|This map, from a previous zoning hearing, shows the proximity|
of the quarry expansion approved last night to the pollution site
at Good's Oil, identified inside the red circle.
The 4-0 vote came with more than 15 conditions that will be imposed on the expansion, which is not likely to begin actual operations for four to five more years, according to an estimate by Stephen Harris, Gibraltar’s long-time attorney.
“We can’t vote how we feel about this application. We are bound by the constraints of the law,” said Zoning Chairman Mark Wylie in announcing the decision.
Ultimately, the question came down to the threat posed by polluted groundwater pollution at the former Good’s Oil site off Route 663, and what impact the expanded quarry operation would have on its movement underground, said Wylie.
He said the testimony offered over about two years of testimony by experts for Gibraltar, the township and Paradise Watchdogs/Ban the Quarry was all credible.
Because the pollution plume is moving slowly southwest underground, away from the quarry expansion site, Wylie it would have been legally difficult to deny permission to expand based on any potential risk.
Rowan Keenan, attorney for the Ban the Quarry group said he understood why the zoning board made the choice it did — because it allow them to impose numerous conditions, such as screening, replacing well water and complying with a federal limit on the suspected carcinogen 1,4 dioxane should the Environmental Protection Agency ever get around to imposing one.
Had they denied the “special exception” required, Gibraltar could have appealed that decision and over-turned it, and there would be no conditions at all.
Celeste Bish, president of Paradise Watchdogs/Ban the Quarry — a citizens group which has opposed every stage of the quarry for nearly 20 years — agreed with Keenan’s analysis.
“We’re certainly disappointed, but we understand why the zoning hearing board made the decision it did, to be able to impose conditions,” she said.
Although, Keenan pointed out, not only can he or the township’s special solicitor Robert Brant appeal the decision, but they or Gibraltar can also appeal the conditions.
Harris said he had been “cautiously optimistic” about the decision coming into the final lap, adding “although it wouldn’t surprise me if Ban the Qaurry filed an appeal.”
|These maps show Hoffmansville Road running between the quarry pits.|
Earlier this week, Gibraltar submitted its final site plan for the original parcel south of Hoffmansville Road, known as GB-1, over which many legal battles and public hearings have been fought.
In 2007, the township’s zoning board of appeals granted the company permission to open the quarry on 163 acres bounded by Route 73, Hoffmansville Road and Church Road, but with a number of restrictions to which the company objected.
The company went to court, arguing among other things, the state’s non-coal mining law pre-empted the necessity of going through the township’s land development process, but lost that fight.
The preliminary site plan approval for the first quarry site dates back to 2015.
The quarry has a second digging site north of Hoffmansville Road and a tunnel will be dug beneath the road to move rock from this second site to the crushing machine on the first.
What the zoning hearing board approved Thursday is a third site, also north of Hoffmansville Road and adjacent to the second on one side, and to the former Good’s Oil property on the other.
It is located on 18 acres Gibraltar purchased for $800,000 in November, 2014 from a trust owned by the Good family.
|New Hanover Zoning Hearing Board Chairman Mark Wylie|
The affect the most recently approved operation will have on that contamination has been the focus of most of the hearings.
Wylie noted it will be approximately 15 years before the digging there is deep enough to reach groundwater and require the pumping some fear will alter the course of the pollution plume and release it into a tributary of Swamp Creek.
With 15 years of monitoring well data in hand before the problem emerges, Wylie said the township, the state and Gibraltar can be ready.
“Of course we don’t think that de-watering will draw in the pollution, but we’ve spent years asking ourselves ‘what if,’” Harris said, noting that treatment systems exist and would be implemented for whatever type of pollution, if any, ultimately appears.
Here are what few Tweets there were from the all-too-brief meeting.