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St. Thomas Township weighs lawsuit over quarry letter

March 04, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - A letter from the attorney for the developer of a proposed quarry in St. Thomas Township hinting at possible litigation had the township board of supervisors discussing possible litigation of its own Wednesday afternoon.

The Feb. 18 letter from Bryan Salzmann, attorney for St. Thomas Development Inc., stated that Supervisor Frank Stearn should recuse himself from any votes on the quarry, concrete plant and asphalt plant off U.S. 30 west of the village of St. Thomas.

"Mr. Stearn has clearly exhibited bias in this matter," Salzmann wrote. "It would be best for all concerned that Supervisor Stearn disqualify and/or recuse himself at the earliest opportunity before a case of discrimination begins and before any votes in which he participates are challenged," he wrote.

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During a work session Wednesday, the board went into an executive session to discuss the letter, citing the possibility of litigation as one reason for going behind closed doors. Before going into closed session, however, township attorney John Lisko said it would be to discuss "possible litigation that might be initiated as a result of that letter."

At the end of the executive session, the supervisors declined to comment on what in the letter may have been cause for legal action.

Stearn was seated on the board last month after being declared the winner over incumbent David Ramer. Stearn ran a write-in campaign in the November election in which he campaigned against the quarry.

Salzmann's letter cited several cases in which the courts had ruled officials recuse themselves from voting on issues in which they had a "particular personal or pecuniary interest."

In a 1962 Chester County case Salzmann termed "strikingly similar," the court found a supervisor who lived near another quarry project and was a member of a citizens group opposing it was precluded from taking part in votes on the quarry.

"I am deeply concerned that Mr. Stearn's views against the quarry project and subsequent actions as a supervisor ... would be viewed as discriminatory in nature," Salzmann wrote. "It would be far better to prevent such a scenario from occurring than to litigate the matter later," he wrote.

Stearn, however, pointed out a 2002 amendment to the Second Class Township Code that states "a member of the board shall not be disqualified from voting on any issue before the board solely because the member has previously expressed an opinion on the issue in either an official or unofficial capacity."

"Sure it's a threat," Board Chairman Ed Herald said of Salzmann's letter. Herald said the letter talked about bias as opposed to opinion and indicated legal action in the case of Stearn taking part in a vote.

"We're still reviewing the letter," Herald said after the executive session. The board took no action after it reconvened.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has not given St. Thomas Development Inc. final approval for its quarry application. Herald said the department may schedule a public hearing on the application lather this month or in early April.

The supervisors have sent a letter to the department expressing concerns about the effect a quarry could have on air quality, noise, traffic and surface and groundwater systems.

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