Res­i­dents ob­ject to quarry ex­pan­sion

Wor­ried about oper­a­tion ex­pand­ing ground­wa­ter pol­lu­tion

The Boyertown Area Times - - LOCAL NEWS - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

NEW HANOVER >> For months, the tes­ti­mony at the zon­ing hear­ing on the pro­posed ex­pan­sion of the Gi­bral­tar Rock quarry has fea­tured lawyers ques­tion­ing ge­ol­o­gists and engi­neers.

More re­cently, that fo­cus has turned sharper as the po­ten­tial for the ground­wa­ter pump­ing at the quarry oper­a­tion to af­fect the plumes of ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion at the ad­ja­cent site of the for­mer Good’s Oil site off Route 663.

But that was not the case dur­ing the lat­est hear­ing held Thurs­day, Jan. 5.

The tes­ti­mony at this most lat­est meet­ing fi­nally of­fered the ev­ery­day res­i­dents of the re­gion — res­i­dents who fear their wells will also be poi­soned if the quarry oper­a­tion be­gins too soon — a chance to have their say.

None of the 11 peo­ple who tes­ti­fied spoke in fa­vor of the ex­pan­sion — at least not un­til the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion has com­pleted its clean-up of the oil site.

Not­ing that the New Hanover/Up­per Fred­er­ick Ele­men­tary School is just 3,000 feet from the pro­posed quarry borders, James Shelly, re­tired past of St. James Lutheran Church, in­voked the wa­ter sup­ply dis­as­ter in Flint, Mich. in his com­ments.

“It is so ob­vi­ous to me that this is such a lin­ger­ing cat­a­strophic tragedy that could hap­pen,” Shelly told the zon­ing hear­ing board. “This is not a good time to ap­prove this.”

Jesse Mayer, a res­i­dent for five years, said she has two chil­dren at that school and that any­thing which has the po­ten­tial of poi­son­ing the wa­ter sup­ply there should be pre­vented. For Kris­tan Lewis of Cole­flesh Road, the de­ci­sion comes down to a sim­ple risk vs. re­ward anal­y­sis, she told the zon­ing board.

And in this case, the risk of poi­son­ing wa­ter sup­plies and in­jur­ing peo­ple’s health is too high and re­ward, en­joyed en­tirely by Gi­bral­tar Rock, too low, she said.

“You are putting the health of the res­i­dents at risk by al­low­ing the quarry ex­pan­sion to go through,” Lewis told the zon­ing board.

Francine Ri­p­ley of Cole­flesh Road, told the zon­ing board that like doc­tors, their first re­spon­si­bil­ity is to “do no harm” to the com­mu­nity’s health and wa­ter sup­ply un­til the con­tam­i­na­tion is cleaned up.

Dur­ing pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony, an ex­pert hired by Gi­bral­tar Rock tes­ti­fied he did not think the pump­ing of 400,000 gal­lons of ground­wa­ter a day out of the quarry pit would draw any more con­tam­i­nated wa­ter into the open.

By con­trast, an ex­pert hired by New Hanover Town­ship tes­ti­fied that it was in­deed pos­si­ble that the quarry oper­a­tion would draw that wa­ter into the open. Fur­ther, he tes­ti­fied, that the treat­ment meth­ods Gi­bral­tar has pro­posed to deal with any con­tam­i­na­tion found in the ground­wa­ter is inad­e­quate to re­move it.

That is a par­tic­u­lar con­cern of Wil­liam “Ross” Snook, a new mem­ber of the town­ship’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee and a sci­en­tist who over­saw a haz­ardous waste dis­posal oper­a­tion in Hor­sham for 15 years.

He noted that it takes two weeks to test for one of the more vir­u­lent of the 29 con­tam­i­nants found in the wa­ter be­neath Good’s Oil — 1,4-diox­ane — and that the quarry does not have enough re­ten­tion ca­pac­ity to hold the wa­ter it pumps un­til it finds out of 1,4-diox­ane is present.

Not­ing it is listed as a sus­pected car­cino­gen, Snook said “there is no safe level” of ex­po­sure to 1,4-diox­ane, which moves quickly through ground­wa­ter and is hard to treat.

“You just get can­cer and then you die,” he tes­ti­fied.

Sev­eral peo­ple who live in the 40 homes and busi­ness where the well con­tam­i­na­tion was first dis­cov­ered have died or have can­cer, ac­cord­ing to Ce­leste Bish, who heads up the Ban the Quarry or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Too many peo­ple have died of can­cer. It’s just not worth the risk,” Bish said.

But when she tried to tes­tify to their names, she was stopped by Gi­bral­tar’s at­tor­ney, Stephen Har­ris, who suc­cess­fully ob­jected, ar­gu­ing she had no first­hand knowl­edge of those deaths — this de­spite their obit­u­ar­ies ap­pear­ing in the news­pa­per.

In fact sev­eral por­tions of tes­ti­mony both Snook and Bish had in­tended to give was blocked by Har­ris’ ob­jec­tions both on the grounds of rel­e­vance and on be­ing “hearsay.”

But Sherry Knight of Jes­sica Drive was per­mit­ted to quote the town­ship’s at­tor­ney Robert Brant from pre­vi­ous tes­ti­mony.

She said he put it best when he said “does any­one re­ally doubt those con­tam­i­nants are go­ing to end up in that quarry?”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt of that,” Knight said.

The next hear­ing has been ten­ta­tively sched­uled for Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m., al­though it may be post­poned to March 2.

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