Despite years of protracted legal action by the citizen’s group Paradise Watchdogs/Ban the Quarry against Gibraltar Rock, Inc. in New Hanover Township, a local resident at the July 13 planning commission meeting says he believes most township residents are not opposed to the quarry.
Gibraltar, part of the Silvi Group Companies, is seeking the township’s approval of a plan to develop operations for a hard rock quarry, rock-crushing facility, asphalt plant and ready-mix concrete plant. The company was issued a mining permit by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2005 to quarry at a 163-acre site known as Gibraltar Rock I, located off Layfield, Big and Coleflesh roads.
However, Gibraltar failed to file a land development application and plan with the township and was ordered by a Montgomery Country Court of Common Pleas judge to stop operations until township approval was obtained.
Stanley Brooks, who lives at the intersection of Hoffmansville and Church roads, said that while he doesn’t “want that quarry” across the street from his residence, he believes operations at the site should begin. Brooks said he believes that participation by Ban the Quarry members at planning commission meeting could be “skewing” commission members’ views “about what the public really thinks.”
“Everybody I talk to, they couldn’t care less,” Brooks said. Referring to the quarry site plan on display at the meeting, Brooks said, “If [people associated with Ban the Quarry] can’t walk up there and point to a lot that is facing [the quarry], I don’t think you should value that too much.”
Brooks also suggested that his three sons could potentially get jobs at the quarry in the future. “I have three kids here who are going to need jobs,” he said, asking, “What is the hold up?”
Brooks offered to provide township officials with a petition showing that many residents are not opposed to the quarry operating in the area.
Panel member Susan Smith responded to Brooks’ comments by saying that the commission is focused on the details of the plan to ensure that the quarry “is safe and has the correct type of impact” on the township.
“As best we can, we try to make this an impartial review process,” Commission Chairman Richard Mulstay said. ”And our main concern is compliance with township ordinances.”
Celeste Bish, a citizen involved with Ban the Quarry, in an email said that Brooks is “uninformed.” According to Bish, Ban the Quarry has submitted a number of petitions over the past decade opposing the quarry that collectively have been signed by about 2,500 New Hanover residents, which represents about a third of the adult voting population in the township. Bish also said Ban the Quarry has a continuous petition that residents can sign on its website.
In addition, Bish disputed Brooks’ claims that most property owners bordering the quarry are indifferent to the site becoming active. In the email, Bish said several of the property owners have participated in Ban the Quarry events and that other residents have hired attorneys to represent their interests against the quarry.
Bish also disputed Brooks’ contention that Ban the Quarry is trying to prevent all operations at the site. “It’s not about not wanting this operation, it’s about requiring a developer to abide by local laws,” she said.
Meanwhile, Gibraltar attorney Stephen Harris at the meeting outlined several proposed changes to the site plan that seek to satisfy local ordinances. The changes will require approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) before they can be submitted to the planning commission.
At previous meetings, Harris sought a series of waivers to release the quarry from a number of ordinances, saying that the company’s mining permit precluded it from having to abide by certain local laws. Harris maintains that the permit still supersedes some local ordinances, but said the company is willing to comply with the laws so that operations can begin and more legal action can be avoided.
According to Harris, the amended plan will reroute a proposed bicycling trail to Hoffmansville Road. The original plan called for the bike trail to be located on routes 663 and 73, but the plan would have left the trail disjointed at several locations. It is unknown whether DEP will sign off on the bike trail plan.
In addition, Harris outlined a stormwater runoff plan that would set up a series of sediment traps, which he said would reduce post-development sentiment discharge to 50 percent of pre-development levels to be consistent with local ordinances. Harris said that although the sediment traps are “somewhat inconsistent” with the way the township is accustomed to controlling stormwater, the plan is line with DEP requirements.
Harris also said Gibraltar would widen Hoffmansville and Church roads in compliance with local ordinances. In addition, the driveway to the quarry will be located off of Route 73 in accordance with a zoning board ruling, Harris said.
Although there are a number of other issues remaining before the commission will sign off on the plan, panel members expressed gratitude that Gibraltar was willing to make some of the discussed changes.
Township Planner Adam Supplee said, “I appreciate you fitting in [the bike path] the best you can with what’s available.”
Solicitor Paul Bauer III also said he appreciates “the attempts you’re making to comply with the ordinance,“ adding that he will submit a letter to DEP outlining the reasons the township wants the quarry to comply with local laws.
However, Christopher Mullaney of Mullaney Law Offices, who represents Ban the Quarry, said that while the proposed changes represent “a half step in the right direction ... there’s much more to go.”
He added that he doesn’t think the “commission should have any sympathy for the quarry at all” because Gibraltar first filed a mining permit before seeking approval from the township.
Mullaney continued, “To answer Mr. Brooks’ question, if the quarry merely followed all the ordinances, they would be digging right now. So I think you’re being buffaloed by the quarry, and not getting a straight answer.”
Harris said he would submit the plan revisions to DEP and could be back at next month’s meeting with a plan that also shows the subdivision of land for the asphalt and cement plants on the property.