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Pa. judge rules supervisor may vote on quarry issues

February 15, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - A Franklin County judge has ruled that a St. Thomas Township supervisor may vote on a proposed quarry, ending a two-year legal battle between the township and developer.

"I'm pleased that the court has seen fit to give me voting privileges," Supervisor Frank Stearn said Tuesday. "It was very difficult for me to fully engage in any discussion on the issues."

Judge Douglas Herman wrote in his opinion that Stearn's "personal opposition to the quarry project does not rise to the level which renders him unable to bring an impartial and objective mind to bear on the issue."

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Stearn, formerly a member of the quarry opposition group Friends and Resident of St. Thomas, or FROST, was elected in 2003 as a write-in candidate, defeating incumbent David Ramer. Herman wrote that Stearn based his campaign on opposing the project, but that the campaign was restrained and not inflammatory.

In February 2004, a law firm representing St. Thomas Development Inc. sent a letter to the township stating that Stearn "has clearly exhibited a bias in this matter" and should recuse himself from votes on the quarry.

The letter went on to state that quarry votes by Stearn "will be suspect at the least and void as a matter of law ... It would be far better to prevent such a scenario from occurring than to litigate the matter later."

The letter cited a "strikingly similar" 1962 case in which a supervisor in Chester County, Pa., was a member of a group opposing a quarry. A court found that the supervisor should not vote on matters pertaining to the quarry, according to the letter.

The township and Stearn subsequently brought a civil suit against the corporation, asking the court for a declaratory judgment as to whether Stearn may vote on quarry issues.

The dispute was the subject of a trial before Herman in September of last year. Stearn testified at the trial he would be able to follow the law and vote to approve the quarry project's final land development plan if it is issued a permit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and meets all the conditions and legal requirements of the township.

The board of supervisors approved a preliminary land development plan for the quarry prior to Stearn being sworn into office.

FROST President Francis Calverase said the ruling might be "a little late in the game" to have any effect on the outcome of the quarry dispute.

The township supervisors, representatives of FROST and the community have been invited to a meeting with Department of Environmental Protection officials in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Calverase said. He said he believes the meeting is a "heads up that they're going to approve" the operating permit for the quarry.

Calls to the attorney for St. Thomas Development Inc. and to the department were not returned Tuesday.

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