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Quarry Rezoning on Hold after Marlborough Hearing
Written by Ernie Quatrani, Correspondent
2024-04-17

            Marlborough residents had their say in front of the board of supervisors last week about the proposed rezoning of the Highway Materials, Inc. quarry in Perkiomenville. After the public hearing, the board declined to hold a vote on the matter.

            Before a large crowd in the township meeting room, HMI's lawyer Stephen Harris, of Harris & Harris, PC, summarized the reasons for the requested zoning changes noting that due to a decades-old court order, some of the quarry is regulated under "non-conforming use" rather than "heavy industrial".

            Harris stated that the proposed changes make "absolutely no revision to the boundaries of the quarry, of the ability to quarry in this area, but it does allow some additional quarrying in the area" on land already owned by HMI.

            The lawyer noted that the plan – which includes a donation to the township of three parcels totaling approximately 42 acres for preservation – was recommended by the Marlborough planning commission and that the joint comprehensive planning commission "found that the application was consistent with the regional comprehensive plan."

            Harris attempted to preempt a long-circulating rumor that the quarry was going to be turned into a landfill under the new zoning proposal.

            "That's not correct…it allows the quarry to be reclaimed with what's called 'reclamation fill' provided that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issues a permit to allow that."

            Harris stated that DEP guidelines define what can be used as reclamation fill and that testing and permitting would prevent hazardous materials from being dumped into the quarry.

            Later in the meeting, in response to a question from property owner Jon Emery, Harris averred that safeguards such as a load "sniffer", DEP regulations, pre-testing and certification of  large loads, and independent lab testing will prevent contamination problems.

            He also noted that there are currently no plans to fill the quarry with trucked-in materials.

            "At the moment the reclamation plan for the quarry is to allow it to fill up with water," Harris said. He also noted that DEP does not think there is enough water on the site to fill the quarry.

            Harris touted a few benefits that would come with rezoning the entire quarry to heavy industrial including the requirement for a "pre-blast," independent assessment–by request–of any dwelling within 1,000 feet of the "additional quarrying."

            HMI would then be responsible for any post-blast damage.

            Under the new zoning, there would be a 100-foot setback minimum from a road and 300 feet from an occupied dwelling.

            The DEP could also be called out to investigate property damage, such as to a sand mound, and hold HMI responsible. Seismographs are required on-site during blasting and the readings could be used in a claim of damage, according to Harris.

            The new ordinance would also regulate nighttime operations of the asphalt plant, and requires "a berm and planted buffering along Upper Ridge Road and Perkiomen Road be installed before mining occurs," said Harris.

            Emery asked about a potential increase in truck traffic and Harris predicted that the number of trucks going in and out would "basically remain the same."

            He said, "This application is not to increase the capacity of the [plant]. Production will remain the same."

            If reclamation does occur, based on his prior experience, Harris predicted that the same trucks hauling in reclamation materials during a mining operation would leave with a load of stones. He admitted, however, that truck traffic is governed by the economy. The plant is busier when construction is booming.

            Responding to resident John Pierson's question about potential effects on wells by mining operations, Harris said groundwater issues are related to the depth of the pit and not by proximity to operations.

            HMI will inspect and are required to remedy the problem if they deem quarrying caused the water issue.

            Harris said there are "monitoring wells around the quarry" and data is reported to DEP.

            Long-time HMI antagonist Hugh Brewster, a member of the Marlborough planning commission, who half-jokingly said he lives "in the quarry" when asked about his residential status, questioned the 100-foot setback stipulation, urging residents not to believe that "[b.s.]".

            Harris alluded to an incident between Brewster and HMI several years ago when Brewster tried to prevent blasting near his property and was warned off by DEP.

            The lawyer also stated that the new heavy industrial proposal would require enforcement of the 100-foot setback minimum, mandated by the township's zoning ordinance.

            Under the non-conforming use designation HMI has a setback minimum of 25 feet.

            Resident Tim Leach accused HMI of illegally piling up overburden, rock and soil removed to access ore, in residential areas.

            "Did you spend months and months and months illegally putting your overburden, which is a first step of quarrying, which is by DEP definition quarrying?" Leach asked.

            "You do what you want, when you want."

            Alan Stotz, HMI's operation manager, said the piling up of overburden was a "permitted use" in what is considered a "support area."

            "Our township let it happen," Leach retorted. "You falsely said it was going to be a riding rink and it's a 600-foot-high riding rink of overburden quarrying."

            HMI's reps denied any illegality.

            Bill Netsch, a 55-year neighbor of the quarry, claimed that the frequency of blasting has increased over the years and that blast monitors near his property are useless.

            "Come inside my basement when they blast. It makes a big difference. I have cracks in my cinder block wall. I have a crack in my floor. I can't prove that they did it, and they know it. You're leaving us at their mercy."

            Netsch urged the supervisors to protect the residents from HMI.

            "When are you going to start doing it?"

            Netsch sat down to applause from the audience after scolding HMI for being untrustworthy and unneighborly.

            The company did have one ally among the attendees. Eleanor Vallone disputed other residents' claims that water from the quarry is running into the Unami.

            "There are really serious blast controls," Vallone also stated.

            Vallone promoted the rezoning effort by pointing out it would give the township more control. "A non-conforming use is in nobody's best interest." She called HMI "the best neighbor we've ever had."

            Leach disputed Vallone's contention about flow into the Unami. He cited a "beach" of quarry stone on the bank of the Unami across from the plant. "That's just the stuff that's on the surface."

            Emery took the floor again to lament that residents have not been given enough time to study the proposal.

            "This has been before us since 2018 or 2019," board president Billy Hurst retorted, "in public meetings."

            Resident Marya Schoenholtz agreed with Vallone that the non-conforming designation does not protect residents. But, in her opinion, HMI is pushing for more land to blast on through rezoning.

            If and when the reclamation of the quarry begins Schoenholtz said an estimated 60-70 trucks a day, for 25 years, would be needed to fill the pit.

            Addressing the supervisors directly, Schoenholtz urged them to vote no on rezoning.

            "You have 3,000 people that you represent in this township. This document serves one party."

            Leach also addressed the supervisors. "When people make bad decisions, it's just a matter of time and they'll be plucked off, one at a time. You gotta make the right decisions because the people have power."

            Supervisor Brian Doremus reminded the meeting that any resident of the township can request a zoning change at any time, which is what HMI is doing. He also disputed Harris' estimate of truck traffic.

            Doremus added that any conditional use request concerning the property, such as a rumored auto salvage yard, would have to be approved by the supervisors.

             While Hurst expressed a desire to vote at the meeting, Doremus and supervisor Bill Jacobs felt that more time was needed to digest the pros and cons of the proposal and the discussion will be continued at the May 8 supervisors meeting beginning at 7 p.m.


 

 

 

 

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