Quarry meeting features song, cash and PBS

February 16, 2005|by DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - Tuesday night's public meeting by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on a proposed quarry in St. Thomas Township had all the trappings of political theater - residents in hard hats, men dressed in Colonial garb, a tarred and feathered mannequin, a theme song and money changing hands in front of PBS and other television cameras.

"Don't dig that hole, Don't scar this land," township resident Ed Beecher sang at the end of the almost three-hour meeting in the gymnasium of St. Thomas Elementary School. Beecher said he penned "Don't Dig A Hole in My Heart" a few months ago to express his feelings about a proposal to open a quarry about 1,000 feet west of the school.

Many of the approximately 150 people at the meeting wore yellow hard hats with stickers reading "Save Our Children" and several of those who spoke raised questions about blasting that will occur near the school if the department approves the surface mining permit for the 89.5-acre quarry.


That plan has been scaled down from the 183-acre operation originally proposed by St. Thomas Development Inc. and has been moved east to get the operation off a fault line in the limestone that could have affected groundwater surrounding the site the corporation purchased about two years ago.

"We reduced the quarry's footprint and moved it 400 feet off the fault," said Lou Vittorio, a hydrogeologist hired by the developer to study the water table. He said pump tests conducted last summer showed there was "no effect to off-site springs or wells" and that the aquifer is deep enough that it should not affect wells in the area.

Resident Fred Walls said he had an independent test done that showed the pump tests did lower the groundwater in his well. Patricia Walls asked if Tony DePaul, the owner of the company that owns St. Thomas Development Inc., would reimburse them for the $175 cost of the test.

"Happy to," DePaul said. He handed her $180 in $20 bills as a Public Broadcasting System television crew recorded the scene.

Cheryl Stearn, wife of Township Supervisor Frank Stearn, said the crew was there to record the meeting for a segment that will air on the PBS program "NOW" this Friday. She said the piece focuses on a lawsuit filed by the township and her husband against the developers after a law firm representing the quarry sent a letter to the township last year stating that Stearn should not vote on quarry issues because of his bias against the project.

Stearn was elected as a write-in candidate in 2003, defeating an incumbent supervisor.

Fran Calverase, the president of Friends and Residents of St. Thomas, or FROST, summed up his objections to the quarry in three words: "Location, location, location."

Calverase said the site in a former orchard is unsuitable for a quarry because of water problems, caves and sinkholes in the limestone formation. It also is too close to the school, he said, noting that a man was killed by flying rock 700 feet away from a quarry detonation in Lancaster County in 1999.

Another company previously looked at the site as the possible location of a quarry and deemed it unsuitable, he said.

Township Supervisor Ed Herald said the township was still evaluating the data, but has several concerns.

"Downstream flow of water is still a concern," Herald said. "We don't want to flood out any of the farmers."

Turbidity in the water pumped out of the quarry, which eventually would reach 280 feet in depth, is also a concern, as is the effect on air quality from blasting and the operation of asphalt and concrete plants at the quarry, he said.

"It appears that whatever model gave the most positive results, not necessarily the most accurate results, was used," Herald said of the studies conducted by the developer.

Representatives of the developer said it will be responsible for any adverse effects to water and property and department officials said the quarry will be held to all air and water quality standards.

Vittorio said the smaller quarry will pump out about half the 1.8 million gallons a day previously estimated and it should not affect the flow in Campbell's Run, the waterway where the water will be discharged.

Keith Laslow of the Department of Environmental Protection Pottsville District Mining office, said the department will probably need another three months before its decides on whether to acceot or deny the permit.

Eugene P. Macri Jr., an aquatic and environmental scientist who has volunteered to help FROST, called the developer's figures "low-ball estimates" and predicted damage to aquatic life downstream.

"The community does not want this project and that's where it should stop," said Bill Belitskus of McKean County, vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Network. He said there is no statute "allowing you to overrule a community."

The group Sons and Daughters of Liberty, with members from several counties wearing tri-corner hats, ended the meeting by tarring and feathering a mannequin representing the department in the parking lot.

Pennsylvania State Police were stationed outside the school. Department spokesman Kurt Knaus said it was done as a precaution because a large crowd with protesters was expected.

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