Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Plainfield Township BOS votes 4-0-1 to send Solicitor and hire expert to fight Synagro at Zoning Hearing Board

David announces he's taking on Goliath

At tonight's Plainfield Township Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board voted to hire an expert in crap, and to send the expert and the township solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board review of Synagro's special exception application and variance appeal.  Supervisors expressed a desire to defend the township against the risks associated with processing 400 tons of crap than already occurs at the Waste Management/Grand Central Sanitary Landfill.  The initial budget approved for the expert was $15,000, and amount which will be revisited as the matter progresses.  The next Planning Commission review of the proposal will be on Dec 19, and the Zoning Hearing Board hearing will likely be mid to late January 2017.

A tale of two Green Knight Economic Development members and conflict of interest
Prior to recusing himself once the motion was made, Supervisor Steve Hurmi (a member of the Green Knight Economic Development Corporation which would sell energy to Synagro for its operation) expressed a concern to protect residents's interests.  Mr. Hurni said that while the Zoning Officer was still to render another review, that supervisors should consider this night if action was needed, and to not wait.  This is laudable, given that one might expect Mr. Hurni to lean a certain direction due to a conflict of interest.  What this blogger observed was the opposite - Mr. Hurni put the citizens first, and there was no hint of favoring Green Knights.  That's ethical behavior, folks.

Two residents in attendance reported that Mr. Robert Cornman, Jr, Vice President of Green Knight and also Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, acted in a less unbiased manner during the Nov. 21, 2016 review of Synagro's application - that he appeared to want the planners to "push" the application forward with a conditional approval that night.  Mr. Cornman:

  • Recused himself from making motions or voting, but requested without objection to participate in discussion.
  • Suggested that rather than the Planning Commission discuss 18 Site Plan deficiencies cited in Hanover Engineering's review letter, that the Planning Commission could make a conditional recommendation to the Zoning Hearing Board with a request that the Applicant make changes to address the engineer's concerns.
  • Stated that the deficiencies were "mostly clerical and drafting items".  (Refuted by member Bob Simpson, who pointed out what he felt 3 were not clerical and were very important, and member Terry Kleintop, who felt 5 were important)
  • Then suggested that Hanover Engineering be asked to go over changes by Synagro before the Site Plan was forwarded to the Zoning Hearing Board (Solicitor Backenstoe pushed back and stated that if the Planning Commission has concerns, they should be addressed there)
  • Then stated that Synagro had completed a Site Plan that meets all of the requirements, and that a future Land Development Plan would cover all these items.
  • Finally he stated he didn't see why the Planning Commission had to "hold up" the Site Plan (to which Solicitor Backenstoe replied the Planning Commission has an absolute right to review the Site Plan)
Clearly Mr. Cornman should not have participated in the discussion, because he repeatedly tried everything possible to try to get the Site Plan approved at the Nov 21, 2016 meeting, despite fellow members insisting there were deficiencies they felt needed to be addressed prior to recommendation.  As it turns out, the Site Plan has a few gross and possibly fatal deficiencies - Synagro's use appears to be not be permitted, as well as already having been found to require a variance for multiple principal uses on a lot.  Ethics score: Mr. Hurni 10, Mr. Cornman 0.

Discussion and vote to send Solicitor Backenstoe and an expert to the Zoning Hearing Board hearing
During discussion on the motion, resident Don Moore presented the Board, Township Manager Petrucci and Solicitor Backenstoe with a handout in support of his belief that the Zoning Officer had made an error in determining the principal use that Synagro was permitted under.  Here is a copy of that handout:

Zoning Officer erred in determining Synagro's use is not defined in the ordinance - it is

Mr. Moore first stated that in his opinion, the Zoning Officer erred in determining that Synagro's use is similar to recycling, as defined in the ordinance; that recycling is of manufactured products (glass, cardboard, etc) and does not include biological products of the human body (ie crap).

Mr. Moore then demonstrated that in his belief there is a use in the Plainfield ordinance that matches Synagro's use - "Material Separation Facility" - a facility that thermally treats solid waste to create a product that is used off site.   The Zoning Officer's Nov. 17, 2016 letter states that Synagro's use is "not specifically permitted in the ordinance," which Mr. Moore argued is also in error since their use is a Material Separation Facility.  This use is only permitted in the Solid Waste Processing and Disposal district, which is not the zoning district of the targeted site.

Resident Joe Barbaras rose, and stated he is 2 miles from the current Waste Management site, but his life is made miserable already by odors from the dump.  He stated that if Synagro's use is approved, Plainfield Township will be the dump headquarters of the East Coast.  Mr. Barbaras expressed disappointment that he only received notice of this project in the last three days, when he received a mailer from Sludge Free Upper Mount Bethel Township.  Perhaps Mr. Barbaras was expressing frustration that Plainfield Township did not notify its own residents of Synagro's application.

Ralph Hahn spoke, and announced that he farms 400 acres, and residents can count on him to not spread Synagro's product on his farm ' "I won't use the stuff!"  Bob Krobath, also a resident and farmer, spoke at length against the use of sludge, and described the impact it has on the earth and environment.  He farms between 1500 and 2000 acres in Plainfield Township, and also said he won't be using sludge.  Mr. Krobath stated that he felt that at the planning review Mr. Cornman was interfering with other planning commission members being able to review the application fully, and it was inappropriate.

A few residents thanked the Supervisors for putting forward the resources to fight Synagro.  There was an attorney representing Synagro present, furiously taking notes, who abruptly left when the meeting adjourned.  He couldn't have been happy - it was a crappy night for Synagro.  The Plainfield Township Zoning Officer is due to issue a review of supplemental materials in Synagro's application tomorrow Dec.15, and if he finds that Synagro's use is permitted in another district but not the one Synagro plans, it will require another variance in addition to the one that Synagro already faces for muliple uses on the lot.  In this observer's opinion, there is chance between slim and none that Synagro will ultimately obtain these variances. Even if the Zoning Hearing Board waves the green flag, there is no justification for them.  A win in court would be child's play.

Given that the Supervisors are showing that they intend to enforce the ordinance, and Synagro deserves no relief to add a Use that is not permitted on a lot already used to the capacity prescribed by the Ordinance, Synagro would be wise to withdraw its application.  If this happens, it will eliminate the need to expend funds on a crap expert - the fight would be won on zoning, not health risks - the latter is a tougher slog through shitsville and would be a waste of time and money in this observer's opinion.

Edit 12/15 8:30pm Today, the Zoning Officer issued an updated opinion that Synagro's use is in fact not permitted on the proposed site, so an additional Use Variance will be needed.

Edit 12/16 6:45pm Synagro's application before the Planning Commission has been tabled until Tuesday, Jan 17, 2017.  Therefore, Synagro is believed to not be appearing on Dec 19, 2016 for the Commission's December meeting.

Edit 1/17 Synagro ultimately tabled its application for January, and is currently scheduled to appear next at the Feb 21, 201 Planning Commission meeting.  However, their plans may change - it should be known by January 23rd if a new plan will be reviewed, the tabled one will be reviewed, or if they table the application again.
The PR packet whimsically refers to Synagro's proposed facility as the
"Slate Belt Heat Recovery Center" - how "green"!


  1. "crap" paints a better picture than it really is. Septage + medical waster + industrial waste = hazardous substance.

  2. "crap" doesn't begin to describe the toxicity. Septage + medical waster + industrial waste = hazard substance.

  3. So does this mean we should still come to the meeting on the 19th or not since it was tabled til the January meeting? Glad our neighbors are standing up for our areas citizens.

  4. Sludge Free Upper Mount Bethel Township will hold a presentation and Q&A in a room at the Fire Company on the 19th @ 7pm - the same place and time as originally planned.