Residents object to quarry expansion
Worried about operation expanding groundwater pollution
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.