Cities, towns concerned about Mill Creek quarry

Sunday, January 1st 2006, 1:25 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Some Oklahomans in the south-central part of the state are concerned about the potential collateral damaged caused by creating a quarry over the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.

Mining operations could cause seepage of untold quantities from the aquifer into the 230-acre quarry.

Existing law may prevent any state agency from regulating that seepage, which a mining company official said would be ``relatively minimal.''

Meridian Aggregates, a subsidiary of Martin Marietta Materials, already has a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to take up to 1,425 acre feet a year from Mill Creek in Johnston County. It is applying for a permit to take an additional 1,400 acre feet per year from a well.

But the company apparently doesn't need a permit to take the water that seeps into the quarry, which is expected to be 280 feet deep_ which raises questions of who is responsible for regulating the drawing of water caused by mining into an aquifer.

A 1977 attorney general's opinion said the water board lacks authority to require a permit ``to take, use or dispose'' of such water.

State Rep. Wes Hilliard has asked the attorney general's office to revisit the matter.

Meridian Aggregate needs the water to clean mined rock and reduce dust caused by drilling and crushing operations. The company is drilling for material to be used in Texas road construction projects.

The aquifer feeds Pennington Creek, which is Tishomingo's sole water source.

Tishomingo's vice mayor, Lewis Parkhill, said the mining would have ``a very damaging impact.''

``Our concern is that a private corporation from out of state, for their gain, is posing a potential threat to the livelihood of many communities in south-central Oklahoma,'' he said.

Even without mining, Tishomingo has had to impose water rationing during droughts, Parkhill said.

``That creek is not magic. It's not an unlimited water source,'' he said.

The quarry would employ 50 people during phase one, said Pete Dawson, vice president and general manager of Martin Marietta's north Texas/Oklahoma district.

Opponents include six towns and cities whose drinking water comes from the aquifer. Those towns are Ardmore, Tishomingo, Durant, Wynnewood, Sulphur and Davis.

While state groundwater law requires a permit for any well, the law exempts water trapped in a producing mine, said Duane Smith, the water resources board's executive director.

Neither does the Oklahoma Department of Mines oversee this issue, an attorney for that agency said.

Mining would take place at depths up to 280 feet. Geologists have determined that the aquifer begins 70 feet below ground, Parkhill said.

Attorney Chuck Shipley, who represents the towns, said the company has bored a series of exploratory, 8-inch-diameter holes since 2001.

Continued drilling poses the threat of ``alarming avenues of pollution'' to the aquifer, Shipley wrote to the water resources board last week.