A bill that would give county commissions in Alabama the power to regulate quarries doesn't solve the real problem: the lack of home rule for county governments
The Birmingham News
Thursday, February 07, 2008

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Quarries ought not be the quarry of a bill being proposed for this legislative session.

The correct quarry of any bill that would affect quarries ought to be the Alabama Constitution.

Confused? So, too, are the well-meaning people pushing for a bill that would require quarries to get approval from county commissions or town councils to locate in areas that don't have zoning. In other words, most of unincorporated Alabama. Just three of Alabama's 67 counties have the power to zone in unincorporated areas: Jefferson County and parts of Shelby and Baldwin counties.

"It's not so much about stopping or allowing quarries," said Adam Snyder, executive director of Conservation Alabama, which supports the proposed bill. "It's about giving the public a voice in the process. Currently, with quarries, the public doesn't have a voice."

But giving the public a voice on quarries solves only one small part of the real problem, which is the lack of home-rule power for county governments. The quarry bill is no more a solution to that than giving a homeless person a dollar and proclaiming that problem solved.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Gun- tersville, the bill's sponsor, said: "It seems to me a reasonable approach that we ought to let our county commissions decide these things."

Yes, but county commissions ought to be able to decide not only what to do about quarries, but hog farms, and junkyards, and insects, and speed zones, and disposing of dead animals, and all the things they're forced to beg the Legislature for help on. All because the 1901 Constitution doesn't grant home-rule power to counties.

What county commissions, and Alabamians, need is a new state constitution that gives counties the full ability to govern themselves, instead of every so often the Legislature doling out a little slice of authority that addresses the controversy of the moment.

That view is not in any way meant to diminish the controversy over quarries, which normally locate in unincorporated areas, sometimes near rural communities whose residents become upset when they learn of the quarry plans. Those residents become even more upset when they learn there's nothing their county commission can do to help them.

The problem for county commissions is so much larger and broader than giving them the power to decide whether to allow a quarry to locate in their county. So, too, should be the solution.

To his credit, McLaughlin for the past few years has backed a bill that would allow voters to decide whether they want a citizens convention to write a new Alabama Constitution. That, and not his bill on quarries, is the start toward the real solution to what ails county commissions.

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