Sunday, November 5, 2017

Northampton County Executive Candidate John Brown Refuses to Take Position on Sludge, Using Taxes Other Than As Intended

On Tuesday, Northampton County voters will vote on 5 of 9 council seats, and also elect the next county executive.  Incumbent John Brown is running against Lamont McClure.  McClure served on council for 10 years, until stepping aside two years ago.

Brown's Record on Open Space and Related Taxes

In 2006, voters put John Stoffa into office.  Stoffa promised to raise taxes in order to fund open space preservation.  Earlier, in 2003, voters had voted overwhelmingly to fund a $37m bond issue for the same purpose, but the bond was never pursued.  Stoffa followed through on his promise, and instituted a 0.5 mil property tax, which land owners have paid ever since - it generates $3.9m dollars per year.  This tax was instituted in a manner in which it is not mandatory to spend it on open space, though that is its purpose and as stated voters voted to support it.

Prior to Mr. Brown taking office, of the $29.6m collected, $23.5m was put towards the Open Space program for municipal and county parks, preservation of environmentally sensitive lands and farmland preservation.  The county farmland preservation program is one of the most successful in Pennsylvania.  During Mr. Brown's four years, he has only put $3.7m of $15.2m collected towards open space, and $3m of this was required by a now expired amendment to put towards municipal parks.  The other $11.5m Mr. Brown has evidently used to plug holes in the non-open space budget.  This is a contravention of the voters wishes.

McClure has stated that he will return to funding Open Space at levels similar to that prior to Brown taking office.

Brown's Vision of Economic Development - Warehouses and Bridges to Support Tractor Trailers
No answers for Slate Belt

Brown's campaign advertises his commitment to economic development and transportation, and in fact he has developed a program to replace outdated bridges.  However, he appears to have no respect for our natural resources - both the defunding of Open Space as well as not funding the new innovative Livable Landscapes program demonstrate this.  Brown apparently believes preserving open space takes up space that could be used for million square foot warehouses.  The Livable Landscapes program was instituted just a year ago, to supply a funding stream for projects such as walking trails, recreation and stream restoration.  Funding for this program in 2018?  $0.  At the debate with McClure last week, Brown suggested he had funded it, but those funds were applied last year.  Also at the debate, McClure correctly pointed out that Brown had raided the IDA (Industrial Development Authority) fund after taking office.  The IDA was put in place to identify, promote and fund light industrial development opportunities in the Slate Belt.  Although Brown is most recently from Bangor, he has not lived up to his promise to bring jobs to the Slate Belt.

Brown's $200m Prison, Paid for with no New Taxes?

As has been widely reported, Brown plans to build a new prison for the princely sum of $200m.  He claims that he will not raise taxes to do so.  Even if he continues to raid the taxes collected for Open Space, he will be millions and millions of dollars short.

McClure has stated unequivocally that he would not build a new prison.

Brown's Position on Sludge - No Comment

Mr. Brown has been asked repeatedly to express his stance on sludge, since the Synagro plant has applied to locate in Plainfield Township, and a multi-year battle has taken place over sludge application to farms in Upper Mt. Bethel Township.  One would think that someone that the Slate Belt put into office would have no trouble taking a stance against sludge.  His silence can only signal one thing - he is reluctant to admit to the residents of Northampton County that he supports Waste Management, the proposed Synagro plant and applying sludge to farmland.

In stark contrast, McClure has made a clear statement that he will fight against the use of sludge in Northampton County.

The Slate Belt May Make the Difference on November 7

It is likely that Slate Belt voters are responsible for Brown attaining office, and on Tuesday they may again be the deciding factor in who prevails.  If you value clean air and water, recreation and open spaces, low taxes through preservation of land that may otherwise be developed with homes that will raise school taxes, would like to see real economic development, and not deal with sludge, the choice appears to be clear.

Below is a handout that is being circulated, and included for your reference

Monday, October 16, 2017

Syangro files new application for biosolids plant in Plainfield Township - similar to previous proposal

Synagro has withdrawn the two site plans that were tabled at the Plainfield Township Planning Commission.  Both of these site plans would have required multiple zoning variances.  The last communication from Synagro to the township was that it was going to apply to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and PA DEP for a approval to dump approximately 300 tons of waste water per day into a tributary of the Walz or Little Bushkill Creek.  Both creeks are high quality cold water fisheries, and it is questionable whether either of the low-flow tributaries involved would be approved to have 56 gallons per minute of waste water disposed in it.  There are limits on the percentage of stream flow that a new source can add to the existing flow.

Site plans from October 2017 sketch plan submission

In this regard, Synagro has submitted a sketch plan application that removes the potential waste water issue; the new proposal is to collect waste water from baking the shit, and to haul it back to the source.  This is an interesting proposal, because Synagro has stated the source of the shit will be the "Tri-State" area.  They are actually going to ship waste water all the way back to Connecticut, New Jersey and New York?  This must be an extremely lucrative business.  It's obvious that Synagro and Waste Management want this very badly - all of the surrounding communities as well as Plainfield Township opposes sighting a biosolids plant on the target property.  Trucking waste water away won't change much in the community.

The sketch plan that Synagro submitted contains site plans that are virtually identical to those submitted in May.  The location of the plant, layout and traffic pattern is identical.  Note - a sketch plan requires no approval of the Planning Commission, versus a site plan submission, which does.  Although the current application contains site plans within it, it is not being submitted for site plan approval.  A sketch plan allows an applicant to have an informal discussion and discuss issues.  In examining Synagro's submission, it appears to this observer that the intent is the site plans included represent a finished product, and could possibly be taken to the DEP following a discussion at the Planning Commission - providing the basis for an application to the DEP and/or DRBC.
Asinine traffic pattern persists in new proposal
(this diagram is from the May application)

The new proposal's site plans contain two primary differences from the previous.  The first is a cul de sac is shown, as an entrance road to the existing Green Knight Energy Center.  This is unrelated to the Synagro site, and may be designed to bring the Green Knight lot into compliance with its development plan.  The second is that the "WWTP" (waste water treatment plant) has been relabeled "Waste Water Management Area".  It is unclear whether waste water from cleaning equipment and trucks will be trucked off site, or disposed of in the Walz or Little Bushkill Creek, or as a third option the local Municipal Authority waste system.

 Narrative that is contained in the October sketch plan application

The hauling of the crap bakery waste water from the site does not affect any of the Zoning Variances previously identified by the township.  Synagro has addressed its position on several if not all of these variances in the narrative included in the submission.  In light of the removal of the need to have approval of the creek disposal of bulk portion of its waste water approved, the chief obstacle for Synagro will be the Zoning Variances.  A potential legal battle is shaping up over these variances.  It is expected that a meeting will be held in mid to late November, for the planning commission to review and discuss the Synagro sketch plan.

Friday, August 4, 2017

August 4 update on Synagro's proposed biosilids plant in Plainfield Township (Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center)

It's been quite a whirlwind bromance for Synagro, which first appeared before the Plainfied Township Planning Commission in November 2016, with no notice to township residents.  Synagro was hoping to obtain approval in one night to site a 400 ton per day crap bakery in the township, on land owned by Waste Management (Grand Central Sanitary Landfill).  They would take waste heat from Green Knight's energy operation, and use it to dry sludge.  At least that is the guise under which they would operate - they would also have fuel sources of natural gas and methane available for when the waste heat is insufficient (for example, for decades after the landfill and energy center shut down).  Synagro's attorney Matthew Goodrich told the planning commission that Synagro's use fully complied with the zoning ordinance.  Despite shepherding by Green Knight and soon to be former planning commission member Robert Cornman, be granted preliminary approval, no vote was taken that night.  Mr. Cornman's plan to assist Synagro to slither into town unnoticed and skip off with a golden ticket died when it was discovered Synagro had no degree of certainty where it would dispose of 80,000+ gallons of waste water a day.  Once this project was revealed to the community, it quickly earned a very rare triple Golden Turd Award on this very site.

Flash forward to August 2017, and the November plan sits in the scrap heap of very poorly planned projects, because Synagro's use is not even permitted on the proposed site.  A second site was selected, where it is a permitted use, but there is insufficient space to construct a facility to conform to zoning.  Synagro's attorney Goodrich doesn't believe any variances are needed (he stated this on June 12, despite receiving a letter earlier that day indicating Synagro requires eight (8) zoning variances.  The communities of Pen Aryl, Wind Gap, Upper Mt Bethel Twp, Lower Mt Bethel Township have all officially objected to the proposed plant.  Washington Township has sent notice that their zoning officer will attend all meetings associated with the project to represent the township's interest.  In addition, Synagro's proposed alternate site requires that a portion of the Plainfield Township Recreational Trail be used as an access road and road frontage.  As of June 12, Synagro still couldn't say where it will dispose of its waste water, or exactly what its operating hours would be.  Simply put, Synagro has had its head up its ass for the duration of this entire haphazardly conceived proposal, and nobody is in favor of this plant except Synagro, Waste Management, and Green Knights.

Syngaro now has yet another significant obstacle in its path, which became clear on June 12, the day of the second site plan review (first meeting since Nov 2016, first night that the alternate site was reviewed).  Despite overtures to the contrary and legal threats by Synagro counsel Goodrich, Synagro can not be issued a conditional zoning permit for its operation - it must first obtain the required approvals from all regulatory agencies.  In this case, the most obvious ones are PA DEP and DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission)

On July 11, 2017, Synagro sent a letter to Plainfield Township, indicating (grudgingly) that Synagro would in fact go through the permit application and review process with the regulatory agencies prior to resuming pursuit of a zoning permit.  In the letter, Synagro counsel Goodrich laments the expense this may cost his client. As of August 4, neither DEP or DRBC has been approached by Synagro to discuss its proposed biosolids processiing facility.  A DEP representative interviewed today said that the initial step with DEP would not require a plan, but rather be informal and allow the Applicant to identify all permits needed.  Due to DEP staffing and review requirements, it would take 6 months or more for Synagro's proposal to obtain approval.  A DRBC representative said that the DRBC "has not been contacted since fall 2016 about a possible biosolids plant" in Plainfield Township when contacted today by this blogger.  It would take approximately 6-9 months for a proposed plant to be approved by the DRBC.

Perhaps Synagro counsel Goodrich should look in the mirror before grousing about costs to Synagro. The site plan reviewed in November 2016 must have cost over $10,000 to prepare - it was Goodrich's responsibility to review the zoning ordinance and if he did he should have readily seen Synagro's use was permitted elsewhere, not on the proposed site.  It's a solid waste use, and Plainfield has a solid waste district.  Um, where the fuck should the use be permitted, and where do you think it is in fact permitted? Do they have English courses in law school?  Goodrich's legal fees by this time have likely topped $10,000 as well.  Job... done.

As mentioned in a recent post, Synagro has also not pursued the variances it needs in order to obtain a zoning permit.  As of today, the township has not received a variance application.  What the heck is Synagro doing?  Are they biding time before acknowledging this dream has in fact died, or is everyone on holiday for the summer?  Why wouldn't they go and get the ball rolling with DEP if all it takes is an informal meeting?  Cold feet?  Feet stuck in the mud (or shit)?  Whatever they do, it appears that it will be at least six months before another public circle jerk takes place like the review meeting on June 12.

Synagro's plan is in troubled waters

Looming at the end of the line (apparently - only time will tell) for Synagro is eight zoning variances they simply can not prove the hardships required to be granted.  Mr. Goodrich may want to advise his client on this matter, if he is truly concerned about costs.  This blogger's guess is cost is no object, since Waste Management wants this very badly, and Waste Management is used to getting what it wants.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Synagro changes course and will seek regulatory approval prior to proceeding with zoning permit review of Plainfield Township biosolids facility

Textbook example of placing the cart before the ass

Tonight's planning commission review of Synagro's application for a zoning permit to construct a 400 ton per day crap bakery in Plainfield Township, situated along Plainfield Township's Recreational Trail, was requested by Synagro to be tabled.  The reason for tabling was incompletely described in an Express Times article as "Synagro requires more time to prepare."

Synagro sent a letter to the township on July 11 with a more detailed explanation.  It turns out that Synagro will seek to obtain regulatory permits (eg DEP, DRBC) prior to proceeding with its quest for a zoning permit.  The township had previously cautioned Synagro in correspondence that it could not issue a permit prior to obtaining these permits, but at the June 12 planning commission review counsel Matthew Goodrich attempted to argue that the township has issued permits in the past conditioned on obtaining approval.  However, the examples he referred to were land development plans, not zoning permits.  Furthermore, Goodrich argued in writing on May 30 that Synagro's sought permit "can be approved conditionally" Can is not the same as must - surely Mr. Goodrich knows the difference.

Attendees of the June 12 planning commission meeting heard only a handful of questions asked of Synagro following its lengthy presentation, but they were excellent questions that may have helped Synagro realize the commission does not have the information it needs prior to making a recommendation.  Synagro was unable to state its proposed operating hours, exactly where its waste water will be directed (one of two high quality cold water fisheries), or how much waste water is generated each day.  These are questions that will be answered after the regulatory review process is complete.

Here is the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance article that covers the issue:
Zoning Ordinance clearly states that no permit
shall be issued prior to obtaining regulatory approval

Here is the July 11 letter in which Mr. Goodrich has an epiphany of sorts, and states that Synagro will take a detour and obtain regulatory approval prior to proceeding with review of its application before the planning commission:

Synagro counsel Gooodrich grudgingly announces change of course in pursuit of permit

Clearly Mr. Goodrich's attempts to bully the township have failed.  He is belly aching about the expense this will cause Synagro - what about the expense of the township defending itself against this universally despised proposal?  Perhaps instead of demanding a permit, and now requesting the DEP or Delaware River Basin Commission issue permits, Synagro should apply for the eight zoning variances it requires - that would save everyone time and money and end this process, because Synagro does not have the hardships required to be granted variances.  On June 12, six hours after Mr. Goodrich received a Zoning Officer review letter indicating these variances are needed, he incredibly stated to the planning commission that Synagro believes it needs no variances.  Did he read that letter?  This is one case after another of putting the cart before the ass.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Synagro once again delays review of controversial biosolids plant (Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center) in Plainfield Township - will not appear July 24

On June 12, 2017, Plainfield Township's Zoning Officer sent a lengthy letter to Synagro, finding multiple deficiencies in its application for a Zoning Permit to locate a crap bakery in the township.  Also in that letter were determinations of the Zoning Officer that Synagro's proposed plant requires eight specific variances.

Boat slip access will be possible at Synagro's State of the Fart facility

Later on June 12, at the planning commission meeting to review Synagro's site plan, Synagro counsel Matthew Goodrich addressed the commission and took the position that Synagro's application requires no variances, and thus Synagro must be granted a permit since its use is permitted.  The latter part no one can deny - Synagro's use is permitted on the site proposed.  However, the former is clearly in dispute - Synagro is attempting to build a $20m+ state of the art crap processing plant in a pond.  That's going to be a problem, and its current proposed project does not come close to complying with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.

For all of Synagro's bluster that it has a right to a permit, they are apparently in no rush to prove they deserve one.  They have not appealed the Zoning Officer's June 12 determination, and have not responded to address other deficiencies in their site plan enumerated in the June 12 correspondence.  Here is a sample:

  • Synagro has not proven that the naturally occurring slopes on the site where development is proposed were less than 15%.
  • Synagro has not presented proof of equitable ownership (eg a lease agreement)
  • Synagro has not stated its operating hours on the site plan, as required
  • Synagro's site plan does not show the adjacent land parcels as required (including the critical parcel that Plainfield Township owns, which Synagro plans to use as an access drive/street.
During discussion at the June 12 meeting, Synagro could not even opine on the amount of waste water it will generate, which will be discharged into either the Little Bushkill or Waltz Creek.  This is non-trivial - on a suggestion from a planning commission member, it was agreed that it will be in excess of 80,000 gallons per day.  Synagro appears to have a great plan in mind, but no attention to the details needed for it to be approved.  Most importantly, they appear to believe for some unknown reason that they require no variances.  If this is true, why haven't they appealed the Zoning Officer's June 12 decision to the Zoning Hearing Board?

A new development is that Synagro has tabled its plan for July, and will not appear before the Planning Commission for continuation of the review, as scheduled on July 24.  There is no further information available at this time regarding the delay.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Grand Central Landfill (Waste Management) in Plainfield Township reportedly withdraws permit modification request to solidify and dispose of liquid waste

As reported first on this blog, Waste Management/Grand Central Sanitary Landfill submitted a permit modification request to the PA DEP in the spring of 2016, to solidify and dispose of liquid waste. This is a lucrative business area, and glutton Waste Management clearly wanted an even bigger slice of the waste disposal pie than it already has.  It is also attempting to lease a portion of its property to Synagro, to locate a crap bakery on the parcel of land currently used for the landfill.   The surrounding communities are uniformly opposed to this project, as well as Plainfield Township.  16 jobs and $50,000 a year in tax receipts for one community has been deemed to be a horrendous trade off for reduced property values and a near certain guarantee of odors, not to mention 80,000 gallons of waste water a day discharged into high quality streams.  The proposal requires eight zoning variances that have been identified thus far, and despite Synagro not being able to demonstrate the necessary hardships to be granted zoning relief, this project is still scheduled for review.  Greed has no bounds for Waste Management, which should have retracted its offer to Synagro months ago.  There is no apparent lease- Synagro has failed to submit evidence of equitable ownership to the the township, which is required for such an application.

At tonight's Plainfield Township Board of Supervisors meeting, a scheduled agenda item was:
  • Notification of PA DEP Minor Permit Modification Application Withdrawal - Solidification Plan Modification - Grand Central Sanitary Landfill/Waste Management (underline added)
A DEP representative informed this blogger two months ago that the DEP was concerned about this permit modification request, and was not inclined to grant it, but no detailed discussions had taken place at that point..  Apparently either the application was pursued by Waste Management in the last few months, and it was determined they could not be successful in obtaining the modification, or the scrutiny that came with the request becoming public was not desired.  Either way, this chip has reportedly been removed from the table.

Now all that remains is for Synagro to realize it can't possibly be successful, literally pack its shit up and go the hell away.  It was a bull shit plan from the start, and once it didn't get rammed through in a single night in November 2016 (by none other than Green Knight member and Planning Commission member Robert Cornman Jr) this became obvious.  Quite simply, there was an attempt made to cornhole the residents of Plainfield Township, Wind Gap and Pen Argyl - and it failed.  Those involved should be ashamed, including Synagro legal counsel Matthew Goodrich, who misrepresented at the November 2016 planning commission meeting that the application met the zoning ordinance.  That proposal is currently not even being discussed because it was/is in direct conflict with the uses allotted in the ordinance.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Synagro requires eight variances for Plainfield Township site, but fails to apply for them ahead of July 24 review

Synagro is non responsive to the need for zoning relief

As reported on this blog, Plainfield Township notified Synagro on June 12, 2017 that its current site plan under review to place a crap bakery in the township requires eight variances.  As of today July 10, Synagro has submitted no applications for any variances, nor any response to the township's June 12 letter.

Per Section 802.(A) (2) (b) of the Zoning Ordinance, an application for variance involving any use shall be reviewed by the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission meets on July 24 to continue review of Synagro's application.  There is a 21-day period prior to a Planning Commission meeting in which to file new materials.  There are now 14 days remaining.

Synagro has made a big deal out of the fact they have a permitted use on the current site.  See an intimidating letter their legal representative submitted to Plainfirld Township here.  However, they seem curiously mum on several details.  At the June 12 review, they had trouble even stating what their operating hours will be - which is required to be on their site plan, but is not.

These eight variances are another detail - a major one.  Synagro does not have the hardships necessary to be granted zoning relief.  Could this be why they are dragging their heals in acknowledging they are needed?  In any event, the Planning Commission can not recommend approval of the Site Plan until such time these variances are attended to.  Not having proper access lanes, not having a proper front yard, not having a street to be located on - these are significant deficiencies.  Here are quotes from the June 12 letter informing Synagro of the deficiencies:
  • Page 5
    “Pursuant to the requirements set forth in Section 315 (B) (35), the proposed entrance and exit to the facility are not separated and clearly designated and they are not located along either an arterial or collector road. The entrance and exit to the facility is located along an interior access road of the Grand Central Sanitary Landfill. Therefore, the conditions and provisions associated with this additional requirement are not being met. A Variance is required from Section 315 (B) (35) (b) of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance.”
  • Page 13
    “All areas within fifty feet (50’) of the banks of any streams, lake or pond shall be in open space. It is the determination of the Zoning Officer that a Variance is required for Section 505 of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance.”
  • Page 13
    “The Front Lot Line (Street Line) does not meet the definition as set forth in the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance as follows: “A lot line separating the lot from a street right-of-way. The front lot line shall be the same as an existing or future right-of-way line (whichever establishes a greater width).” The lot line is not shown as separating the lot from a street right-of-way, as required by Section 201 B of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance. Therefore a Variance is required from the Front Yard setback as set forth in Section 318 (I) of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance.”
  • Page 19
    “The proposed loading and offloading road encroaches upon the proposed
    Green Knight lot (5.18 acres). The setback requirements for the rear yard
    for both proposed lots and the front/side setbacks of the Green Knight lot
    are therefore not being met as currently proposed on the Site Plan, as
    determined by the Zoning Officer. The Applicant is representing that a cross access agreement between the two (2) tenants will be submitted. A cross access agreement is not specifically defined with the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance as a way to gain relief from the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance;
    therefore, a Variance is required from Section 704 (B) (3) of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance.”
  • Page 24
    “The definition of a Street as set forth in the Plainfield Township Zoning
    Ordinance specifically precludes an access drive from being designated as a
    Street. The access drive does not contain a right-of-way area. Indeed, a
    portion of the access drive is owned in part by Plainfield Township (Tax Map
    Parcel ID# E8 14 IA 0626E). The proposed principal building is not proposed
    to be built upon a public or private street that meets the definition of a Street
    as set forth in the Zoning Ordinance. The access drive does not meet the
    requirements of a Street as defined by the Zoning Ordinance, and is not
    designated as any of the following: Arterial Street, Collector Street or Local
    Street. Both the proposed Synagro lot and the proposed new Green Knights
    lot do not front upon a street as defined by the Plainfield Township Zoning
    Ordinance. Therefore, a Variance is required from Section 402 (A) of the
    Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance.”
  • Page 24
    “An access drive does not meet the requirements of the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance for the definition of a Street. It is unclear to the Zoning Officer
    how a private street right-of-way could be created to the west of the Green
    Knight lot, as a portion of that access drive is owned by Plainfield Township
    (Tax Map Parcel ID# E8 14 IA 0626E). Further, it is unclear to the Zoning
    Officer how the Applicant would extend the proposed facility’s lot to the
    right-of-way of Pen Argyl Road. Said extension to Pen Argyl Road is not
    shown on the proposed Site Plan. Therefore, the Front Lot Line (Street Line)
    does not meet the requirements of the Plainfield Township Zoning
    Ordinance. A Variance would be required in order to configure the lot in its
    current proposed configuration, pursuant to Section 201 (B) of the Plainfield
    Township Zoning Ordinance for the definition of a Front Lot Line.”
  • Page 29
    “The Applicant is representing that they are entitled to relief from Section 703 G (1) (2) of the Zoning Ordinance in order to allow open cross access between
    the proposed facility and the Green Knight LFGTE Plant. “Open cross access” is not defined within the Plainfield Township Zoning Ordinance as warranting relief from the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, especially considering that the proposed facility does not front upon an Arterial, Collector, or Local street. Neither the Zoning Officer nor the Planning Commission has the authority to grant relief from the Zoning Ordinance- only the Zoning Hearing Board has such
    authority. Therefore, a Variance is required from Section 703 G (1) (2) of the Zoning Ordinance.”
Quite simply, Synagro is in a corner.  The ball is in their court and it's time to poop or get off the pot....