Quarry opponents join appeal
NEW HANOVER » The citizens group that has opposed the Gibraltar Rock quarry since it was first proposed 17 years ago has joined the township’s appeal of a state mining permit granted in July.
Paradise Watchdogs/Ban the Quarry are also soliciting the help of state elected officials in their effort.
In identical Aug. 20 letters sent to both state Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24th Dist, and state Rep. Marcy Toepel, R-147th Dist. — both of whom are up for reelection in November — the group pleaded with them for help
“We know you cannot intervene in the appeal, but there must be something you can do to protect the citizens and the waters of the Commonwealth: Swamp Creek, Scioto Creek, Perkiomen Creek, Schuylkill River,” Celeste Bish, president of Paradise Watchdogs, wrote in the letters to both legislators.
Pointing to the proximity of the contaminated groundwater site at the former Good’s Oil off Route 663 to the quarry site, and what the group and the township sees as the potential for quarry blasting and groundwater pumping to draw those chemicals into the open, Bish’s
letter asks Mensch and Toepel to “author a bill to authorize the Commonwealth to condemn the (quarry’s) land and prevent further spread of these toxins to the people, the air, and the waters of the Commonwealth?”
The potential for those chemical contaminants to be drawn to the surface and discharged into an unnamed tributary of Swamp Creek as part of the quarry’s operation serves as a large portion of the objections for both the township and Paradise Watchdogs’ appeal of the mining permit. The township’s appeal was filed July 31 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.
He has previously said he expected both appeals to be filed.
What the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection 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.
The site south of Hoffmansville Road is a proposed 241-acre rock quarry and crushing operation on 302 acres of land.
In 2015, Gibraltar Rock purchased 82 acres adjacent to the Good’s Oil site, moving potential quarry operations even closer to the site of the groundwater contamination which ultimately resulted in a $2 million extension of the public water system to 27 homes whose wells had been contaminated.
That contamination was so severe, Paradise Watchdogs argues in its appeal, that in 2012, the DEP “refused to allow any pumping of water to the surface, even to water a garden or lawns, yet they are willing to permit the quarry to pump millions of gallons to the surface.”
“The wells in and around the permit area have tested 10 to 600 times above health-based screenings for dangerous toxins and hazardous wastes,” the appeal argues.
The capping of the residential wells and the huge pull from the quarry’s pumping operation will likely draw that pollution toward the quarry and dump it into the stream which ultimately feeds Perkiomen Creek and the Schuylkill River, which is a public drinking water source for more than one million people downstream, according to the appeal.
“Despite knowing the scope and severity of toxic pollutants in, or an around the permit area, the quarry stated in its NPDES application that it does not expect any toxic pollutants or hazardous substances to be present in the discharge,” according to the appeal. “The environmental harm which will result from the permit renewals clearly outweigh the benefits derived from permitting the quarry.”
The conditions on the permit renewal do require the Quarry to conduct regular testing of the water pulled from the ground, and to take measures should it prove to be contaminated beyond health standards.
But those measures are inadequate, according to the Paradise Watchdogs appeal: “The permits fail to adequately protect and safeguard against the danger of pollution from the Hoff VC site spreading to the waters and air of the Commonwealth and the drinking water supply of nearby residents and appellant of the surrounding area as a result of the operation of the quarry.”
In the meantime, the Gibraltar Rock will continue to press forward, Harris said last month.
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.”
The impact a proposed expansion of the Gibraltar Rock Quarry would have on groundwater pollution at the adjacent lot, once owned by Good’s Oil Co., is central to the township’s appeal of the issuing of a state mining permit.
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 on final site plan approval.
A stop work order prevented a 2009 attempt by Gibraltar Rock to begin preparing the site off Route 73 for quarry operations.