Tenn. Appeals Court Reverses Ruling on Rock Mining in Park

Fri August 29, 2008 - Southeast Edition
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee appeals court has struck down a ruling that allowed mountain stone rock mining to continue along the Cumberland Trail State Park.

A three-judge panel in a ruling July 31 sent the case back to Hamilton County courts for further proceedings.

State officials had sued a company that holds mineral rights to the Hamilton County land on which part of the Cumberland Trail State Park was built. Lahiere-Hill LLC contended its rights to mine included removing sandstone, which is used in architecture and landscaping.

But the state said digging out the stone tore up the land, violating the people’s surface rights to it.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals sided with the state’s argument, ruling the 1951 deed under which the company has mineral rights cannot be read as waiving the surface owner’s rights to use the land for its intended purpose.

State officials and environmental groups praised the decision.

“It’s an important decision and it speaks to the basic inconsistencies of severed mineral rights,” said Don Barger, senior director of the Southeast Regional Office of National Parks, who joined the state Department of Environment and Conservation in a friends-of-the-court filing.

“The court is saying that a mineral rights owner’s deed cannot be read to deprive the surface owner of their rights,” he said.

The case began in February 2007, when contractors working for Florida-based mineral rights owner Lahiere-Hill tore up about 70 to 100 yards of the Cumberland Trail to mine sandstone. State officials sought a stop-work order in court and asked the owner to halt operations in the state park.

Hamilton County Chancery Court Chancellor Frank Brown allowed miners to continue work as long as they did not come closer than 25 ft. (7.6 m) from the trail.

Lahiere-Hill’s attorney, Rick Hitchcock, said he believes the case is likely go to trial again.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the state environment department, agreed.

“We’re pleased ... and believe the Court of Appeals laid down good guidelines for the trial court to use in further consideration of this case,” she said.

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