Friday, December 3, 2010
Quarry Quagmire, Part 2: New Hope Crushed Stone causing 'major problems' for homeowners and environment, says Solebury
The trout have died in Primrose Creek.
The creek originates near Solebury Village, and meets the Delaware River at Phillips Mill, a hamlet steeped in local art history and the site of a Colonial-era mill powered by the creek. The waterway is important not only due to its historical and artistic value but also because it sustains local flora and fauna. Virtually every home in the area depends on the creek as a water source, as do wetlands, fish, birds, and plants.
Two years ago, New Hope Crushed Stone and Lime submitted a request to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to excavate an additional 50 feet deeper at their quarry at the corner of River and Phillips Mill roads.
At that time, the growing number of lost wells, sink holes, and dry sections of Primrose Creek galvanized Solebury residents, officials, and environmental groups to speak up in opposition to the request, which is still pending before the PADEP.
"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," said the township. "Consequently, many residents have had to lower their well pumps, deepen their wells, or replace their wells."
Solebury Township went on to say 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, damaged wetlands and water pollution."
Other area 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 also concerned about damage from the quarry.
Kevin Morrissey, head of the Primrose Creek Watershed Association, explained that there has been a significant amount of analysis performed by Solebury Township consultants and the PADEP Aquatic Biology Unit in Norristown in recent years. "These studies have concluded that the quarry is taking more than their fair share of water resources," he said. "The experts have determined that this is an unsustainable condition that will continue to get worse.
"Some individuals have expressed the opinion that the mining interests in this state will overshadow other higher priority concerns such as the right of residents to have a safe and healthy environment for themselves and their children," added Morrissey.
"Our Association believes that the strong support shown by Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Mongomery) and Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks) for our efforts will communicate to the DEP Secretary and others in Harrisburg that the security of Pennsylvania residents takes precedence over an aging quarry," he continued.
Operations began in the quarry in the 1940s, and groundwater withdrawals began to increase in order to keep the quarry pit dry. In 1998, say environmentalists and Solebury Township, the Primrose Creek stream channel was removed on the quarry property with PADEP knowledge.
Ironically, in May 2009 a PADEP Aquatic Biology Unit study concurred with Solebury Township’s own study, detailing quarry effects like dewatering, sedimentation and erosion. One year later, the PADEP placed the Primrose Creek on the endangered list.
Environmental groups say they're concerned by the quarry's estimated average water consumption of three million gallons per day, which they believe is drawn from the Primrose and Aquetong watersheds and is ultimately expelled along with sediment into the Delaware River.
Said a Solebury resident living about one mile from the quarry, "Our well hasn't been affected yet, but our windows rattle with each blast on Wednesday mornings, our lawn is beginning to show waves and swells, and tree roots are suddenly being exposed."
Mining is big business in Pennsylvania, and while the Norristown office of the PADEP has confirmed that environmental damage has been caused by New Hope Crushed Stone, the department's Pottsville "Mining" office seems to enjoy a somewhat cozy relationship with the industry. In fact, mining has been designated by the PADEP as an "Industry of the Future", and "is important to Pennsylvania's economy and the needs and interests of PA's mining industry intersect significantly with the visions and roadmaps the mining industry developed with the Department of Energy’s Office of Industrial Technologies."
According to the U.S. Geological survey, Pennsylvania produces about $2 billion worth of coal annually, and nonfuel mineral production, including crushed stone and lime, accounts for more than $1 billion in annual production in the state.
So, after two years of weighing the quarry's request to dig even deeper, where does the PADEP now stand on the documented damage to the Primrose Creek and nearby wells, the formation of sink holes, and killing of local wildlife, and what are the department's planned next steps and overall position on the quarry and its continuing activities?
Says a PADEP spokesperson in a statement, "In touching base with our Watershed Management and Mining staff, I confirmed that we are still reviewing all the information and are discussing the matter with Solebury School officials and the quarry operator. Our mining folks advise that there have been no recent water losses noted."
The Solebury School?
Officials at the Solebury School acknowledged discussions with PADEP but declined any further comment. The prestigious private school is situated in close proximity to the quarry and neighbors say sink holes have appeared on its grounds.
And while Solebury Township may have once been in the vanguard of the fight for protection of its residents and land, including undertaking studies, legal action, and publicizing environmental concerns extensively on its Web site, the township now seems to be backing away from its prior commitment to resolving the overall quarry issue rapidly, say local environmentalists and political observers.
Some speculate that the results of last year's Board of Supervisors election may have tipped the balance of that group's composition in a manner detrimental to environmental concerns. Others familiar with the situation speculate that Solebury's budget is coming under pressure, and the township is now placing a higher priority on land development and growth of its tax base, as evidenced by the recent proposal for expanded commercial development near Logan Square.
Top Solebury officials did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this article.
Unfortunately, a geographic fault line connects the Aquetong Watershed to the quarry in question, say area conservationists. And that means New Hope and its water supply may be imperiled next as the PADEP lets its decision making process drag on.
As author Norman Maclean once said, "Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it."
Meanwhile, the trout are gone from what's left of Primrose Creek, its silty water flowing inexorably toward the Delaware River.