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Mining company gets zoning change, but remains years from finish lineSpecialty Granules calls its long acquisition and approvals process, in this instance, part of doing business

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A Maryland-based company has received a zoning change needed to use about 110 acres of previously conserved land in Adams County for industrial purposes, but it remains years away from starting mining operations on it, the company's president said.

The Hamiltonban Township Board of Supervisors approved the zoning switch to industrial from woodland conservation by a 3-2 vote in April. Some local residents and conservation advocates opposed the idea.

Even so, Specialty Granules Inc. still faces an expected six months to a year of establishing conditional use criteria with township officials, then it must begin the more normal process of obtaining mining permits from regulators, President Ken Walton said.

There are wetland, endangered species and similar studies required by law, he said. The company also needs to conduct core drilling and sampling that will establish exactly what is underneath the land.

And the trees? Proceeds from selling cleared timber will go to the state, he said.

The company has agreed to wider setbacks and other stipulations for the operations than the general rules and regulations require, Walton said.

"It is quite involved," he said.

All told, at this point, Specialty Granules expects to be mining on the property around 2020, Walton said.

Sure, it'd be nice if the process moved more quickly, Walton said. But for the company, in this instance, all of the hurdles are part of the cost of doing business.

This property is where it makes the most business sense to continue operations that have been around for 90 years and will hopefully be around for many more to come, Walton said.

However, some in the area remain upset the parcel was rezoned and was even available to Specialty Granules in the first place.

The Friends of Tom's Creek is a group working to protect the headwaters of Tom's Creek, according to its website. The creek is in the Potomac River watershed and the high-quality, cold-water fishery has come under threat by mining efforts next to the creek, the website stated.

Even the fact that the swap happened in the first place represents a "fundamental breach of trust" considering the significant conservation effort, said J. Dwight Yoder, partner with Lancaster County-based law firm Gibbel Kraybill & Hess LLP.

"Ultimately, it will be tragic that this will go to benefit SGI," he said.

Walton said he understands the emotions surrounding the situation. But stepping back, it is a win-win, he said: The state ended up with the same amount of preserved ground, and Specialty Granules gets to keep providing a positive economic impact in the area.

"The same acres were preserved, and the jobs got to stay," he said.

Specialty Granules, formerly ISP Minerals Inc., operates four sites around the country that extract and process rock into granules and coloring the material, which is used by manufacturing customers to make roofing shingles, Walton said. Last year, it employed about 140 full-time workers.

To acquire the land in Hamiltonban Township, which is adjacent to its Pennsylvania site, the company in 2011 traded three other properties totaling a little more than the same acreage. The three were added to the state's Michaux State Forest.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had held the parcel in question since 2010, when it came into possession of a larger tract of more than 2,500 acres formerly owned by York County-based paper products maker P.H. Glatfelter Co., which had embarked on a multi-year divestment of its timberland holdings.

This tract, referred to as Tree Farm No. 1, was preserved and given to DCNR for addition to the state forest following a massive conservation effort by nonprofit, government and private entities at the local, state and national level.

Arlington, Va.-based The Conservation Fund bought the property and held it until funding was secured.

Sources included private donations, voter-approved money through an Adams County bond issuance and federal dollars, according to a news release from the fund in 2010 concerning the transfer to DCNR.

Geographically speaking, Specialty Granules' acquisition of the about-110-acre portion to add it to its existing site made sense.

"The roads kind of carve that piece out contiguous to us," he said.

Specialty Granules couldn't buy the land from DCNR but understood a swap could be possible, Walton said. It met with the agency, which identified several parcels that would be advantageous for such a deal, he said. Specialty Granules then acquired three.

According to documentation from DCNR during the swap process, all three acquired parcels were fully or partially surrounded by existing portions of the state forest.

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