The company that wants to reopen an old limestone quarry near Williamsburg has backed off those plans for now, under pressure from environmental groups and citizens concerned about endangered bats that hibernate in a cave at the site and a small invertebrate found nowhere else.
But the company plans to pursue its mining plans by applying again - this time to quarry a larger amount of stone, which power plants can use to clean up coal smoke emissions.
"We feel pretty happy," said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, which along with Juniata Valley Audubon, settled its lawsuit with Catharine Properties LLC, over the firm's initial application to take a small amount of stone.
"I'm not really happy," said company owner Clifford Wise of the Pittsburgh area. "But we're not going to walk away from this."
He plans to apply to the state Department of Environmental Protection in the summer to quarry a large amount, and hopes to be taking stone at the site by next year.
The Environmental Hearing Board recently approved the settlement, which called for the company not to pursue the permit it had obtained in exchange for the groups dropping their appeal of that permit for the old quarry near the Lower Trail and the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River.
The settlement doesn't hold if the company applies for the big-scale permit, Matteson said.
Still, the objections that motivated opponents initially will resurface - with even more justification, she said.
Workers can't quarry in that area without disturbing Heller cave, the opening of which was exposed by previous quarrying, last done in the 1920s, according to Matteson.
Disturbing the cave would stress eastern small-footed bats, adding to problems for the bats, which are under duress from white-nose syndrome, she said.
It would also risk wiping out the only population in the world of the Heller Cave springtail, first discovered in 1997, which probably evolved there over the millennia in that specialized environment, Matteson said.
The area of the quarry is also part of the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River Important Bird Area, according to a letter that local Audubon Chairman Stan Kotala sent to the Environmental Hearing Board in July 2010.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission called for a "total avoidance area" around Heller Cave that overlaps part of what the company designated for quarrying.
"I understand where they're coming from," Wise said. "[But] it's going to be done right."
Based on information he gleaned from a recent news article, he suggested that bats would be better off dealing with white-nose syndrome in man-made bat shelters than in caves, Wise said.
And he'd be willing to build them at the site, he said.
He dismissed the idea that his quarry would damage bird populations.
"Why do the birds like my 135 acres?" he asked.
There are 50 million tons of limestone at the site, enough for 100 years of quarrying, Wise said.