The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Officials PSATS) posted an alert on Tuesday warning that Senate Bill 898 (SB 898) was once again before the Senate Appropriation Committee for possible action on Sept. 28.
SB 898 is legislation that would invalidate most local ordinances affecting quarries as it would amend the state’s “Noncoal Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act” with language providing that state laws would supersede all local ordinances and enactments purporting to regulate surface mining, except in the case of zoning.
The changes would take effect immediately upon passage of the bill and would apply to any subdivision and land development plan that is pending on or after that date. It could place many current quarry plans under consideration or in litigation under the direct control of the Commonwealth for the approval process.
According to the PSATS alert, “Local governments are required to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of its residents. They accomplish these functions through the enactment of local ordinances that contain reasonable guidelines and restrictions on all types of activity, including quarrying. By removing this capacity, SB 898 would severely cripple a township’s ability to mediate potential risks to its residents and the environment. It would also hamper its ability to plan for other aspects of development within the community.”
The alert came just days after the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board denied New Hanover Township’s appeal of the renewal of Gibraltar Rock’s NPDES permit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Gibraltar Rock is part of the Silvi Group Company. According to their website, the New Hanover site has 50,000,000 tons of reserves and is in the permitting process and is expected to go on line in the next few years.
A press release issued by New Hanover Township officials in May reported that the “Bill being proposed by Senator Robert Tomlinson was only introduced on March 25; just several months after Senator Tomlinson received large campaign contribution from both Lawrence and John Silvi, as well as Monique Silvi, owners of Gibraltar Rock Quarries.”
A check of the Senate Appropriations Committee calendar showed that the controversial bill wasn’t actually scheduled for action on Tuesday; rather it was listed on the schedule as “off the floor” which means “at the convenience of” Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-34) or, in his absence, Committee Vice Chairman Robert Tomlinson (R-6).
On Tuesday Senator Bob Mensch (R-24) expressed his continued opposition to the bill saying “it unnecessarily reduces the power and authority of the local municipalities. I continue to have concerns for what this legislation will do to similar situations across the state.”
Back in May Mensch issued a statement regarding a meeting he had with Tomlinson to discuss the bill and explain to him the terrible effect SB 898 would have for pending quarry disputes like Gibraltar Quarry in New Hanover Township as well as the adverse effect on several other pending quarry situations in his district and others throughout the Commonwealth.
Mensch said, “Senate Bill 898 would create a loophole that would virtually eliminate local government oversight of all pending quarry applications…[It] will unnecessarily eliminate the essential oversight of township governments in new quarry applications.”
At least two quarries have been proposed in Mensch’s Senatorial district; one in New Hanover Township and the other in Lower Milford Township.
As of yesterday morning, the next scheduled meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Oct. 12 for a public hearing on the impact of fiscal year 2011-12 General Appropriations Act and other various topics. The hearing will take place at Temple University’s Sullivan Hall-Feinstone Lounge, 1330 W. Polett Walk in Philadelphia. However, meetings can be called on shorter notice.
Interested people can monitor the schedule of the Senate Appropriations Committee at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/CO/SM/COSM.HTM.