Saturday, March 7, 2020

History of creation of Plainfield Township's Solid Waste Zoning District that Waste Management proposes to increase in size for Grand Central Sanitary Landfill expansion

Landfill is on land subdivided from a tract bought by three partners

In the 1980's, Grand Central was not yet owned by Waste Management.  The record shows that the landfill began as a dump in the 1950's, in response to pleas by the mayors of Pen Argyl and Wind Gap that landowner Robert Perin allow trash disposal on his property in Plainfield Township.  Mr. Perin had purchased a larger tract that included his land with two partners, Frank Fiorot and Ernest Albanese.  Albanese ironically came to rue the day that he partnered with Perin as he built his family homestead on the lands he obtained adjacent to what became a major nuisance on Perin's share of the land - the landfill (see the testimony of Mr. Albanese and his wife for how the landfill destroyed the enjoyment of their property on pp. 117-123 of the transcript below).  The landfill started under Robert, and his sons Gary, Ronald and Nolan took over from him.  DEP was known as DER in the 1980's, and the state of Pennsylvania was just coming up to speed on regulating landfills.  It may well be that some state legislation was put into place as a result of legal battles involving the landfill and its desire to expand greatly in 1986.

Landfill was relatively small when it requested a very large expansion

Testimony in the transcript below is that dumping in the landfill in the mid 1980's was permitted in a relatively small area in portions of quarries on lands in the Farm and Forest Zoning District - less than 10 acres - and that Grand Central applied for Special Exception approval to expand the area for the landfill on property it owned to three hundred and fifty three acres.  The Zoning Hearing Board approved a size of 80 acres.  A legal battle ensued over what size should be allowed.

Proposal for incinerator in addition to expansion of landfill rocks township

In the same time period, a garbage incinerator was proposed in Plainfield Township, the ash from which would be disposed of in the landfill.  Incinerators produce two kinds of ash - fly ash and bottom ash.  Fly ash is considered hazardous waste, bottom ash is not.  When they are mixed, the state of PA in the mid 1980's considered the mixture non-hazardous.  Got to love the state.  Naturally there was a lot of concern over emissions from an incinerator, and the disposal of ash.  The township placed a moratorium on new solid waste uses, while it researched whether all must be provided for.

Activist group of concerned citizens S.O.L.E. is born

Plainfield Township has had zoning since 1971.  Applicants can file a curative amendment if the ordinance can be argued to be exclusionary and as a result might be able to put a use wherever they want.  A legal consultant was hired by the township to advise on a course of action to respond the threats of solid waste uses proliferating and legal action by those promoting these kinds of uses.  An activist group named S.O.L.E. (Save Our Local Environment) was born, and it and the township were parties in the lawsuits over the landfill and the incinerator.  As a result of the moratorium, the incinerator proposal was moved into Bushkill Township, on land that borders Plainfield Township.

Plainfield Township crafts action plan in response to threat of solid waste uses expanding without bounds

Amid these battles, the township formed the Solid Waste Study Group in about December of 1986.  This group included members of S.O.L.E., township supervisors, citizens and Nolin Perin who represented the landfill.  Special council Robert Sugarman and professional planners Urban Research and Development advised and guided the process.  The objectives of this group were to research whether the township could legally exclude certain uses, and how the landfill should be provided for, yet in a controlled manner.  Their work product was hoped to be used to settle the legal disputes over the allowed size for the landfill, where landfills may be placed in the township (Farm and Forest is by far the largest zoning district by area) as well as whether an incinerator and other solid waste uses must be permitted.  The products of the Study Group were a Comprehensive Plan Supplement for Solid Waste, an ordinance amendment that would create a Solid Waste district for solid waste uses, and a Zoning Map change that defined the boundaries of the new district.  The Study Group worked for 18 months.

Adoption hearing and push back from landfill representatives

The amendment adoption hearing at which extensive testimony was taken from representatives of the landfill, citizens of the township, members of S.O.L.E., special counsel Sugarman and supervisors was held on June 30 of 1988.  The testimony reveals that legal experts had a challenge to explain to the citizenry their methodology - that they were threading a needle in order to be able to settle the legal matters, avoid additional litigation, and obtain a result with a satisfactory outcome for the township.  Representatives of the landfill threatened that the amendment could not stand legal scrutiny, and Nolan Perin was on the record stating that the township has wasted 18 months and had nothing to show for its effort and legal fees.  Naturally, the landfill wanted no local regulations to control it.

The testimony reveals that many citizens wanted the landfill to not expand at all.  Some participants testified that Plainfield Township does not need to be the dumping ground for the entire state of Pennsylvania, and trash was already arriving in significant amounts from out of state as well.  The ultimate size of the district was chosen to provide the landfill and other solid waste uses to be located in the township, and to prevent challenges that the district was not large enough.  This is known in zoning law as "Fair Share" - and is certain to be a concept of discussion in light of Waste Management's rezoning request.  Some testified that the township had already taken in its fair share of garbage and sludge - as of 1988.  The legal consultants found that a municipality does not in all cases need to provide for every possible use, and incinerators were made a non-permitted use in the township.  The fate of the incinerator proposed in Bushkill Township was that the property line of the the site in question turned out to be 175 feet east of where it was assumed to be, placing the proposed operation in Plainfield Township.  This was discovered prior to the adoption of the zoning amendment, which put the kabash on the incinerator since this use was listed as not permitted prior to the expiration of the derided solid waste moratorium the following day.

Afterward - Grand Central wields lawsuits as a weapon, 
costing Plainfield Township and average citizens $$$

A Morning Call newspaper article from 1992 itemized a raft of legal action that Grand Central and members of the Perin family took against multiple citizens as well as Plainfield Township during this timeframe.  One lawsuit was filed over a $50 DER fine.  The lawsuits against individuals and elected officials, alleging slander and libel, appear to have been dismissed.  In 1990 and 1991, the township expended over $150,000 and $100,000 respectively in legal fees.  Township supervisors may want to take this into consideration when choosing to expand solid waste uses and continue a relationship with the landfill beyond 2028, or to put an end to future potential litigation by refusing a request that they are not obligated to oblige.

1988 amended Zoning Map - new Solid Waste (SW) district in silver

The amendment turned out to be well crafted, despite the criticism of detractors and threats of legal challenges.  Here is the township's current zoning ordinance for the Solid Waste district created in 1988, in much the same form as when adopted with the exception that setbacks have been significantly reduced:

Here is the Comprehensive Plan Supplement of 1988:

The hearing transcript:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Grand Central Sanitary Landfill proposes Zoning Change so it can expand landfill in Plainfield Township - first township meeting March 11

Now it is known for certain why Synagro gave up its fight to locate a biosolids plant on Waste Management's Grand Central Sanitary Landfill land in Plainfield Township - Waste Management has another larger development in mind - a landfill expansion - and a protracted battle over Synagro's proposal would have interfered with the process to expand.

There is no height restriction on a landfill, other than it must remain structurally sound.  The problem is, going up vertically means less area is available due to the sloped sides of the landfill.  If the landfill wants to expand in a meaningful way, it may seek to expand horizontally, which is what Waste Management plans.  The problem is, they have run out of land that is zoned for a landfill.  They own land in the Commerical Industrial district, where their truck parking and offices are.  Then there is the landfill, in the Solid Waste district, and a small amount of land in the Farm and Forest district adjacent to the landfill.  See the map below.  An expansion typically is a five-year long process, and the landfill is estimated to be full in 2028, so this rezoning is an urgent matter.

A corporate entity named Slate Springs Farm LLC assumed title of several parcels of land owned by Gary and Linda Perin, on the precise date in late 2019 that Synagro's application was withdrawn during a Board of Supervisors meeting.  On the map indicated with red boxes are these parcels, and it is within these lands currently zoned Farm and Forest that the expansion is proposed.  Note that Pen Argyl Road would be ensconced by the landfill, as well as Evergreen Cemetery.  The expansion would be bounded by Pen Argyl, Bocce Club and Delabole Roads. The proposed route is reported to be that trucks will cross Pen Argyl Road presumably at the currently closed gate near the truck scales, and retain the current entrance and exit off of Route 512.  Here are the tax parcels under Slate Springs Farm LLC's title:

  • E8 13 1 0626

  • E8 13 15 0626

  • E8 13 6 0626

  • E8 8 16 0625

  • E8 13 10 0626

  • E8 13 16 0626

  • E8 13 7 0626

  • E9 18 1 0626

  • E8 13 10A 0626

  • E8 13 16A 0626

  • E8 13 8 0626

  • E9 18 1 0626

  • E8 13 11 0626

  • E8 13 17 0626

  • E8 14 1 0625

  • E9 9 1 0626

  • E8 13 12 0626

  • E8 13 2 0626

  • E8 15 2 0625

  • E9 9 3B 0626

  • E8 13 13 0626

  • E8 13 3 0626

  • E8 15 2 0626

  • E9 9 7 0626

  • E8 13 14 0626

  • E8 13 4 0626

  • E8 24 1 0626

  • F8 9 1A 0626

  • E8 13 14A 0626

  • E8 13 5 0626

  • E8 8 14 0626

The Express Times reports that Slate Springs Farm LLC has an agreement to sell 325 acres to Grand Central - the parcels shown depicted and listed above.  Of this, 211 acres would be rezoned to Solid Waste, which would be the area denoted "REZONING AREA".  81 acres would be used for the expansion of the landfill, and 52 acres for "support activities".  The sale is contingent on the rezoning.

It is reported that this expansion will allow the landfill to operate 20 additional years.  If the expansion is granted, will Waste Management invite Synagro to locate in the expanded Solid Waste zoning district, away from the problematic water-filled quarry that caused Synagro's previous application to receive undesired scrutiny?

In Pennsylvania, zoning variances, zoning officer interpretation challenges and special exceptions are heard by the Zoning Hearing Board.  Conditional uses, validity challenges and zoning map change requests are heard by the supervisory body.  Last week, the Board of Supervisors appointed special counsel for zoning matters that come before the board.  James Preston of Broughal and Devito, a well-seasoned and respected land use attorney who typically represents corporate clients, was selected.  Solicitor David Backenstoe represents the Board of Supervisors - who must hear the request in an unbiased manner, while Mr. Preston will represent the interests of the township and its citizens.  Those who witnessed the Synagro reviews before the Planning Commission will recognize that Jack Embick was special counsel and took hard-nosed positions, while Mr. Backenstoe was the solicitor for the Planning Commission and acted mostly as a listener and a procedural guide.

Zoning change requests are reviewed by the Planning Commission, which makes a recommendation to the supervisors.  However, a zoning map change request is first heard by the Board of Supervisors, which may send it to the Planning Commission; an alternative is that the BOS may vote to reject the request without forwarding it for a recommendation.

At the regular Board of Supervisors meeting on March 11, 2020 at 7:00 PM, Waste Management is scheduled to make a brief presentation of the proposed zoning map change..  No official action will be taken by the BOS at this meeting.  The township has announced that the meeting will be moved to the Plainfield Township Fire Hall 6480 Sullivan Trail Wind Gap, in order for all interested parties to hear the presentation.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Synagro announces abandonment of crap bakery proposed on Waste Management landfill property in Plainfield Township

Ding dong, the witch is dead.  Synagro announced in a letter addressed to Plainfield Township that it is totally abandoning its plan to locate a biosolids processing facility on Waste Management's Grand Central Landfill property.  This facility would have processed 400 tons a day of crap, and the product would have been distributed on farmland in the Lehigh Vallley and north in Monroe, Schuylkill and Carbon counties.  Synagro claimed that it was seeking industrial customers to use its product as a fuel, but this was highly unlikely to have happened.

The letter from Synagro  boasts that its operations are "environmentally friendly," which begs the question of why Synagro refused to submit the Environmental Impact Statement that the township planners and Board of Supervisors requested - the main reason their application was denied after two years and 10 months.  There is a major contradiction there.

A Morning Call article in March of 2017, almost three years ago, was accompanied by a picture of  activists and husband and wife Tom Carlo and Elissa Robles-Carlo.  The article may be seen by clicking their picture below.  Tom and Elissa were instrumental in the fight against Synagro from beginning to end.  They circulated door to door multiple times, getting a petition signed and asking residents to attend meetings.  Wind Gap was dragging its heals in taking a position on the proposal after other towns had voted to oppose it.  Tom visited a Wind Gap council meeting, and pressured council to take a stance.  After some uncomfortable shifting in seats, Wind Gap council voted to oppose the proposal.  At a Synagro dog and pony show that year, a presumptuous Synagro representative challenged Elissa's commitment to the environment by suggesting that she disposes of her metal waste from jewelry making irresponsibly.  Elissa corrected him by pointing out that she collects and recycles the waste, and asked how he knew that she makes jewelry.  The representative admitted he had researched her, because she "threatened his ability to make money."  Elissa replied that his business threatens her town.  This couple doesn't take crap from anyone.

Other activists like Tom and Elissa came out meeting after meeting to monitor the progress of Synagro's land development application.  Their constant presence reminded anyone who may have not noticed that the community objected unanimously this proposal.  Representatives from the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council and Delaware Riverkeeper also kept abreast of developments and monitored the DEP permit applications continuously.  Two lawsuits were filed by citizens, rightfully objecting to odors emanating from the landfill.  One goal of these lawsuits was evidently to challenge an additional solid waste use on Waste Management property that would negatively impact neighbors.

The dream of a windfall of money from the golden turd is dead

Monday, January 27, 2020

DEP deadline for Synagro to submit status report on Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center key deficiencies approaches, with zero progress

On September 19, 2019, Synagro withdrew its Land Development Plan for a crap bakery in Plainfield Township, as the Board of Supervisors considered a motion by its chairman to deny the plan.  There were several deficiencies remaining in the plan - two notable ones were the Nuisance Mitigation Control Plan was not complete, and Synagro had not submitted an Environmental Impact Study.

Once the application was withdrawn, all work in the project by the township and its consultants ceased since there is no pending application before either the Planning Commission or board of supervisors.

On October 7, 2019, Synagro submitted letters to the DEP, requesting that the various permit applications under review by the DEP be "suspended".  The letters further indicated that Synagro had met many of the township's requirements, and that only a few deficiencies remained.  Synagro's representative implied in the letters that Synagro would work with the township to resolve the remaining deficiencies, and it requested a year to work things out.

As reported on this blog, all mention of the Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center was scrubbed from Synagro's website within only a few weeks of the letters to DEP requesting that their applications be suspended - rather suspicious considering DEP was led to believe the project is still being pursued, and only some i's need to be dotted and t's crossed.

The DEP appears unwilling to wait a year.  On December 20, 2019, DEP responded to Synagro's request by setting a date of March 31, 2020 for a status update of Synagro's progress in resolving its deficiencies... in a non-existent application before the township.  Township Manager Petrucci remarked in October that without a Site Plan or Land Development Plan pending, he did not see how the activities described in Synagro's October 7, 2019 letters could proceed.

Letter from DEP to Synagro,... on Scribd

As of today's date, the township has not received a new application from Synagro, and has not received any contact regarding Synagro's withdrawn application - including the work on deficiencies suggested would be pursued in the October 7, 2019 letters.  The deadline for submissions for the Planning Commission's February meeting was last Friday, so  nothing could conceivably be considered by the township until the March 16 meeting - only two weeks prior to the deadline.

A DEP representative stated recently that the March 31 deadline was set so that Synagro's DEP permit applications would not "sit on the books" for an extended period of time.  The permit applications are currently in limbo, until the March 31 deadline, at which time it will be determined to suspend them, or reject them.  The writing appears to be on the wall... there is no longer a project status page on their website, there is no application pending on which to base a resolution of deficiencies.  There will be nothing to report on March 31.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Rural homeowners in Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe and Schuylkill counties dodge the biosolids fertilizer bullet, for now. Synagro scrubs website of references to proposed Plainfield Township crap factory

In the past week, all mention of the ill conceived "Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center" that Synagro proposed to be placed on land leased from Waste Management in Plainfield Township, has been removed from Synagro's website.  Previously, the project showed up on the "Locations" map, which shows all the Synagro locations.  Here is what the map looks like today:
Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center no longer shown
on Synagro's map of shitpiles across America

The SBHRC was announced in a press release in late November 2016, which was also on Synagro's website.  Here is the pertinent section of archived press releases in chronological order today:
The "Big News" that Synagro was opening a plant in Plainfield Township used to
be between the top two entries in this list

Prior to last week, there was a page devoted to all the shitty details about this project.  This page is now absent.  Prior to its removal, it looked like this:
Synagro hype referred to Green Knights
as an "economic development" organization

Synagro makes it appear like this is wonderful for the community, and that an economic development organization is partnering with them.  In reality, Green Knights is just a part of Waste Management.  It was first revealed by Green Knights president Carlton Snyder that "contractual obligations" were factored into Green Knight agreeing to sell its waste energy to Synagro.  In other words, they did no have a choice.  It was later revealed that Green Knight would not even be selling "its" waste heat to Synagro, but rather Waste Management would, in what Synagro project manager Jim Hecht called a "complicated" arrangement.  Green Knights buys its landfill gas from Waste Management to burn to create electricity, but Waste Management "owns" the waste heat that is a byproduct of burning the gas.  Sweet!  Waste Management would have tossed "up to a maximum of $100,000" to Green Knights annually, and raked in potentially a few million a year from the waste heat going up Green Knights' stacks.  Synagro would also have raked in millions, and supported 12 to 16 low quality jobs shoving shit around a building.  "Economic development" this was not.

Another revelation during review of this proposal was that although Synagro advertised that its product may be used as a fertilizer or a fuel, it would likely never be used as a fuel.  Biosolids expert Trudy Johnston, a member of the Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association, hired by both Pen Argyl and Plainfield Township, stated that in her opinion biosolids will never be used as a fuel in the state of Pennsylvania.  There is only one plant in the entire US that burns biosolids as a fuel.

What this means is that Synagro's product, these unwanted crap pellets, would have ended up on a farm near you.  100 tons a day, distributed all over the Lehigh Valley and across the mountain in Monroe and Schuylkill counties.  Synagro makes its money on the front end, to haul the crap (no pun intended) away from sewage treatment plants.  If they could dump it somewhere, they would be rolling in it.  They have to pay to dry it first, to convert it from Class B to Class A, which does little to nothing to reduce or eliminate the toxins in it.  It was learned in November 2018 that 352 known pollutants are in biosolids, 60 that are hazardous, with no known metrics for how much of any of these pollutants is too much.  This stuff contains PFAS and PFOS, and the state of Pennsylvania and others are struggling currently with how to regulate these.

Is Synagro really not planning to pursue this project?  Why would they give up?  We'll take a look at that in the next post, and we will compare the arc of Synagro's proposal in Plainfield Township to that of Nestle Waters' failed attempt to take hundreds of thousands of gallons a water a day out of Eldred Township - the project that launched this blog.  There are multiple similarities.  For now, people across the Slate Belt as well as neighbors to the west and north can breathe a tentative sign of relief.  Nestle moved on to Centre County, where they were quickly ejected by the community.  What will Synagro do next?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Synagro and Waste Management withdraw Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center land development plan after board motion is made to deny it

At last night's Board of Supervisors meeting, Synagro's program manager Jim Hecht, Counsel Mike Brennan and Counsel Elizabeth Witmer spent a half hour mealy mouthing the supervisors, as they attempted to explain why they should be granted an 18-month extension and the board should take no further action on this evening.

Let's rewind - on September 9, Synagro refused to allow an extension of the deadline that was September 30, 2019, so the planning commission had to vote on a recommendation to the board.  They voted 4-0 to recommend rejection of the plan.  Synagro was asked by the planners to grant a 90-day extension, but Synagri claimed they could not do this without consulting Synagro management.

On Tuesday, September 17, Synagro reportedly contacted Plainfield Township, and offered an 18-month extension of the plan.

Solicitor Backenstoe explained that the board had only two options at Thursday's meeting, to accept Synagro's extension/negotiate a shorter version (eg 6 months, etc), or deny the plan.  Accepting the plan with conditions was not possible because the planning commission and Synagro had not reached mutually acceptable conditions.

Then Synagro started its song and dance, claiming that it was blindsided by the planning commission on September 9 when it required at least a 90 day extension in order to work on major deficiencies.  Jim Hecht claimed he did not have authorization to make longer than a 60-day extension.  Mr. Hecht suggested that board Chairman Heard poll the township's experts to see how many line items had been resolved over the course of the reviews, suggesting that if it was a high number that Synagro should be granted additional time to address remaining items.  Mr. Heard did not fall for this trick, and we'll see where this ends up below.

In typical Jim Hecht self-contradictory form, he stated that he felt Synagro could resolve remaining issues in 1 month (there is no way in hell this could be done), but was requesting 18 months.  Yeah - this makes sense.  All that could happen in one month is a slim chance that DEP will issue a permit that Synagro and Waste Management could weaponize against the township.  DEP hasn't issued a response to the public comments made at the November 2018 hearing, but it does feel like they may be on the brink of something.

Chairman Heard asked Mr. Hecht point blank "will you agree to do an environmental impact statement?" which he never got an answer to, again in typical Jim Hecht form.  The best he received was a mealy-mouthed "Well, that is something we are willing to look at."  Not "Yes, that is why we need 18 months," but rather "we're willing to take a look and we think we can be ready in a month..."  An EIS would take several months.
Synagro made its bed by ignoring the most significant deficiencies in its application
It caught up to them on September 19

After speaking in circles with Mr. Hecht, Counsel Brennan took over, mealy mouthing his way through an argument that Synagro has worked with the planning commission, blah blah blah, and we thought we had addressed the major outstanding issues (two variances, a SALDO issue, and lack of an EIS).  "We submitted an Environmental Package and a Hydrogeological Package."  It is true that Synagro submitted collections of pages with those titles, but they did not contain an EIS or a hydrogeological study.  This was just more scraped from the walls of a crock of shit.

At this point, Robert Lynn, engineer for the township requested the microphone, and addressed Mr. Hecht's line item survey challenge.  Mr. Lynn pointed out that while several individual line items have been addressed, many remain in addition to the ones that Synagro has not addressed (the EIS, variances, and SALDO).  Mr. Lynn pointed out that of the sticking points, there has been little progress for months.

Chairman Heard questioned Synagro about why it had not gone to the Zoning Hearing Board for variances.  The mealy mouthed reply he received was that Synagro wanted to resolve its violations (which it has steadfastly denied exist) through design changes.  This is just nonsense.  If Synagro has picked up the phone and asked the Zoning Officer, he would have told them at each step that they have resolved either variance.  Mr. Heard stated that in 12 years he has never seen an applicant not go and get variances.  This resulted in Mr. Hecht mumbling that he was just now realizing that Synagro might have to go the Zoning Hearing Board.  He didn't state that they would (they could/should have submitted an application in the intervening time since September 9, if they were acting in good faith - which they are not).  Mr. Heard added that while this is a permitted use, he sees this proposal as very negative for development the Slate Belt - people want Starbucks, not sludge plants and trucks hauling odorus waste through town.

Counsel Witmer said something at some point that was of no consequence.  It was not as daft as usual for her, but there is a saying about fool me once, fool me twice.  It is doubtful many listened to what she said.  Basically she held to the "we don't believe these variances or EIS are required, but hey we tried to work things out (our way, not yours)" storyline.

At this point, board member Jane Mellert spoke.  She stated that she had been to all the review meetings.  She itemized that there had been nine 30-day extensions and two 60-day extensions since the reviews began.  Now Synagro is here suddenly asking for an 18-month extension, and you never went for your variances. (Mr. Heard also made these points).  You came into the September 9 planning meeting unprepared to agree to a reasonable extension to address major issues - why is that?  It was obvious where the vote was headed after Mr. Heard and Ms. Mellert had spoken.

Mr. Heard again spoke, and made clear that an EIS would help the township assess the impacts the project will have on the community, including neighbors.  The landfill has been an issue, and now you are going to add another potentially problematic business on the same site - this merits a study.

Mr. Heard made a motion to reject the application.  Before there was a second, Mr. Brennan's hand shot up and he yelled out "can we have a 5-minute break?"  The audience groaned, there was some confusion, and eventually Solicitor Backenstoe explained that the either the board should follow through with a second and then discussion and possibly take a break, or Mr. Heard retract his motion and a break be taken per Synagro's request.  Mr. Heard retracted his motion as a courtesy, and Synagro and Waste Management huddled in conversation.  At the end of the break, it was announced that Synagro and Waste Management were withdrawing their application.  Note that the Applicant technically is Grand Central (Waste Management) and the Operator is Synagro.  Also note that if Mr. Heard had not retracted his motion, after it was seconded - which it likely would have been by Ms. Mellert - the application could have been withdrawn then, prior to a vote.
Pardon the interruption

This caught many by surprise, but the lawyers in the room suspected it.  For the township, it will save the expense of defending an appeal in court - pocket change for the Applicant but several tens of thousands of dollars potentially for the township. While a rejection could be appealed, withdrawing avoids the bad press of a rejection.  Let's face it, Synagro doesn't need any more bad press.  As Mr. Backenstoe pointed out, Synagro and Waste Management could turn around and file a new application tomorrow, starting the entire process over again.  Mr. Hecht was seen looking annoyed as he shoved some items into his carrying bag - but he had no one to be upset with except himself.

It is unknown what will happen to the four DEP permit applications.  It is hard to understand how they can work on permits for a project that does not exist, but this is the DEP and they appear to "want" this kind of project.

Courtesy of the floor
Tracy Carluccio pointed out that Synagro is gaming the system, by pulling its application and being able to file another one.  It is causing the township a great expense.  She said the Riverkeeper Network will remain committed to protecting groundwater and the high quality creeks that the basin feeds with the groundwater.  If this proposal comes back, the RiverKeeper Network will be too.

Howard Klein pointed out that Synagro was not able to get a simple additional 30-day time extension on September 9 supposedly because they could not contact management, but on this evening within 5 minutes they received approval to withdrawal their application.  Mr. Klein stated that the board must be sure that the township is in attendance at all DEP meetings, and he had heard that they were excluded from an important one on May 23, 2019.  The Municipalities Planning Code must be changed so companies with very deep pockets like Synagro and Waste Management can't bleed towns dry of cash by dragging out applications; if Synagro/Waste Management want to file a new application, they should reimburse the township for the $200,000 it spent defending itself against this plan.

Don Moore pointed out the details of what happened on May 23, and displayed two agendas for back to back meetings that Tom Pullar of Synagro's engineer EarthRes had crafted with Roger Bellas of the DEP, that excluded the township from a discussion of deficiencies of sedimentation basin #2.  Mr. Pullar had previously told the township that they would be participating in this meeting.  Mr. Pullar stared at the floor as Mr. Moore pointed out the deception that had taken place.  Mr. Moore also stated that this project is not economic development - real economic development would be for Waste Management to return the township's trail when the landfill closes, which would allow the township trail to travel through Grand Central Woods and connect with Wind Gap and Pen Argyl.  Trails - especially through trails - are known to increase adjacent property values.

Elisa Robles presented the board with a petition signed by over 1000 citizens, objecting to the project.

Tom Carlo pointed out that this project was said to be all Green Knights and Synagro when it began, and no questions could be asked of Waste Management.  It has become clear that Waste Management is the Applicant and more questions should be asked of Waste Management if this project returns.  Sludge is not safe for application to land - it contains 350+ known pollutants, 60+ hazardous.

Sheri Acevedo of Northampton County Parks encouraged the township to be vigilant and uphold its ordinances, including requiring an EIS for a project with such potential impacts.  The township also must not let applicants file new materials a few days before meetings - if there is a 21-day rule it must be enforced uniformly.

Rachel Rosenfeld of the Sierra Club congratulated the township on the recent passage of its Appalachian Trail Ordinance, which implements various protections of the Appalachian Trail corridor and throughout the township.  Ms. Rosenfeld stated that the Sierra Club seeks to assist communities in protecting its citizens from degraded natural resources, especially high quality waters - as are present at the proposed Synagro site.

David Flyte reminded everyone that Synagro/Waste Management owes at least $21,000 in land development review fees.

Several speakers thanked the planning commission members for the outstanding effort they put into reviewing Synagro's application, over the course of 2 years and 10 months in total.

Synagro and Waste Management will be back with another try at this - they are way too greedy to let this opportunity go, no matter how insane their proposal is.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Resident calls out DEP for irregularities in Synagro biosolids bakery permit review process for Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center in Plainfield Township

The meaning of the phrase "the fix is in" is pretty widely known.  It implies that the process has been corrupted such that the outcome will not biased away from the criteria that should be evaluated.  The outcome may be consistent with an unbiased evaluation, or more commonly it will be the opposite, and shock the conscience.

In the case of this biosolids plant, which will process 400 tons of crap a day, to be distributed to a farm next to you as fertilizer, some may say "This biosolids plant will be approved.  These are big companies, they will get what they want."  It is true that big companies have big money, and have lobbyists working overtime attempting to curry favor with politicians.  But lacking a change in law, weakening even further Pennsylvanians' ability to enjoy a healthy environment, at the end of the day the courts must uphold the law.  The passionate observer must stand up for him or herself, and get involved in the fight.  That is what this blog is all about - justice for citizens.  Active participants and voices in the fight against this proposed plant are the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Air Council and the Sierra Club.

Several warning signs have appeared in the case of this crap factory that indicate the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection may be biased in favor of approving it.  The letter below, written by a citizen, identifies these warning signs to Joe Buczynski, the Assistant Director of the Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre.  This office is reviewing three of Synagro's permint applications, the fourth is being reviewed in Harrisburg since it is a general permit that will allow plants like this to be spread across the state, and to sell their product as a fuel.

Here are the warning signs the letter writer cites:
  • DEP is intentionally not putting in writing decisions it has made
  • DEP is intentionally not putting in writing a record of negotiating a lengthy list of deficiencies
  • DEP participated in excluding Plainfield Township and Pen Argyl from attending a critical meeting they were told they could participate in to discuss significant deficiencies of Sedimentation Basin #2, a pond located next to the proposed plant
  • DEP is acting consistent with a bias towards spreading similar plants across the state, leaving the protection of the water and air in this community and on this site is a lower priority
  • DEP is acting like Synagro in placing a priority on the goal, without regard for how it reaches that goal
  • DEP and Synagro have made statements that seem to indicate DEP has already decided to issue permits once local approval is granted, and Synagro has stated an intent to use a DEP permit to pre-empt local ordinances
The letter writer also expresses a fear that DEP may be participating in or accommodating "state pressure" to approve this project - outside pressure - which may have resulted in one or more of the behaviors in this list.  You have the power to fight back against such biases, but it takes your participation - which you are guaranteed as a right as a citizen.  Asses in the seats send a message as much as those who speak.

The Plainfield Township Board of Supervisors will meet to vote on this proposal on Thursday, September 19, at the Fire Hall Banquet facility on Sullivan Trail, beginning at 7pm.  The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend rejection by the Board.  If you care about your property and health, or that of your neighbors, northeastern PA citizens and future generations, you are encouraged to attend and participate either as an observer, or speaker at courtesy of the floor.  Speakers will have 5 minutes to make their voice heard.

The first six people on the sign-in sheet at 11:00AM are officials and consultants for Plainfield Township and Pen Argyl, who were let in the room at 11:20AM.  Most all of people who attended beginning at 10:00AM then signed again - an odd exercise.