Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Discharge, Distrust and Polluted Groundwater

Photo by Evan Brandt
What remained of the crowd by the time it came for the formal public haring for the renewal of the NPDES permit for the Gibraltar Rock Quarry in the auditorium of Boyertown Junior High East Tuesday.

The public hearing Tuesday evening for the renewal of the discharge permit for the proposed Gibraltar Rock Quarry was part town hall and part formal hearing.

It began with a presentation of the reason everyone was there (which I missed) and then a parade of residents, officials, layers and experts talking about the wisdom of beginning operations of a rock quarry near to a site where groundwater contamination has been found.

It was broken into three parts.

The first and third parts were question and answer period, with residents asking questions and actually getting answers on the spot. But it was "off the record."

In the middle was the formal public hearing, with folks testifying, the court recorder taking it all down and officials from the Department of Environmental Protection saying "thank you for your comments."

Throughout it all, no one from the public came to speak in favor of the quarry, or the potential its operations have to discharge groundwater polluted with a dangerous alphabet soup of chemical pollutants into a stream that empties into Swamp Creek.

Photo by Evan Brandt
The Gibraltar Rock quarry maps to which speakers and experts referred.
Mostly, what people seemed to be trying to determine, was how bad the pollution is, what DEP is prepared to do about it, and the potential impact the quarry operations would have on the contamination seeping through the groundwater at the former Good's Oil site off Layfield Road (Route 663).

What was also clear is that the experts do not seem to agree.

While the expert from EarthRes, the firm hired by Gibraltar to study the area assured residents and officials the contaminated groundwater from Good's is moving away from the site, the engineering firm and consultant hired by New Hanover Township asserted the opposite.

And, not surprisingly, it also became increasingly clear how the entire issue has been compartmentalized within DEP, so that only certain aspects of the proposed quarry and its proximity to the contaminated site are considered at any one time, by any particular agency.

So while resident after resident came to the microphone to talk about their concerns about the potential contamination and impact of the quarry operations, they were repeatedly told something like: "we're only here to discuss the NPDES permit, please confine your comments to that issue."

FYI, NPDES stands for -- ironically perhaps -- the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and is a federal permit, administered by the state, to protect the nation's rivers and streams from too much pollution.

Nothing was resolved, the state insists it is still undecided about renewing the discharge permit, or the mining permit.

What was learned, however, from DEP official Ragesh Patel, that the state plans to reveal its plans for cleaning up the Good's Oil site by the end of the year, or early in 2017.

So without further ado, we present the Tweets -- and mostly the preserved live video from the hearing's various parts:

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