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Officials delay quarry decision in St. Thomas

October 16, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - The St. Thomas Township Board of Supervisors took no vote Wednesday on a proposed quarry operation, but opponents have retained the services of an environmental attorney who indicates that approval of the plan could lead to legal action against the township.

After about an hour of taking comments from the public, all of it against the quarry, asphalt plant and concrete plant proposed by St. Thomas Development Corp., board members David Ramer and Timothy Sollenberger voted to table consideration of the preliminary land development plan.

Supervisor Edmund G. Herald was not at the meeting and the board will consider the plan at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 5, at its public work session. The board had 90 days to act on the preliminary plan from the time it was submitted to the township in August, a deadline that expires Nov. 13.

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The township planning commission last week recommended the supervisors approve the plan and grant a waiver of the township subdivision and land development plan that it connect to the municipal sewer system.

Friends and Residents of St. Thomas, the group opposing the quarry, has retained attorney Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, who sent a letter dated Tuesday to Herald, the board chairman.

"We strenuously urge the supervisors not to take action on the preliminary plan due to concerns voiced by the township's own experts, as well as by residents of the township," Linzey wrote. The letter stated the geologist hired by the township to review geological and hydrological data on the site has informed the township planning commission that the rock is unstable and could pose a safety hazard.

Linzey wrote that geologist Wallace Koster informed the planning commission "that additional data collection is required to evaluate those potential safety hazards." More information also was needed to evaluate the effects of noise and truck traffic, as well as the impact on waterways from quarry operations.

The letter stated that approving the plan "at this premature stage, without incorporating the testimony of experts hired by St. Thomas Township itself ... would be an arbitrary action not supported by substantial evidence.

"As such, it would subject the township to potential liability in a suit brought by the residents of the township."

Frank Stearn, a quarry opponent who is running a write-in campaign in the Nov. 4 election for the seat Ramer holds, said the board should ask the developers for an extension or vote against the plan "simply on the basis that this is not your average subdivision plan ... It's far more complicated."

Stearn and others asked the board to take more time to weigh the information.

John Lisko, the attorney for the supervisors, said the opponents need to focus their efforts with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection because non-coal surface mining is regulated by the state.

State mining regulations, he said, preempt any local ordinances that attempt to regulate mining operations. He said a proposal to put a landfill in the township several years ago "was stopped at the state level."

Lisko said the board could ask the developers for an extension, but the company could refuse.

"If we don't act within 90 days, the plan will be deemed approved," he said.

Lance Kegerreis, an engineer representing the developers, said the company plans to submit its permit application to the state in December. If that happens on schedule, he said the department could hold a hearing on the permit application early next year, at which time interested parties could testify for or against the quarry.

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