Quarry op­po­nents join ap­peal

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

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.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

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.

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 on fi­nal site plan ap­proval.

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.

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