The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is continuing to look into concerns surrounding asbestos at the controversial Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill. DEP also says changes are needed before a proposed rock crusher and asphalt plant can operate at the site on North Rockhill Road.
On March 15, DEP issued a communication, posted to East Rockhill’s township website, that said it is waiting for quarry operator Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. to submit a final plan for monitoring air quality and mitigating dust from its operations.
Once the plan is received, DEP will review it to determine if the proposed mitigation measures are adequate for protecting residents and workers from airborne hazards, like asbestos.
Until DEP determines that an adequate plan will be executed, an order prohibiting mining and related activities, first issued in December, will remain in place. “Certain activities at the site are still permissible, most notably, the construction of the rock crusher and sampling/monitoring activities,” DEP said.
Relatedly, DEP says it will keep the stop-work order on mining in place until the quarry provides a satisfactory “enhanced asbestos assessment plan.” The quarry has already received approval from DEP for a third plan – an asbestos characterization sampling plan, which the state is requiring to lift the mining cessation order.
Representatives from DEP’s mining program also expect to conduct sampling at the site. That’s in addition to sampling the quarry operator is conducting. Staff from DEP have already been on site “several times to observe aggregate and water sampling.” They have also conducted a “site visit to observe background ambient air sampling for asbestos.”
Meanwhile, DEP said that the quarry must make revisions to its Surface Mining Permit before a proposed rock crusher and asphalt plant can go into operation. “Additional revisions are needed to address the potential to encounter asbestiform minerals during mining operations,” DEP said.
The asphalt plant has been of great concern to nearby neighbors, who fear toxic air and loud intrusive noise at all hours of the day and night.
Meanwhile, quarry owner and permit holder Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania has proposed revisions to the existing discharge (NPDES) permit. Such revisions are subject to public notice and public participation, meaning locals should be able to weigh in.
In December 2017, New Jersey-based Pierson began working the quarry in support of its $224 million contract to provide asphalt for about seven miles of the Northeast Extension.
The quarry had been almost entirely dormant since the early 1980s, though Hanson maintains it has removed 500 tons from the site annually – enough to keep its permit active over the decades. Even so, residents who live near the quarry were shocked when Pierson’s mining activities commenced.
Locals are worried that the quarry will cause everything from air pollution, groundwater degradation, and well water depletion, to dangerous truck traffic, intrusive noise, diminished property values and more.
East Rockhill township has been battling the quarry on multiple fronts. Earlier this month, the quarry scored a victory in federal court when a judge denied East Rockhill’s request for an injunction on the quarry’s activities. U.S. District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh also barred the township and its board of supervisors from trying to enact various restrictions on quarry operations. As of press time, the township had not decided if it will appeal.
As part of the ruling, McHugh remanded the dispute over the quarry’s proposed asphalt plant to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas.
Hearings on the quarry’s operations have been occurring for about a year before East Rockhill’s Zoning Hearing Board. Given the judge’s decision, there’s a question as to whether those hearings will continue. Another remains scheduled for Monday, March 25th.
In 2019, East Rockhill has budgeted approximately $171,000 for potential quarry-related legal/zoning expenses.