Thursday, November 25, 2010

Quarry Quagmire: Fast, loud trucks are tip of iceberg say area groups, public officials

By Charlie Sahner

As previously reported, complaints persist of noisy, high-speed dump trucks and vans crossing over double yellow lines into opposite lanes, bumping or climbing curbs, bounding at high speed over quaint country bridges, and making loud, abrupt stops and turns along Route 32, or "River Road", as it is called in New Hope and surrounding areas.

One challenge is that while the drive leading from New Hope is considered one of the most beautiful in the country, the width of the highway also varies tremendously, often narrowing to almost a single lane in some sections, as it winds through historic towns and over aging bridges to the north and south. Additionally, driving on River Road through New Hope for some truckers is a way to avoid paying the toll at the Route 202 bridge crossing the Delaware River back to New Jersey.

Complicating the situation, River Road becomes Main Street in New Hope, and the same highway is suddenly shared with metered parking spaces, sidewalks crowded with visitors, and aging roadbeds and bridges.

Said State Representative Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks), "My wife and I recently had dinner outside at the Logan Inn and counted the number of trucks going by -- there were a lot more than you'd expect."

Representative O'Neill, along with State Senator Charles "Chuck" McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery) and others, have been instrumental in helping the New Hope Residents Association implement a weight limit on the Rabbit Run Bridge and reduce speed limits from 35 miles per hour to 25 at the northern and southern edges of the borough on Route 32.

Jim and Kathy Lyons of New Hope formed the group a few years ago to generate awareness about the noise, excessive speed and shear amount of trucks coming through the borough daily, many of them originating from the New Hope Crushed Stone quarry several miles north at River and Phillips Mill roads, they say.

The group first surveyed the number of trucks coming through New Hope daily on their way to and from the quarry, and produced a petition signed by over 400 residents protesting the amount of quarry truck traffic, speeding, and noise. The association then presented the petition and supporting information at New Hope Borough Council meetings, and met with successive local law enforcement administrations. "New Hope Borough Council gave us great support," says Jim Lyons.

But, still, the flow of loud, dusty, fast-moving trucks runs unabated to this day.

While localities like New Hope and Solebury are limited under state law from using radar-based speed detection equipment, Solebury Police have run unannounced joint truck checkpoints with State Police and seen some success, although communication between trucks drivers can be rapid in these situations, say those familiar with the industry.

And some municipalities in Pennsylvania have successfully moved to limit "Jake braking", or the use of compression release engine brakes by trucks, because they can produce an exceptionally loud, stacatto noise not unlike that of an amplified machine gun.

Nearby Lambertville has succeeded in virtually banning gravel trucks from its riverside road, Route 29, but only after a tragic accident there.

State Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery) pulled no punches in saying he doesn't want that to happen on this side of the river.

"I've long been an advocate of moving trucks off of local roads," he said.

"River Road should be a scenic road and not a road used to avoid tolls by trucking companies. These trucks are putting wear and tear on roads and bridges never meant for it," he added.

Perhaps even more ominous is what officials in Solebury Township have been saying about "the environmental impacts of New Hope Crushed Stone quarry".

"The mining activities of New Hope Crushed Stone have resulted in decreased ground water elevations and altered flow patterns throughout much of the Primrose Creek watershed and beyond its boundaries. Consequently, many residents have had to lower their well pumps, deepen their wells, or replace their wells," says the township.

Other area grassroots organizations and environmental groups like the Primrose Creek Watershed Association, Bucks County Trout Unlimited, the Delaware Riverkeeper, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Aquetong, Paunacussing and Pidcock Creek watershed associations, are monitoring the situation.

Public information provided by Solebury Township indicates that "removing the Primrose Creek stream channel on the quarry property and pumping ground water down to greater than 100 feet below sea level in the quarry pit has caused many major problems for home and property owners in the area" including damage to "potable supply wells" along with "land erosion, impacted fish community and aquatic ecology (trout, once numerous in the Primrose Creek, are no longer present), damaged wetlands and water pollution."

It gets worse: "A scientifically-based sampling and review of the Primrose Watershed characteristics in comparison to very similar areas in Aquetong Watershed is needed to ensure PADEP will regulate the quarry in a manner that does not impact the quality of life of the residents, as well as preserve and protect our natural resources."

Translation: Our neighbors to the south should keep one eye on their water supply and the other on the State Department of Environmental Protection because New Hope's next.

Says Lyons, "The situation at the New Hope Crushed Stone quarry is an environmental accident waiting to happen, if it has not already begun. The deeper the quarry is allowed to blast down, the void that it creates must be displaced with ground water due to the huge depth.

"The PA Department of Environmental Protection has allowed the quarry to continue. Where is this water coming from? Where are three million gallons of water a day going? The question really is: 'Department of Environmental Protection' --what 'protection'?” he continued.

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