Don't muzzle quarry foe

March 05, 2004

Should a supervisor for St. Thomas, Pa., have to abstain from voting on a proposed quarry off U.S. 30 just because he campaigned against the idea?

We say no. Unlike judges, elected officials aren't required to be neutral. And if the company that wants to build the quarry can make the case on its merits, it should do so, instead of hinting at possible litigation.

In April of 2003, the St. Thomas Development Corp., an affiliate of Tony DePaul and Son of Blue Bell, Pa., purchased the 381-acre Mountain Brook Orchard, located northwest of St. Thomas, for $2 million.

St. Thomas residents later learned that the firm planned to use 180 acres of the property as a limestone quarry and would build concrete and asphalt plants there as well.


Dr. Gregg Brady, an opponent of the plan, said that based on documents the company had filed with the state's Department of the Environment, there could be hundreds of dump trucks going up and down U.S. 30 every day.

The residents have been hampered in their fight, according to state Sen. Terry Punt, because the muncipality doesn't have zoning. Ironically, zoning was passed in 1992, but the supervisors repealed it a few years later.

That didn't stop Frank Stearn, who ran a write-in campaign, beating incumbent David C. Ramer in February by 18 votes out of more than 1,000 cast. During his campaign, he was an outspoken foe of the quarry.

Now an attorney for the developer has written a letter saying that courts have ruled that officials should recuse themselves from voting on matters in which they had a "particular personal or pecuniary interest."

Attorney Bryan Salzmann noted that in 1962, a supervisor who had also opposed a quarry as part of a citizen group was precluded from voting on the issue.

An attempt to stop elected officials from acting on issues about which they've previously spoken would be an assault on the democratic process. Candidates couldn't make promises on what they'd do and would be reduced to telling the voters to "just trust me."

Stearn cited a 2002 amendment to the township code that would seem to allow him to vote, even though he's already expressed an opinion.

That's as it should be. If the quarry people have a case, let the people's representatives hear it and vote on it.

The Herald-Mail Articles