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Proposed New Hanover Quarry Mining Permit Rescinded
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2020-04-29

            A ruling by a Commonwealth Environmental Hearing Board judge rescinded a mining permit previously issued to a Bucks County company hoping to quarry 241 acres in New Hanover. A local environmental watchdog group described it as a major victory for township residents. The lawyer for Paradise Watchdogs / Ban the Quarry described it as a death blow to the Silvi Group's bid to open the Gibraltar Rock Quarry.

            Chuck Garner, chair of the township's board of supervisors, called it a major victory for his community. He said municipal appeals are rarely upheld.

            "I'm very happy with the decision," Garner said Monday afternoon.

            An April 24 ruling, issued by Judge Bernard A. Labuskes, Jr., upheld a unanimous vote by the supervisors two years ago to appeal the renewal of the Gibraltar Rock non-coal mining permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Labuskes determined that the Silvi Group was not allowed to quarry a piece of property next to a hazardous site that has not yet been remediated and where two current remediation plans exist, according to a news release from the local watchdog group.

            According to Christopher Mullaney, the Red Hill attorney representing the environmental organization, the company could reapply for another permit or appeal the case to the Commonwealth Court.

            "Hopefully, (Silvi) will sell the land and go away," the lawyer said.

            However, the mining company plans on filing an appeal with the Commonwealth Court, according to Stephen B. Harris, a Warrington attorney representing the mining company. In an email message received Tuesday afternoon, the lawyer stated that his client will continue pursuing other avenues of relief to continue to pursue the permit for quarrying Gibraltar Rock's property, as well as the implementation of a blacktop plant and ready mix concrete plant.

            "Gibraltar Rock does not believe that this is the end of the project," Harris wrote.  "It will continue to seek approval for quarrying both south and north of Hoffmansville Road,"

            According to Mullaney, Pennsylvania's Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act prevents a mining operation from operating near a contaminated site. He said the judge essentially agreed with a similar position Mullaney and lawyers representing the township had argued.

            The proposed quarry – located between Church Road, Route 663 and Route 73 – is next to the former Swann Oil property, also known as the Hoff VC Super-Fund site. According to Mullaney, an underground plume of volatile organic chemicals – including 1,4-Dioxane, a synthetic industrial chemical that is capable of mixing in water, as well as multiple other hazardous substances – were identified in sentinel wells located 500 feet of the proposed quarry pits. He said the amount of chemicals discovered in recent tests has increased.

            Only a concrete vault on the property has been remediated, according to Mullaney. He wrote in a text message that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has not ruled out other possible source areas, especially since there were some chemicals detected in wells not found inside the vault.

            Following a five-day trial six months ago in Norristown, Labuskes determined that the quarry application is not complete because it does not describe how a discharge potentially containing hazardous substances will be treated. Further, the decision states that the applicant has not shown that the quarry can be operated without disturbance to the prevailing hydrologic balance, without deleterious changes in groundwater quality, and without causing water pollution in violation of the law.

            According to a news release from Paradise Watchdogs, the ruling found that the DEP violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by not fully considering the environmental effects of permitting the quarry next to the Hoff VC site, failing to act with prudence and impartiality as the trustee of Pennsylvania's public natural resources and erring by concluding that Gibraltar's operations could be reasonably accomplished in accordance with the law.

            The judge wrote that multiple hazardous contaminants would migrate into the groundwater from Gibraltar's quarry pumping, which constitutes presumptive evidence of potential pollution that cannot be permitted under current mining regulations. Additionally, he ruled that the DEP erred in concluding that the applicant had demonstrated that there would be no presumptive evidence of potential pollution of waters of the Commonwealth as a result of its mining activities next to the Hoff VC site, according to information written by Mullaney and provided by Paradise Watchdogs member Celeste Bish.

            According to Garner, the ruling may require the Silvi Group to reapply for a mining permit to resolve the issues addressed by the judge. The supervisor said he thought the municipality had a solid chance for success when the board voted unanimously on July 23, 2018, to appeal the decision.

            "We always look carefully at balancing spending money versus having a chance at success," Garner said. "This issue was very much worthwhile because I thought we had a pretty good case."


 

 

 

 

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