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Court battle looms over East Rockhill asphalt plant


East Rockhill officials and Rockhill Quarry are gearing up for a clash in court that could decide whether or not an asphalt plant can operate at the 267-acre quarry on North Rockhill Road.

The two sides are set for a trial on Nov. 12 before Judge Robert J. Mellon in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, Township Manager Marianne Morano told the Herald.

Quarry representatives are expected to make their case why the plant should be allowed to operate. The township, which has been fighting various legal and zoning battles with the quarry for nearly two years, is expected to argue against the plant being allowed to set up shop.

The asphalt plant is a source of great concern to locals who live near the quarry. They worry it will cause everything from intrusive noise to air pollution.

Township officials share those and other concerns. East Rockhill wanted its local Zoning Hearing Board to have final say on whether or not the plant could operate.

In June, however, a Bucks County Court ruling removed jurisdiction on the matter from that board. East Rockhill appealed, but its plea was dismissed by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which ruled so not on the merits of the appeal but on the grounds that the appeal was immature.

Should things go against East Rockhill at the county court trial in November, the door would remain open for the township to file a subsequent appeal.

As it stands, Rockhill Quarry remains under an order from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that temporarily prohibits mining activity at the site. That order has been in effect since early last December when naturally occurring asbestos was found.

The quarry has been conducting testing to determine to what extent the asbestos is existent at the site. DEP says its overseeing the testing, but township residents and officials have expressed concern about the validity of the results, since the firm conducting the testing – Pipersville-based Earthres Group –has been contracted by the quarry. Township professionals have previously criticized the testing plan.

“Overall, the plan is inadequate to delineate the presence of asbestos at the quarry and ensure that mining activities … will be protective of human health and the environment,” wrote Township Engineer Steven Baluh in a letter issued this spring.

Operations resumed at Rockhill Quarry in December 2017, after having been largely – many locals would say entirely – dormant since the early 1980s.

The activity shocked residents and stirred a hornet’s nest of concerns among them, with worries ranging for groundwater pollution and depletion, to dangerous truck traffic, quality-of-life-ruining noise from loud industrial operations, and diminished property values.

Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. aims to operate the quarry, which is owned by Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania, in support of its $224 million contract to provide asphalt for about 7 miles of the Northeast Extension.purchase of another nine properties, totaling 270 acres, among over 650 acres in the township that are considered rural and could still be preserved.

Regarding the Clymer property, Baird noted it offered a combination of natural and agricultural resources, including location in Quakertown Swamp; containing prime agricultural soils; being adjacent to a farm that is to be preserved; having frontage along Tohickon Creek; and offering a “scenic viewscape” along Axe Handle Road.

In addition, she said it contained woodlands, vernal pools, and wetlands. Heritage Conservancy President Jeff Marshall had previously recognized Quakertown Swamp as “a vitally important wetland in our community.”

Richland Township’s contribution to the purchase is not to exceed $337,500, with the Conservancy adding $75,000, and Bucks County providing $100,000.

Also at the Oct. 14 meeting, supervisors approved an amended final land development plan for the 194-acre Reserve at Woodside Creek, consisting of 74 lots within the zoning category of “single-family detached cluster,” and leaving 166 acres of proposed open space. The property is located along Paletown Road and Richlandtown Pike.

The approval followed promise of consideration by the developer of preserving Native American archaeology noted by two township residents, and also being mindful of their concern about the dumping of cadmium-containing soil, deriving from Quakertown street projects, at a Paletown Road site over 20 years ago.