Quarry per­mit ap­pealed

Town­ship ar­gues Gi­bral­tar Quarry’s min­ing per­mit will not pro­tect from pol­lu­tion at ad­ja­cent site

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

An at­tor­ney for the town­ship filed a le­gal ob­jec­tion to a July 3 min­ing per­mit is­sued to the Gi­bral­tar Quarry, thus open­ing yet an­other chap­ter in the 17-year-long le­gal bat­tle.

Town­ship su­per­vi­sors unan­i­mously ap­proved the fil­ing of the ap­peal in a vote taken late alst month.

In the ap­peal filed by Robert Brant, the town­ship’s spe­cial coun­sel on le­gal is­sues con­cern­ing the quarry, he ar­gues that pro­tec­tions for the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health con­tained in the 12-page non-coal min­ing per­mit is­sued by the Pottsville min­ing of­fice of the Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion are in­ad­e­quate.

The ap­peal was filed with the En­vi­ron­men­tal Hear­ing Board, a state board staffed by five ad­min­is­tra­tive law judges who over­see dis­putes with the DEP and will de­cide the mer­its of the ap­peal.

No mat­ter what the board de­cides, ei­ther side un­happy with the re­sult can sub­se­quently ap­peal that de­ci­sion to Com­mon­wealth Court, a process which Stephen Har­ris, the at­tor­ney for Gi­bral­tar Rock, es­ti­mated will take 12 to 18 months.

What the DEP is­sued is ac­tu­ally the re­newal of a per­mit first is­sued in 2005. It was re­newed in 2015 and is for the orig­i­nal quarry pro­posal, lo­cated on land south of Hoff­mansville Road, north of Route 73 and west of Church Road, known as GR-1 and the ad­di­tional prop­erty in­cluded in its first pro­posed ex­pan­sion, known as GR-2.

The com­bined site south of Hoff­mansville Road is a pro­posed 241-acre rock quarry and crush­ing op­er­a­tion on 302 acres of land.

Sub­se­quently, Gi­bral­tar pur­chased prop­erty and filed plans for an ex­pan­sion on 82 acres on the north side of Hoff­mans-

ville Road, also bounded by Church Road to the east and Cole­flesh Road to the north. That 82 acres now in­cludes a fourth ex­pan­sion on 18 ad­ja­cent acres, known as GR-4. The 18 acres is ad­ja­cent to the pol­lu­tion site that has be­come the cen­ter of many of the town­ship’s le­gal ob­jec­tions.

Gi­bral­tar’s plans call for rock mined from GR-3 and GR-4 to be car­ried be­neath Hoff­mansville Road on a con­veyer belt for crush­ing and pro­cess­ing on the GR-1 site.

Much of Brant’s ar­gu­ment against the per­mit re­newal re­volves around the un­der­ground chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion dis­cov­ered in 2011 at a nearby prop­erty off Route 663, for­merly Good’s Oil. That con­tam­i­na­tion ul­ti­mately spread through ground­wa­ter and re­quired a $2 mil­lion ex­pan­sion of the pub­lic wa­ter sys­tem for those whose wells were con­tam­i­nated.

The state de­ter­mined in 2013 that the prop­erty, now known as the Hoff VC site, is the source of vo­latile or­ganic com­pound chem­i­cal con­tam­i­na­tion of a num­ber of res­i­den­tial wells. The DEP says pol­lu­tion likely came from an un­der­ground pit from which 8,000 gal­lons of chem­i­cals was ex­tracted and burned in 2016 as part of a clean-up there although there may be other sources as well.

Sev­eral of the con­tam­i­nants from that site were found in an ob­ser­va­tion well just 200 feet from the quarry pit that is sub­ject to the per­mit, Brant wrote in his ap­peal.

The town­ship wor­ries that the quarry op­er­a­tion, which will re­quire pump­ing the sev­eral thou­sand gal­lons of ground­wa­ter that will seep into the both quarry pits each day into a hold­ing basin and then into an un­named trib­u­tary of Swamp Creek, will draw the ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion out into the open.

“The per­mits fail to ad­e­quately pro­tect and safe­guard against dan­ger of pol­lu­tion from the Hoff VC site spread­ing to the wa­ters of the Com­mon­wealth and the drink­ing wa­ter sup­ply of the res­i­dents of the town­ship as the re­sult of the op­er­a­tion of the quarry,” Brant wrote.

The hy­dro-ge­o­log­i­cal study called a “fate and trans­port study” un­der­taken by EarthRes, con­sul­tants for Gi­bral­tar, “is flawed and in­ac­cu­rate,” ac­cord­ing to the ap­peal. And so the is­suance of a per­mit based on its find­ings puts the pub­lic and wa­ters of the Com­mon­wealth in dan­ger of dam­age from pol­lu­tion, Brant wrote.

That study was cen­tral to the ar­gu­ment be­fore the town­ship zon­ing hear­ing board last year in Gi­bral­tar’s bid to ex­pand the quarry — which has yet to pro­duce a sin­gle stone for con­struc­tion — onto the 18 ad­di­tional acres pur­chased in 2014 for $800,000 from Ethan Good. That prop­erty is even closer to the con­tam­i­na­tion site than the 241 acres that are the sub­ject of the most re­cent per­mit.

Both the town­ship and the ad­vo­cacy group Ban the Quarry/Par­adise Watch­dogs pro­vided stud­ies from their own ex­perts who tes­ti­fied quarry op­er­a­tions could cause the con­tam­i­na­tion from the for­mer Good’s Oil site to mi­grate to other prop­er­ties and to the sur­face, where it could be dis­charged into a nearby trib­u­tary of Swamp Creek, which emp­ties into Perkiomen Creek, a pub­lic drink­ing wa­ter source.

Last Septem­ber, af­ter 20 hear­ings that stretched from April of 2015 to Au­gust of 2017, the zon­ing board unan­i­mously ap­proved the ex­pan­sion of the quarry, but at­tached 15 con­di­tions that must be met.

Two weeks later, the board of su­per­vi­sors voted unan­i­mously to ap­peal the zon­ing ap­proval, a le­gal fight now be­ing fought on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent front.

The per­mit does ad­dress some of the pol­lu­tion con­cerns raised in Brant’s ap­peal.

For ex­am­ple, con­di­tions in the per­mit note that should an un­ex­pected change oc­cur in the ground­wa­ter or sur­face wa­ter con­di­tions, or there is “a pat­tern of well com­plaints” that Gi­bral­tar my have to ap­ply for a “ma­jor per­mit re­vi­sion” be­fore mov­ing on to the next quarry level.

Fur­ther, in ad­di­tion to monthly wa­ter sam­pling re­quire­ments, the per­mit notes that quarry op­er­a­tions could be halted and the per­mit re­scinded, should “un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances” re­lated to the pol­lu­tion de­velop.

But Brant’s ap­peal ar­gues such pro­vi­sions are too lit­tle, too late as the dam­age will al­ready have oc­curred in­stead of be­ing prevented in the first place.

“The mon­i­tor­ing re­quire­ments of the per­mits will pro­vide con­cen­tra­tions of con­tam­i­nants af­ter the fact of pol­lu­tion en­ter­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and will not pre­vent the con­tam­i­na­tion from spread­ing,” he wrote.

In the ap­peal, Brant also ar­gued the plan for clean­ing up the site, and the $1.4 mil­lion bond posted to en­sure that work is done prop­erly, is also in­ad­e­quate.

Har­ris said the town­ship’s per­mit ap­peal “cer­tainly did not come a sur­prise,” as it is all part of the an­tic­i­pated le­gal chal­lenges to a new quarry pro­posal.

“This is my fourth green­fields quarry project and I used to say it would take seven to eight years, but I now tell my clients it will take 12 to 14 years and lots of money,” Har­ris said. “Any­body in the quar­ry­ing busi­ness knows they are look­ing at a project like this as a long-range project.”

The next step, he said, will be for Gi­bral­tar Rock to file its fi­nal site plan ap­proval with the town­ship su­per­vi­sors.

In 2015, the town­ship su­per­vi­sors voted 3-2 to grant pre­lim­i­nary site plan ap­proval for the first phase of the project and since then, the town­ship plan­ning com­mis­sion has rec­om­mended fi­nal site plan ap­proval, Har­ris said.

“But we said we would wait to sub­mit for fi­nal site plan ap­proval un­til we re­ceived our min­ing per­mit, which we now have,” he said.

Har­ris said he an­tic­i­pates the town­ship su­per­vi­sors will con­sider the mat­ter “at one of their Septem­ber meet­ings.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

A stop work or­der prevented a 2009 at­tempt by Gi­bral­tar Rock to be­gin pre­par­ing the site off Route 73 for quarry op­er­a­tions.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

The site plan for two of the four Gi­bral­tar Rock parcels which re­ceived pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval from the New Hanover Su­per­vi­sors in 2015 and will soon be up for an­other vote.

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