Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Waste Management continues to bully Plainfield Township into granting approval for Synagro crap bakery while Green Knight Energy Center operates in violation of approved development plan

At tonight's Plainfield Township Planning Commission review of Waste Management's land development application, the latest in a 1-1/2 year long string of bids to locate a crap bakery in the township, the Applicant's attorney Elizabeth Witmer will be in an interesting position.  Witmer is a land use specialist, and at the November 2017 review of Synagro's site plan she stated emphatically that the Applicant intended to file a Land Development application that would comply with the township ordinance and "not require any variances".  The township Zoning Office determined that at least four variances are needed, including a use variance because this use must be located along an arterial or major collector road.

In a post earlier this date, it was reported that Waste Management and Robert Cornman Jr (Green Knight representative and former Plainfield Township planning commission member and chairman) knew full well in November 2016 that a biosolids use was provided for in the SW solid waste district and not permitted in the CI commercial industrial district, due to a highly publicized failure in 1999 to obtain a variance to locate its own energy center in the same location, yet they still pursued leasing this location to Synagro.  That's called bad faith - were they hoping the township "wouldn't notice"?  (Suggested answer: YES)

A few members of the planning commission quizzed Witmer on this point, because no Applicant files a land development plan unless all zoning issues have been resolved.  Witmer stressed that no variances will be required.  In short, it is a waste of time and resources to review how a development will satisfy storm water management when (for example) there is no way to get vehicles on and off the site.  This is exactly the situation at hand.  The Land Development Plan does not comply with the ordinance as Witmer pledged.

Purpose of tonight's review meeting - does anyone know?
In previous letters and oration at reviews of this proposal, Synagro's legal beagle Matthew Goodrich has stated that in no uncertain terms Synagro expected a zoning permit, deserved a zoning permit, and that the township has to issue a zoning permit.  This despite the township reminding him on multiple occasions that Synagro ain't getting no permit until requirements are met - which includes variances and regulatory approval.
One might fairly ask what the purpose of tonight's meeting is, since as of 11am today no Zoning Hearing Board application for variances associated with this plan have been received by Plainfield Township. Use variances are granted in about 10% of cases, so if road access is not resolved, this project is not happening.  Synagro and Waste Management will want to talk about how they recently filed for DEP and NPDES permit, but who the hell GAFF when they can't drive to and from the site?

In the narrative accompanying Synagro's October 2017 site plan submission, Synagro stated that approvals were granted the Green Knight Energy Center in 1999 and a 2001 revision, and Witmer emphasized during the November review that Synagro intends to rely on those approvals.  The only problem with this plan is her statement is incorrect - there is no approved 2001 revision.
False statement that the 1999 Green Knight Energy Center land development plan was amended in 2001 - the 2001 plan's conditional requirements were never met by Green Knight Energy Center and a conditional approval expired in 2002. 

The narrative in the February 2018 Land Development plan submission curiously deletes the reference to the 2001 revision:
Waste Management's Feb 2018 narrative no longer boasts about as lengthy a list of approvals, or mentions the driveway (wonder why...)

Contents of the recorded 1999 plan and its 2001 defunct proposed revision
The 1999 approved and recorded Energy Center plan states that access to the site will be via Pen Argyl Road, a major collector. Since access was to the east along Pen Argyl Road, the front yard was chosen there.  This is important, since it allowed a lesser side yard setback along the township trail, and did not force the proposed access drive into the existing quarry.  Note 12 specifically states that access will be via Pen Argyl Road, yet when the Energy Center was built, access was created across Plainfield Township's trail onto GCSL's private haul road - in violation of the recorded plan.  Note that in reality, the 1999 plan depicts an access drive that actually "tees" at the private haul road and does not extend across it to Pen Argyl Road.  How the hell did Mr. Robert Cornman Jr's planning commission ever even approve this plan?  Note 4 indicates that a PENNDOT highway occupancy permit is required for access to Pen Argyl Road - was this ever obtained, was it denied due to limited site distance, etc and is this why "as-built" was different?

1999 Recorded and official Land Development Plan for Green Knight Energy Center

Green Knight came back to the township in 2000 and proposed a revised plan, with access now to be "as built".  Plainfield Township was concerned that now it was proposed to use the Township Trail, and the Township Solicitor recommended the trail easement agreement be modified with this use in mind, in addition to other conditions for approval.  None other than Robert Cornman Jr, in his role as Green Knight representative, signed off on April 11, 2001 on an agreed list of conditions which must be met within one year in order for this revised plan to be approved (at bottom of this post).  This never occurred - whoopsie - breakdown of communication with himself?  In the proposed revision, note that now the Access Drive in the 1999 plan is now labelled "Alternate Access Drive", the text in 1999's Note 12 is retained, and in Note 11 we see that the "approved" access location will be retained "if the trail agreement expires".  In such an event, the access drive to Pen Argyl Road that was approved in 1999 would be built.
Proposed & defunct 2001 revision of Land Development Plan for Green Knight Energy Center

Synagro, Waste Management and Green Knight are all up Shit Creek without a paddle.
  • Green Knight Energy Center is operating in violation of its approved Land Development Plan - a legally binding document
  • The 2001 revision is scrap since it was never signed, expired and was never recorded.
  • Green Knight Energy Center traffic is travelling across Plainfield Township land, not provided for and in violation of the 1997 trial easement agreement
  • Note 11 of the proposed revised plan acknowledges that the trail agreement may expire (eg when the landfill closes) and at said time access via Pen Argyl Road would be uses to access the Energy Center.  This would cover, for example, the 2 to 3 year period during which the last gas from the landfill is converted to electricity.
This evening's meeting should be a real hoot.  It will be interesting to see if Ms. Witmer takes the same position she did in November - everything is fine, our plan is in compliance, Waste Management and Synagro are here for recommended approval tonight - anything less is unacceptable.  Whatever... you're being paid handsomely, say whatever floats your boat.

Conditional approval for 2001 LD plan signed by Robert Cornman, Jr on behalf of Green Knight

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Plainfield Township ex-planner has history of ignoring zoning ordinance to grease skids for Waste Management/Green Knight Economic Development Corporation

On Wednesday April 4, 2018 at 7pm the Plainfield Township Planning Commission will meet to review the Land Development Plan to locate a Synagro biosolids crap bakery on land owned by Waste Management.  In the room, as he has been for every meeting thus far, will be Green Knight vice chairman and Synagro crap bakery project representative Robert Cornman Jr, who is also an ex-Planning Commission member and  its long time chairman.

When Synagro first slithered silently into Plainfield Township in November 2016 with its proposal, Cornman was still a Planning Commission member.  Despite stating he was recusing himself, he participated in discussion and suggested multiple times at the November 2016 review of Synagro's proposal that it be given conditional approval that evening to locate on a parcel in the Commercial Industrial (CI) zoning district.  It was subsequently discovered that Synagro's use was not even a permitted in the location proposed, and therefore it would require a use variance.  Without any hardship, it would be impossible to obtain a use variance.
November 2016 Synagro Site Plan, with proposed plant location in gray area
north of haul road in CI zoning district (North is to right side of screen)
Planner Robert Cornman Jr suggested this site plan be granted conditional approval

Planning Commissions are responsible per the Municipalities Planning Code for maintaining and updating a municipality's zoning ordinance.  As the long time commission chairman, Mr. Cornman was uniquely positioned out of all township citizens as the single best authority on the township's zoning ordinance.  As it turns out, since July 1, 1988  Synagro's use was permitted in the Solid Waste District.  One should ask, is it possible that Mr. Cornman did not know this, and actually encouraged approving this use to be located in a district where it is not permitted.

Let's pause briefly to note that in 1988 an extensive Solid Waste addendum to the township's comprehensive plan was adopted, to plan for responsible and strategically located solid waste uses.  Immediately, Zoning Ordinance amendment 192 was adopted, which provided for six (6) uses by right in the Solid Waste district, including a material separation facility (Synagro's use) and a landfill gas to energy plant (Green Knight Energy Center).  This list of uses has not changed nor where they are permitted since 1988.

As it turns out, both Mr. Cornman and Waste Management were very much aware in November 2016 that a use related to Solid Waste could not be located on the site in question, because 17 years earlier Mr. Cornman, while he was Planning Commission Chairman, attempted unsuccessfully to shepherd on behalf of Waste Management another Solid Waste use into the same precise location!

In 1999, Waste Management applied for a use variance to locate the Green Knight landfill gas to energy plant in the CI zoning district.  Here is a site plan that was submitted with the application:
1999 proposed location of Green Knight Energy Center, in CI zoning district in exact same location as 2016 proposed Synagro plant - same shit different year.  Planning Commission chairman Robert Cornman Jr testified at the ZHB hearing on the alleged economic benefit while ignoring the fact the was no hardship to justify a variance - which was his responsibility to know.

Planning Commission under Chairman Robert Cornman Jr recommends Waste Management be granted a use variance, despite there being no hardship

Several objectors testified at the zoning board hearing for the variance.  Pen Argyl was represented by attorney John Molnar, who showed that the proposal was counter to the 1988 comprehensive plan, as well as the zoning ordinance, and that extensive cost and effort had recently been put into updating both documents to accommodate Solid Waste uses.  Yet Robert Cornman Jr totally ignored both the spirit and letter of the zoning ordinance that as a planning commission member and chairman he was obligated to uphold for all land owners of the township.

Planning Commission chairman Robert Cornman Jr puts the good word in for
Waste Management - recommending approval to place the energy center outside the Solid Waste district, in total disregard of the Ordinance and a clear conflict of interest.
Ever hear of a designated hitter batting for both teams?

The Zoning Hearing Board did the right thing - they went through the five criteria for a variance, and found that Waste Management had no hardship whatsoever.  "Benefit to the community" is not a hardship.

Zoning Hearing Board facts and findings in case of Waste Managment's attempt to violate Plainfield Township's zoning ordinance - with Robert Corman Jr's blessing.  The ZHB was not swayed.

The township supervisors did the right thing by kicking Mr. Robert Cornman Jr to the curb, and he should never be reappointed to the planning commission.  Ethics requires a municipal official to put aside their own desires and outside special interests, and promote uniform and unbiased adherence to local laws and regulations.  There is a rumor that he submitted a letter of interest to be appointed back onto the commission in Jan 2018 - the size of those balls are impressive indeed.

Footnote: the five criteria enumerated above in the Facts Findings of the 1999 variance are the same criteria which would have to be met by Waste Management/Synagro in order to be granted the variances that are needed for the Synagro plant to be approved.