For the past six months, the controversial mining of "The Glade," an 18,000-year-old peat bog in western Maryland's Garrett County, has been an on-again, off-again operation. Currently, it is mostly off -- since late August, a federal court order has banned the mining of all but a small portion of the bog.
A full hearing on the subject is scheduled before a federal judge in February.
The controversy began in April when the Potomac chapter of the Sierra Club, which has 10,000 members in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Garrett County Processing and Packaging Corp., owner of the 600-acre tract.
The environmental group, which is interested in the bog's "ecological treasures," alleged that the peat company has violated federal laws protecting wetlands and water quality. It asked that the company obtain state permits to work the bog.
Kenneth Buckel, who owns the company, maintains that he and his three employes do not harm the historical and ecological significance of the land. He said the peat moss, which is used as a soil conditioner, is scooped off the top of the bog without disturbing the earth underneath. He calls the process "harvesting," not mining.
Buckel's company bought a 470-acre section of the bog last year at an estate auction; he already had been working the balance of the bog for the past 22 years.
For most of the spring and summer, the company continued to work its new acquisition, much to the consternation of the Sierra Club. In July, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an order forbidding removal of matter from the bog by disc harrowing, but the company continued to remove the moss using front-end loaders, said James Dougherty, legal chairman of the club's Potomac chapter.
A few weeks later, at the Sierra Club's urging, a federal judge granted the preliminary injunction now in effect. Dougherty called it a compromise, because his organization would have preferred a ban on all mining of the bog.
The Sierra Club continues to monitor "the Glade," sending environmental experts to check on conditions there and, twice, sending airplanes up for aerial photographs, Dougherty said.
But many residents of Garrett County, long known for their independence and resentment of outsiders delving into county affairs, have made known their hostility toward the Sierra Club. Local newspapers recently ran sharply worded editorials about how the environmental group is unfairly picking on the county, and county officials have made public statements about their support of the peat company.