Thursday, July 11, 2019

August DEP hearing on Synagro proposal will not provide Q & A - only a chance to speak

Tonight, the Synagro land development plan review continues before the Plainfield Township planning commission.  This may be one of the last meetings, possibly there will only be one more to hold a vote on what recommendation to make on the proposal.

There are important remaining issues to discuss tonight - namely water quality and the nuisance mitigation plan.  Then the planning commission will have to decide if it is ready to make a recommendation.  To an extent, Synagro is in the driver's seat, since they have to approve extensions of the deadline for a decision - currently that deadline is July 31.  By the deadline, the planners must make a recommendation and the Board of Supervisors must vote taking the recommendation into account.

Producing a recommendation will take some thought, since either a lengthy list of conditions for approval or justification for denial will have to be included.  The township will likely provide an update of of the May 9 memorandum of suggested items for these two lists.  One might expect that after tonight's discussion, that list can be updated, and at one additional meeting the planners could have a final discussion and consider motions for a vote.

DEP hearing in August may provide no opportunity for discussion
Solid Waste Program does not plan to attend

There is a DEP public hearing scheduled for August 12 from 6 to 9PM at the Wind Gap Middle School.  Recall there was a DEP public meeting and hearing in October 2018, during which there was a question and answer period, followed by a hearing at which citizens put testimony into the record.  The hearing was initially advertised to be only for Air Quality, but in the last few weeks prior to the hearing DEP made the decision to add Water Quality and Solid Waste.  DEP representatives from each of these programs attended.

Once again, the August 12 hearing is advertised to be only for the Air Quality permit.  However, DEP has not yet issued draft permits for the Solid Waste Modification or Solid Waste Facility or an modified NPDES permit.  Might they add one or more of these to the list at the last minute, giving the public little notice that it can attend this hearing and testify towards those as well?  Fool me once, shame on you...
EDIT July 12 - It was announced at the July 11 review meeting that the modified NPDES draft permit was issued by DEP on July 10, and it will be added to the August 12 hearing agenda.

A DEP representative has stated that testimony on any issue related to the project will be accepted at the August hearing.  The question is, what kind of answers might be expected if it turns out that the Air Quality permit application is the only one officially noticed for consideration.

Furthermore, unlike the October hearing, there is not planned to be a Q&A period.  After the end of the Q&A portion of the October meeting, Senator Mario Scavello made a plea for DEP to hold an additional hearing for further questions to be asked.  In DEP's notice to the public for the August hearing, it is holding this (optional) hearing due to public concerns.  But it does not appear that the hearing will provide the opportunity Senator Scavello envisioned when he made his request, since there is no QA planned.  The public can appear and testify and include questions during their 5 minutes of testimony, but not expect answers?

This representative also stated that in addition to the Air Quality program, the Water Quality Program plans to attend, but he "is not sure why", and that no representative from the Solid Waste Program plans to attend this hearing.  Here is DEP's opportunity to take public feedback on a solid waste processing facility, and the Solid Waste Program will not be sending anyone?  Could it be that the Solid Waste Program Manager, Roger Bellas, does not want to subject himself to further public scrutiny and questions about his controversial decisions regarding the filling of a quarry on the site?

How to tell DEP that you plan to testify at the August 12 hearing

Send an email to Mark Wejkszner (pronounced WECKS-NER), Air Quality Program Manager, at  DEP requests that you include your name, address and phone number, and a brief description of what you intend to testify about with the request.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Review of Synagro crap factory proposed on Waste Management property in Plainfield Township continues this evening - DEP holds mock on-site meeting

At 7pm this evening, the review of the land development plan for Synagro's proposed shit drying plant before the planning commission continues.

Prior to last month's meeting, the township issued a letter with recommended conditions the planners set in case of recommending approval of the application, and recommended justifications in case of recommending rejection of the application.  The township also scheduled a Board of Supervisors meeting in late May, for a vote based on the planners' recommendation.

The letter, which contains a lengthy list of issues whether conditional approval or rejection is chosen, seems to have motivated Synagro.  The first thing that happened was Synagro extended the deadline for a decision to June 30.  That made it unnecessary for the planners or Board to take action in May.  Another package of materials was submitted to the planning commission on the evening of the last meeting, and yet another a week later.

The deadline for a decision has since been extended again, to July 31.

DEP shows it is in the tank for Synagro and Waste Management at on-site meeting

On Thursday May 23rd, the DEP held a meeting at the proposed site to discuss issues surrounding the quarry/pond that is located within 10 feet of the proposed crap plant.  It is rumored that Plainfield Township's team of three or four representatives was held in a room somewhere for the first portion of the meeting between Synagro, Waste Management, DEP and Northampton County Conservation District representatives.  Sweet!  Let's agree on what will be decided at the meeting, before the meeting.

Representing the DEP were the Assistant Director of the Northeast Regional office, Joe Buczynski, Waste Management Program Director Roger Bellas, and a few clean water department representatives.  The head of the county conservation district, Sharon Pletchan was in attendance.

Bellas is the one who issued a letter stating that the quarry could partially be filled in without a permit, under a waiver previously granted.  This was appealed by the township, which argued that the engineering that should have been required for said waiver was never done.  Instead of Bellas presenting proof engineering was done, he withdrew said letter.

Pletchan's office is essentially the lowest level of the DEP - your local office.  Her office issued the scathing deficiency letter, which the regional office placed a wrapper around and sent to Synagro.

Most of the talking was apparently done by Buczynski and Bellas - which you can expect in a situation like this.  Top brass and henchman do the bidding, local representative Pletchan sits helpless to do or say anything.  Why was it necessary to send the assistant regional director, when the question was (should have been) simply "how do we protect the water"?  Protecting the water was low priority - meeting attendees did not visit the headwaters of the Little Bushkill or the Waltz Creeks, both high quality streams within a few hundred feet.

Bellas announced that he has reviewed materials that show that the contamination of ground water that occurred when the (DEP approved!) filling of the Slate Hills quarry occurred will not happen in the case of the Waste Management quarry.  In the case of Slate Hills, Nestle Waters had to drill an interceptor well that has run for 5 years to date to keep its Deer Park water supply in Bangor from being contaminated.  The "materials" Bellas "reviewed" is likely a narrative that Synagro submitted to address concerns brought up by citizens and planners. Bellas accepts it as true, just like he accepted that engineering had been done when the waiver was granted previously to partially fill the quarry.  Engineering that DEP never produced to the court (Environmental Hearing Board).  Bellas' comments also made clear that DEP will not be requiring a permit to partially fill the quarry.

What is clear as day is the DEP wants to grant Synagro and Waste Management approval for this plant, DEP regulations be damned.  All of the deficiencies, some major, in the Conservation District's review, will be swept under the rug by Bellas and the management of the Northeast Office of Don't Expect Protection.  The fix is in.  Expect determinations such as this to be appealed to the Environmental Hearing Board.  This is total bullshit.

Monday, May 13, 2019

DEP issues technical deficiency letter for Synagro's proposed Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center - facility permit

On April 1, DEP issued a technical deficiency letter in response to Synagro's application for general permit for its proposed facility in Plainfield Township.  This follows a technical deficiencies letter dated March 22, for an application to modify Grand Central Sanitary Landfill's permit to accommodate the Synagro facility.

Of interest is DEP attached a letter from a concerned citizen, and requested that Synagro issue a response to the stated concerns.

Plainfield Township publishes lengthy list of outstanding deficiencies and recommended conditions if Synagrio land development plan receives conditional approval

Tonight, Plainfield Township planners may vote on the Synagro crap bakery land development plan that has been before them since February 2018, and a site plan for the same project since October 2016.  Currently, the township Board of Supervisors has a deadline of May 31 to vote on this application.

In advance of the meeting, the township manager has submitted a memorandum to the planning commission, which summarizes outstanding deficiencies in the land development plan - zoning and stormwater issues for example.

There is also a lengthy list of conditions suggested, in the event the planning commission were to recommend conditional approval.  This list provides the planners with a framework, in the event they  choose to not recommend against approval.

In this observer's opinion, the planners could use the summary of deficiencies as a framework for recommending denial of the application.

Note 1: the memorandum incorporates several consultant letters.  One letter from Material Matters was apparently received after the memorandum was composed, and it is at the bottom of this page.

Note 2: The DEP has issued a deficiencies letter on the application for the general permit for this facility.  It is located here.

Note 3: The DEP on May 11 issued a notice that it intends to issue the Air Quality permit for the facility.  It is at this link.

Deficiencies and recommended conditions for approval of Synagro land development plan Plainfield Township on Scribd

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Plainfield Township planners and supervisors have no choice but to deny approval of Synagro crap factory

The land development plan application currently before the Plainfield Township planning commission for Synagro's shit bakery must be voted on the Board of Supervisors by May 31.  Synagro has extended the deadline several times, but apparently there will be no further extensions although several outstanding deficiencies remain.  See the sidebar or this post for details on upcoming meetings currently scheduled.

The planning commission acts in an advisory role for the Board of Supervisors, so when it votes it is a recommendation.  The planners can recommend the BOS approve the application with conditions, or recommend that the application be denied.   At courtesy of the floor on April 17, Pen Argyl legal counsel Peter Layman stated "In my opinion, Synagro has shot itself in the foot, if it wanted to have its application approved."  This observer agrees - Synagro has forced the township into denying its application.

Image result for denied
Synagro's application must be denied

Synagro first submitted a site plan for this operation in October 2016.  It was quickly discovered that the site proposed was not zoned to allow it, and most of 2017 was spent reviewing a site plan for a new site.  Synagro had no idea what it was doing - the operating hours were a moving target, amount of storage of raw material (shit) had not been thought through, there was a wastewater treatment plant that later disappeared.  They had no idea how the site would be accessed, and to this day have not made this clear.  In November 2017, Synagro announced that they would be submitting a land development plan that would comply with zoning and not require variances.

In February 2018, a land development plan was submitted, but it was deemed to require four zoning variances.  Changes were made to cure the need for two of these, but two others remain.  Synagro has refused to admit the variances are needed, and accordingly has shown no interest in applying to the Zoning Hearing Board for relief which is the body to adjudicate disagreements of interpretation.

The PA Municipalities Planning Code dictates that interpretations of the opinion of the zoning officer are appealed to the local Zoning Hearing Board.  It is the lowest "court" to determine if the zoning officer made the correct interpretation, and its decisions may be appealed to the county court.  You can't skip the lowest court and go to a higher court first.  But the lack of Synagro addressing required zoning variances, while inexplicable, is the tip of the iceberg in understanding why the land development application must be denied.

1. Failure to provide adequate access to the proposed site
The proposed site is not being accessed from an arterial or collector road, with a separate 30' wide entrance and exit as required by the ordinance.

Also, Synagro waited until the last few months to discuss access to its site from Pen Argyl Rd with PennDOT, and PennDOT informed Synagro that it would not issue a highway occupancy permit for access from Pen Argyl Road.

2. Siting of parking area and driveway in a freshwater pond
The ordinance requires a setback from ponds, and Synagro proposes to place its operation in the pond by partially filling it, and then claiming it left a buffer around the remaining boundary.  Multiple planners laughed out loud at the review meeting where this was revealed.

At the April 17, an 11th hour proposal by Synagro was discussed, to route runoff from the parking area and driveway to a catchment basin, but township consultants panned the proposed alteration.  Correspondence in which this modification is proposed is on page 25 of the document attached below.  A completed site plan depicting this alteration was never submitted - in fact no new site plan materials have been submitted by Synagro for the April or May planning commission meetings - signalling they may be ready for a decision based on the volumes of crap already in the planners' possession.  Whatever was going to stick to the wall already has, but look out for the heaping pile of shit that slithered towards the floor.

3. Refusal to submit an Environmental Impact Statement
The Plainfield Township zoning ordinance provides for studies to be conducted on request to demonstrate that environmental standards be met.  Township legal consultant Jack Embick prepared a legal opinion that the township's request for an EIS is justified both by the zoning ordinance as well as the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  Mr. Embick's opinion is located at page 29 of the document below.  The CliffsNotes version is that without an EIS, the planning commission should recommend rejecting the application - which he has stated at multiple meetings.

4. Refusal to conduct a hydrogeological study of a pond adjacent to proposed plant
For the past year, planners have been requesting that Synagro do a hydrogeological study of Sedimentation Basin #2, which is a freshwater pond within 10' of the proposed plant that is connected with the adjacent Little Bushkill and Waltz Creeks.  Initially, Synagro hid behind a DEP ruling that the basin could be partially filled under continuation of a DEP waiver granted over 10 years ago, and as such no study was required to determine the impacts on groundwater quantity or quality of filling it.  The DEP withdrew this ruling under appeal by the township, yet Synagro has continued to refuse to have a hydrogeologist assess the pond.  On multiple occasions, planners have made clear their concern over the possible impacts on water quality and rate of flow of water into and out of the pond, yet Synagro has refused to to a study to satisfy these concerns.

At the April 17 meeting, Thomas Pullar of Earthres for Synagro stated "we think we now have a pretty good estimate of the depth of the pond," and he then came out with a new value - different than the one (actually two different ones, as DEP pointed out in its deficiency letter) Earthres submitted to the DEP in its permit applications.  When challenged, Pullar said "we'll get you the depth."  When?

It is very clear that Synagro does not want to do a study of the pond, because the results could open up a whole new can of worms.

5. Refusal to do an alternatives analysis to justify violating riparian buffer requirements
The township ordinance requires an alternatives analysis be done if the required riparian buffer can not be met.  Since Synagro is proposing to construct a parking lot and maneuvering area in the existing pond, the buffer can not be met.  But Synagro has refused to conduct said alternatives analysis.

6. Remaining lack of agreement on Nuisance Mitigation Control Plan
At the April 17 review meeting, Trudy Johnston of Material Matters reported that there remains lack of agreement on certain standards and methodology as pertains to the Nuisance Mitigation Control Plan.  While 90% of the issues have been worked out, the most contentious remain.  Additionally, Ms. Johnston commented on a newly proposed method of monitoring odors put forth by Synagro, called Odor Intensity Reference Scale or OIRS.  She had concerns that Synagro had failed to identify field practices that would result in an effective program.  She also had concerns that Synagro personnel who would be responsible for "self monitoring" odors under the proposed protocol might have trouble detecting nuisance odors since they work all shift long around poop odors and dried poop dust.  Ms. Johnston stated during a break "personally, I would not use the OIRS system myself," which calls into question whether it should be considered at all.  Ms. Johnston/s detailed response to Synagro's proposal to use OIRS is on page 5 of the document below.

Simply put, Synagro has acted in bad faith.  When a planning commision requests something, applicants ordinarily do it.  Instead, in the case of multiple items listed above, Synagro's attorneys have stepped in and said "we don't believe we should be required to do this".  Therefore, a conditional approval is out of the question.  What would be the point to set conditions that Synagro has already refused such as "Do a hydrogeological study, do a riparian alternatives analysis, provide compliant access, don't build in the pond"?  No - this is not an option.  You didn't do what we asked for over a year, so that we could make an informed decision to approve your plan.  Your attitude sucks, your plan sucks, you aren't complying with the township's requests, you don't comply with the ordinance.  Take your shitty plan elsewhere.

The planners and BOS must protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens, and in the absence of the information needed to ensure this must recommend/vote to deny the plan.  For over two years, Synagro has been refusing to do things.  It is time for the township's representatives to say "no, we don't have to approve this."

Below are letters received from consultants submitted prior to the April meeting, comments in some of which are referenced in the discussion above.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Plainfield Board of Supervisors scheduled to vote on Synagro land development plan for crap factory on Waste Management property

The Plainfield Township Board of Supervisors have advertised a special meeting to consider approval of the land development plan for Synagro's controversial shit bakery - for Wednesday May 22 at 7pm at the Plainfield Township Fire Hall.
Currently, the deadline for a vote is May 31, 2019, and if Synagro does not allow further extensions the Board will have to vote by that date to avoid what is called a "deemed approval".  A "deemed approval" is when a town's residents are cornholed due to lack of timely consideration by the governing body.

The Planning Commission has been reviewing the plan since February 2018, and a summary of the progress and/or lack thereof in completing that process will be posted here in the next few days.  The Planning Commission will meet on Monday May 13 at 7pm (see sidebar) for what may be their last meeting on this project.  While there are multiple loose ends and negotiations to agree on terms were incomplete as of the April review meeting, if the deadline is not extended the planners will have to render a recommendation based on the current status.  Planners can make conditional recommendations.  The planners could also delay final action until their regular meeting on Monday May 20.  This would be cutting things very close, but wrapping this up quickly and dotting i's and crossing t's will be a genuine challenge.  Recommending denial or approval of the plan will require a lengthy list of reasons or conditions that will have to be itemized and contained in the recommendation.

The Planning Commission provides an advisory role in land development planning, and the Board of Supervisors can either accept their recommendations, or ignore them.  In this case, since the planners and township consultants have worked diligently for many months on this project, and the township has expended significant resources in ensuring a thorough review to protect local citizens, it is very likely that he Board will largely accept whatever recommendation the planners make.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

PennDOT rejects Synagro proposal to access poop plant via Pen Argyl Road in Plainfield Township

Next week, the review of Synagro's land development plan for a biosolids plant to be located on land leased from Grand Central Landfill continues before the Plainfield Township planning commission (see right sidebar for details).

At the last meeting in March, the Nuisance Mitigation Plan was discussed - this important document contains metrics on what trigger levels there will be for potential odors as well as for other nuisances that may be associated with the proposed plant, as well as response actions.  Synagro rejected the levels suggested by township consultant Trudy Johnston as being too stringent - more discussion will be necessary.  There was also concern how or if odors from tarped trucks travelling through town to deliver tons of crap would be regulated.  This potentially could be one of the worst nuisances of this operation.  Tarps won't do jack shit to control odors - Synagro has admitted this in previous meetings.

Sedimentation Basin #2 was also discussed - there will be more discussion on this too, as PA DEP subsequently issued a letter listing several deficiencies associated the basin, and the township maintains that a variance from a zoning ordinance open space buffer from water bodies is required to locate parking and a driveway within the current boundary of the basin.

Also at the March 11, 2019 meeting, township traffic consultant Peter Terry of Benchmark Analytics reported on a PennDOT scoping meeting that was held to discuss Synagro's proposed access via Pen Argyl Road.  Synagro proposed in February a Low Use HOP (highway occupancy permit) for Pen Argyl Road, which would allow for the entire daily traffic anticipated to be required for the plant's trucks and employees.  Representatives from PennDOT, Benchmark, Synagro and the township attended the meeting.  Mr. Terry reported that PennDOT stated that it is unlikely a permit would be issued for trucks and employees to access the plant using Pen Argyl Road, and the only potential access would be via a Minimum Use (25 vehicles a day or less in and out) gated driveway to be used only in case of emergencies.

Looking at the closeup view, it is easy to see why this proposal was rejected.  Trucks exiting are in the way of trucks entering, and can't see traffic traveling south until they totally block the bidrectional access point.
February 2019 draft proposal of Low Use driveway

Closeup of February 2019 proposal to route all traffic to Pen Argyl Road
Head-on collision, anyone?  Who needs site distance?

Recall that in July 2018, Synagro tossed its first Pen Argyl Road access at the wall, to see if it would stick.  It did not, and right out of the gate (pun intended) Synagro admitted this would be a Minimum Use driveway not capable of handling its traffic, and would be gated for emergency use only.  At the PennDOT scoping meeting, PennDOT stated that this is the only kind of access that could be permitted for Synagro from Pen Argyl Road.
July 2018 proposal for gated Minimum Use(less) access via Pen Argyl Road

Closeup of July 2018 proposal - suitable for small employee cars only

This means that Synagro will have to find another method of accessing the site - likely the Route 512 landfill entrance, down the haul road to two bidirectional driveways on each end of the poop plant.  As a result, the township will continue to maintain that Synagro needs a second zoning variance, for access via separate entrances and exits directly to a collector or arterial street.  There simply is no space to install zoning compliant driveways to Pen Argyl Road, with the proper throat length and site distance.