Sunday, March 5, 2017

West Penn residents appeal zoning permit for agricultural water extraction that Jay Land's Ringgold Acquisition Group II LLC is attempting to convert to commercial use

West Penn residents have filed an appeal to have this permit for "water harvesting" revoked
A hearing before the West Penn Zoning Hearing Board has not yet been scheduled

In January 2015, Jay Land's Ringgold Acquisition Group II LLC was granted a permit to locate what the West Penn Township zoning officer called a "Water Harvesting" use on the leased Knoedler property on Fort Franklin Road.  Land stated multiple times that his use was agricultural only, and for delivery to lands he personally owned or leased.  He estimated at one point that he was not taking more than 1000 gallons a day.  There is no such use of "water extraction" in the West Penn zoning ordinance for the site in question.

Meanwhile, two miles away, Land's MC Resource Pine Valley Springs operation on the leased Hower property is embroiled in a lawsuit with the DEP, being heard before the PA Environmental Hearing Board.  The issues are DEP suspended Land's permit because he is running a commercial water extraction operation and not fulfilling the terms of the permit - he is not monitoring bypass flow to ensure a spring maintains minimum flow, and he is not treating the water extracted with UV light as required.  If he treats the water, then he has to maintain records which has an expense, and he can be held accountable if the metrics aren't met.  To put it succinctly, Land is trying to operate the Pine Valley operation without satisfying DEP permitting requirements.  His appeal before the Environmental Hearing Board is grinding along, and it has become common knowledge that once the Pine Valley lease expires (in the next year), Land intends to shift production to the Fort Franklin location.  He's biding his time at Pine Valley to run out the clock, but the resolution of the issues at Pine Valley may affect future Fort Franklin operations.  If you read the docket (linked to above) unfortunately you will find the DEP is dragging its ass, and Land has been having his way with them for years.  It is not dissimilar to the circle-jerk with the West Penn Supervisors, as will be seen below.  Land has gotten his way until now, and apparently only legal action by concerned citizens will stop him because West Penn Supervisors are doing anything and everything to be deaf, dumb and blind.  More about that is below as well.  Let's get the party started.

Increase in activities at Fort Franklin in October 2016, destruction of guardrail and reckless and dangerous tanker movements
Back at Fort Franklin, Land is up to his usual tricks.  In October 2016, he quickly ramped up production to approximately 100,000 gallons of water extracted daily - and remember this water is allegedly being used for irrigation.  This is a magic number, because at over 100,000 gallons, additional DRBC (Delaware River Basin Commission) and DEP permits and regulations kick in.  Land's ultimate production is planned to be over 500,000 gallons a day.  Now, Land never met the requirements of the January 2015 water harvesting permit he was issued, and received a violation notice in March 2015 that he had not filed a land development plan.  He did not respond to this notice and today has still not filed one.

50-ton tanker that requires special permitting from both PADOT and West Penn Township (but has neither) loading at Fort Franklin site in October 2016.  A 2015 Road Study found that the road from this site should be posted at 15 tons, and will require improvements to even withstand that loading.

Truck traffic associated with the October increase in activity at Fort Franklin was disruptive and extremely dangerous to residents along the route, and furthermore the extraction of 100,000 gallons of water daily was associated with at least one nearby resident's well water turning brown and becoming laden with sediment.  When the trucks leaving the Fort Franklin site make the turn from Blue Mountain Drive onto Route 309 South, they engage in extremely reckless and unsafe maneuvers which involve crossing the center line of Blue Mountain Drive, crossing the center line of Route 309 and both lanes of oncoming 50 mph traffic, or both.  Some of the tankers leaving the Fort Franklin site in October and November were 50-ton units, which require a permit from both the state of Pennsylvania and West Penn; these tankers are believed to have neither.  The guardrail along Blue Mountain Drive at Route 309 was destroyed by water tankers making the turn too tightly.  It was hit at least three times from October through November 2016.  West Penn supervisors have not and will not discuss why they have not issued a cease and desist order to Land for the Fort Franklin operation.

Guardrail destroyed by water tanker at Blue Mountain Dr/Rt 309 intersection in October 2016 making extremely dangerous and reckless turn onto Route 309.  All lanes of traffic in both directions on Route 309 must be blocked to make this turn with a slowly moving water tanker, starting from a stop.  What could go wrong?

Residents' legal actions against Jay Land's operations begin piling up
On January 13, 2016, a group of West Penn residents filed a lawsuit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Jay Land, MC Resource Development Company, Pine Valley landowner Larry Hower, Hower's company Snow Green Acres, Ringgold Acquisition Group II LLC and Fort Franklin landowner David Knoedler, arguing nuisance and negligence due to truck traffic, degradation of wells, etc.  In September 2016, Hower filed a cross-claim against MC Resource, confirming that Mr. Hower and Mr. Land's futures in cahoots is short-lived.

On August 29 2016, residents preserved their right to file a lawsuit against West Penn Township in relation to Land's water extraction operations by filing a Writ of Summons against WPT in the Schuykill County Court of Common Pleas. To date, the residents have not exercised the right preserved by the Writ.

West Penn residents put township on notice on August 29, 2016 that they intend to sue its ass over inaction on water extraction

Land's Fort Franklin site supplies Niagra Bottling non-permitted sediment-laden water for one month, causing failure of Niagra's filtration equipment and pollution of resident's water
From mid-October to mid-November approximately fifteen 40 to 50 ton tankers daily traveled from Fort Franklin to Niagra Bottling.  A bottler is supposed to accept untreated (raw) water only if the bottler owns the extraction operation.  Niagra does not.  It is rumored that Land's non-permitted and unregulated raw water fouled Niagra filters and caused $30,000 of damage.  Resident Jim Hehn near the Fort Franklin site reported his water went from clean to brown and heavily laden with sediment.  Production at Fort Franklin was suspended.  In November, Land had two new wells drilled at Fort Franklin - he's trying to get deep enough to get clean water.  Not "spring water", mind you - that is closer to the surface.

West Penn Supervisors fail to act on Bonding and Posting of roads to protect township residents health, safety and welfare
In November 2015 the West Penn Supervisors received the results of a study of the roads Jay Land's operations are and were anticipated to use, including Blue Mountain Drive.  The study found that Blue Mountain Drive (and other roads) should be posted with a 15-ton maximum gross weight limit, and that even at this limit Blue Mountain Drive requires upgrading to a thicker surface. This would preclude the 40 to 50 ton tankers that Land uses.  The supervisors then proceeded to ignore the results of this study.  Under pressure from residents to get off their asses (legal pressure through lawsuits - the only kind these look-the-other-way do-nothings appear to understand), a workshop on Bonding and Posting is scheduled in West Penn Township on March 27, 2017 from 8am to 12pm.

West Penn Supervisors fail to file cease and desist order for violation of Land's permit requirements
The letter below was sent multiple times to Ringgold Acquisition Group II LLC, to notify them that the lack of filing a Land Development Plan was in violation of the January 2015 permit.  However, a cease and desist was never filed.  What part of "not doing your jobs" do you not understand, supervisors?  For whom are you working?

 Zoning Officer Anders, the same genius who issued the Jan 2015 use permit for a non-listed use
filed this notice of violation on March 18, 2015, as well as followup letters.  They were not responded to, and no further action has been taken by West Penn Township.  Fail.

Residents stage protests against water extraction
West Penn residents want action, not willful ignorance

West Penn residents staged peaceful protests against water extraction on January 3, 2017 and on February 6, 2017.  Each of these protests was held prior to a Board of Supervisors meeting.  West Penn Supervisors have dragged their feet, giving residents virtually no support at all.  This blogger heard a recording of Supervisor James Dean on July 2, 2016 stating that the West Penn Zoning Officer was drafting a cease and desist order for Land's Fort Franklin operation due to failure to file a Land Development Plan.  Rest assured we're doing all we can to protect our citizens health, and safety and welfare.  Bull shit, Mr. Dean.  The cease and desist was never filed.  Talk and no action - disgraceful.  How much is it worth for supervisors to ignore their residents' health, safety and welfare on behalf of one unscrupulous operator?

Appeal of January 2015 permit for "water harvesting" - hearing date TBD
On February 28, 2017, West Penn residents filed an appeal with the West Penn Zoning Hearing Board, demanding that the permit for "water harvesting" issued to Ringgold Acquisition Group II LLC be revoked.  Their argument is:
  • The permit was issued in error, because "water harvesting" is not a use in the zoning district(s) where the Fort Franklin site is located.
  • The permit expired on January 17, 2017, because multiple requirements associated with the permit were not completed/satisfied.

West Penn residents appeal of water extraction permit issued using argument that water extraction is similar to an agricultural use

The legal opinion referenced in the residents' appeal is below.  It is significant, in that the Commonwealth Court found that water extraction is a more intense use than agriculture, and more similar to mineral extraction.  West Penn's Zoning Officer, its solicitor and certain BOS members have stated water extraction is similar to an agricultural use.

Commonwealth Court finds that bulk loading of water is not similar to an agricultural use
It is more similar to a mining operation in intensity (see Page 10)

Protest scheduled for March 6, 2017 from 6:30pm to 7:30pm @ WPT Municipal Building
prior to regular Board of Supervisors meeting