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Court Sinks Proposed New Hanover Quarry
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2024-05-15

            The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, in the case of Gibraltar Rock, Inc. vs the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), has decided to uphold a decision to rescind the permits issued to permit mining on their property in New Hanover Township.         

            For more than 20 years, Gibraltar Rock, Inc. has attempted to obtain and renew permits for rock quarrying on a 241-acre property in New Hanover Township.  They included a non-coal surface mining permit, a national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit, and an authorization to mine permit.  The permits were originally issued to Gibraltar Rock, Inc. in 2005.

            The township, along with citizens and citizens groups, including Paradise Watchdogs, Ban the Quarry, and John C. Aumen, opposed the development of the quarry.

            Litigation over zoning issues went on for several years and required permit extensions.  Gibraltar Rock, Inc. also needed to seek renewal of the NPDES permit.  

            In 2011, the DEP discovered that an adjacent property, known as the Hoff VC Site, along Layfield Road, was contaminated with hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOVS) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCS) as well as other pollutants that seeped into the groundwater.  That resulted in contamination of a number of residential drinking water wells in the area that included the property for Gibraltar Rock, Inc.

            According to the DEP, in the early 1970s, the Swann Oil company, which operated at the site, was cited several times by DEP's predecessor, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Health for illegal discharges of hazardous substances, including a chlorinated solvent, from a truck-wash to an unnamed tributary of Swamp Creek. Swann Oil also had several oil and kerosene spills during its operation.

            In the early 1990s, the Site was purchased by the Good Oil Company. The Good Oil Company removed many of the above-ground storage tanks and underground storage tanks (UST) improperly and punctured a UST while drilling a monitoring well. DEP's Storage Tanks Corrective Program filed orders and liens against Good Oil.

            In 2016 DEP discovered a concrete vault on the Hoff VC site containing various hazardous compounds that had never been remediated.

            After several years of back-and-forth legal actions, on July 2, 2018, the DEP renewed Gibraltar Rock's surface mining and NPDES permits.

            The township appealed again and five days of hearings were held.  Testimony was provided by licensed geologists who opined that pumping water at the quarry would draw contaminated groundwater at the Hovv VC Site eastward in the direction of the quarry and away from its generally westward flow.

            Three DEP employees testified and explained that the remediation of the concrete vault was completed and that DEP will continue sampling its monitoring wells at the site. But, they admitted that had they learned of the testimony of the licensed geologist's criticisms of the DEP's assessment, they would have required Gibraltar Rock to respond before rendering a decision.

            In the opinion written by Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough she wrote, in part, that the record contains ample support for the rescission of the permits.  There is substantial evidence supporting the board's findings pertaining to the lack of direction and momentum at the Hoff VC site. 

Testimony from DEP's own witnesses confirmed no immediate or specific plans for remediation.  The hearing before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board revealed that significant application information provided by Gibraltar Rock, Inc., and relied upon by the DEP proved to be unreliable or inaccurate.

            The court upheld the decision of the hearing board to rescind the permits.


 

 

 

 

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