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Bucks judge rules against Rockhill asphalt operation


Bucks County Judge Robert J. Mellon has issued a permanent injunction that prevents an asphalt plant from operating at Rockhill Quarry – a victory for East Rockhill residents and township officials opposed to the proposed plant and related quarry operations.

Issued last week, Mellon’s ruling came following a trial in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.

The decision occurred the same week that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released official comments that raise questions and concerns about testing for naturally occurring asbestos that the quarry commissioned to have performed at the site on North Rockhill Road in East Rockhill.

In his decision, Mellon essentially upheld East Rockhill zoning, which officials have maintained prohibits the operation of an asphalt plant at the quarry.

Mellon said the plant constituted a separate business from the quarry and kyboshed arguments from the quarry that centered, in part, on establishing a history of asphalt plant operation on the site that would serve as a basis for operating a plant again.

Attorneys for quarry operator, Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp., and site owner Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania, said that an asphalt plant had previously run at the site until 1983.

In Dec. 2018, DEP issued a stop-work order on quarrying activity at the site after naturally occurring asbestos was found. The order remains in place. The discovery led to the quarry having to per-form testing to determine the extent of asbestos.

The firm EarthRes of Pipersville performed the testing on behalf of the quarry, but on March 2 DEP responded to the resulting test report with a list of questions and concerns.

Those questions asked for clarification over testing methods, brought up issues with potential discrepancies between DEP test samples and quarry samples, indicated that tallies for naturally occurring asbestos could be underestimated, and noted that answers on the asbestos presence in on-site water are inadequate, among other issues.

The DEP is giving site owner Hanson until April 6 to provide all required sampling, reporting and analysis so as to “thoroughly and comprehensively” identify how much naturally occurring asbestos is at the site.

In another development, Pierson Materials Corp. was to begin removing equipment from the quarry site on March 9 under the supervision of DEP. The removal will take about a month, officials say. “A DEP inspector will always be on site while activity is taking place,” said a notice posted on East Rockhill’s township website.

“Oversized loads will have an escort vehicle. Drivers should remain alert.”

The equipment removal doesn’t mean that Pierson/Hanson has given up trying to quarry at the North Rockhill Road site, officials noted. The equipment could later be returned.

Rockhill Quarry had been nearly dormant – many residents would say completely dormant – since the early 1980s when Pierson began working the site again in Dec. 2017 in support of its $224 million contract to provide material for about seven miles of the Northeast Extension.

The resumed activity came as a shock to nearby residents.

They, along with township officials, are worried the quarry will release cancer-causing asbestos into the air, pollute streams and groundwater, draw down groundwater sources, generate dangerous truck traffic, produce persistent intrusive noise, lower property values, and more.

Zoning and/or legal battles between the quarry on one side and the township/residents on the other have been going since 2018.allow for an additional 1.8 percent, down from a previous request of an additional 7.8 percent. The hearing is to continue on March 25.

Brownwater pollution of Rapp Creek, an Exceptional Value stream, had alarmed and angered residents (Herald, May 2 and July 25, 2019), and has been reported by the township engineer to now be under control.

At the July 18 supervisors meeting, he said that earth disturbance and other activity from site work, originally performed without sufficient protection of Rapp Creek, was now proceeding “in compliance with erosion controls, and that permitting was in progress to allow the development to go forward.”

At the March 5 ZHB hearing, objections from the developer’s attorney, about testimony regarding fines and citations deriving from the March 2019 removal of woodland without adequate silt and sediment controls, were overruled. Other testimony was heard regarding damage and disruption to adjacent properties during the 2019 event, and questions were raised about particular types, number, and size of trees to be removed through the current variance request.

The development had been in limbo for many years, in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008-2009. The project was approved in 2004, but standards for the riparian buffer zone were updated in 2010. The buffer is a vegetated area near a stream, usually forested, which helps shade and partially protect the stream from the impact of adjacent land uses.