Quarry permit appealed
Township argues Gibraltar Quarry’s mining permit will not protect from pollution at adjacent site
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.”
A stop work order prevented a 2009 attempt by Gibraltar Rock to begin preparing the site off Route 73 for quarry operations.
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.