Gurley gets big win in long-running dispute over efforts to block rock quarry

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --  The town of Gurley won a major court decision Friday in a long running dispute over its efforts to block a rock quarry’s construction in the town.

M&N Materials’ federal lawsuit alleging Gurley had improperly “taken” its property without compensation -- by annexing it into the city and putting zoning restrictions on it – was thrown out by  U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith.

Smith granted Gurley summary judgment in the dispute. M&N has 30 days to appeal the decision. M&N’s attorneys did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

Gurley was represented by Huntsville attorneys David Canupp and George Royer and Angela Shields of Birmingham.

The decision is a long way from the situation Gurley faced in 2011, when a Madison County jury had agreed with M&N’s arguments and awarded the company damages of $2.75 million, plus lawyer fees and interest.

Gurley appealed the judgment, but also met with bankruptcy attorneys. Officials of the town of 900 residents said in 2011 that if the judgment – totaling nearly $5 million – was upheld, bankruptcy was the only viable option.

But the Alabama Supreme Court did reverse the verdict, finding Alabama municipalities have broad powers of condemnation of property and noting that Gurley didn’t physically disturb the property as Alabama law requires.

M&N filed a federal takings lawsuit early last year. Gurley argued the company, which sold the disputed property to Vulcan for $1 million, no longer had an interest in the property. The town also argued federal law requires that the injured party show that they lost most or all of the value of their property. Smith said that wasn’t the case with M&N.

The judge also found that Gurley’s moves to annex the 266 acres of property into the town limits, block development on the property during a land use study and later rezone it for agricultural use, which barred construction of a quarry, were justified on its cited concerns of public health and safety.

Vulcan, which bought the property from M&N, has built a rock quarry on the other side of Gurley Mountain. It doesn’t face the town, as the original quarry site would have, town officials pointed out.