run through Lehigh-owned land, or land where the company has made right of way agreements with landowners.

About 1.8 miles of the belt is proposed to go under four farms owned by the Hoff family, according to Dan Hoff, who is representing his aunt's and cousin's farms.

That also causes some concern for some NEWCAP members who are against disrupting agricultural easements for the conveyor belt. They note that two Hoff farms are protected under agricultural easement programs -- and industrial uses should not be allowed because of those ag preservation agreements.

About 900 feet of the conveyor would pass through a Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation easement; another 900 feet would go through a county-held Rural Legacy easement, Hoff said.

The agriculture v. industrial debate is one aspect of the company's request to make the conveyor belt defined as a utility, according to a letter from Lehigh to the Carroll County Planning Commission. A utility would be allowed to pass through protected farmland.

Lehigh officials say without the conveyor belt, the only other alternatives are transporting rock by train or truck.

The existing Maryland Midland Railway line runs north of Lehigh properties, but would need spurs near both plants to make connections, and would pass through Linwood and New Windsor.

Lehigh officials said they are indeed still studying rail, but would have to purchase additional land to make it work.

Said Deery, "Rail is not a dead issue."

New Windsor Mayor Neal Roop said town officials prefer the conveyor because it's cleaner, quieter and will not hold up emergency vehicles.

And Hoff thinks there would be a downside to rail for New Windsor and Linwood residents -- trains would have to go straight through town and dust would not be contained from the crushed rock.

The options are still on the table, Martin said, and it may come down to cost.

For the conveyor belt, Lehigh will need approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carroll County Government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state's departments of Environment and Natural Resources.

And whether the conveyor is considered a utility or not, land owners agreeing to let the conveyor belt pass through their ag preservation land will have to ask permission from preservation agencies, said Ralph Robertson, Carroll County agricultural preservation program manager. No requests have yet been made, he said.

But Robertson also said that issue might be resolved if land is "swapped" -- if land coming out of preservation is "exchanged" for other land going into preservation status.

Deery said Lehigh is willing to donate additional land into ag preservation if needed. Said Martin, "We want it to be a win-win for everyone involved."

Robertson said he hopes he's not the one who will have to weigh in a decision relating to the conveyor.

"That area is rich in two things: It's rich in agriculture and rich in aggregate. Can that be blended in for the good of the community?" he said.

"Boy, I don't know."

If you go

The Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council will review the proposal for the Lehigh conveyor belt project Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 3 p.m. The meeting will be held in Room 003 of the Carroll County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

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