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Judge dismisses claims against East Rockhill officials


Counterclaims that named municipal officials in East Rockhill as defendants in a broader legal dispute over the controversial Rockhill Quarry have been dismissed.

It’s one of the latest developments in the ongoing dispute between East Rockhill residents and township officials and the quarry on North Rockhill Road, where testing for potentially harmful levels of asbestos has been under way.

U.S. Federal District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh recently issued the order dismissing, with prejudice, the claims quarry operator Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp and site owner Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania brought against East Rockhill Township Manager Marianne Morano and supervisors Dave Nyman, Gary Volovnik and Jim Nietupski.

While that was a win for municipal officials and locals, the bigger battle over the quarry remains in full swing, with a local environmental organization challenging the validity of asbestos testing and a Bucks County judge considering questions over an asphalt plant Pierson aims to operate.

Mining operations at the quarry halted in December when asbestos was detected. In recent weeks, professionals on behalf of the quarry have been testing to determine the extent of asbestos presence with a mind to establishing if it poses a threat to public health.

While the testing plan received the green light from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, an assessment by a geologic expert working on behalf of the Rockhill Environmental Preservation Alliance said the quarry’s testing procedures are inadequate.

In a detailed report, Bradley G. Erskine said the testing plan “as written is procedurally and technically flawed, and should be revised.” He added: “If no asbestos is present, or sufficiently low concentrations that would not drive significant response actions are present, then the geologic investigation should produce sufficient, complete and accurate data to provide a high level of confidence that this is the case” – something he doesn’t think the quarry’s testing, as detailed in its plan, will achieve.

Erskine’s report provides a list of technical testing measures that he says should be undertaken. Township officials said DEP intends to consider Erskine’s report in evaluating the results of the asbestos testing.

Meanwhile, Morano said that Bucks County Judge Robert J. Mellon is still considering his decision on whether or not he will conduct a hearing regarding the asphalt plant the quarry wants to establish – or if consideration for approval of that use will occur before the township zoning board. Residents fear the plant will lead to intrusive noise, pollution and health risks.

DEP said recently that the quarry is beginning improvements that will help control runoff water leaving the site while also reducing buildup of sediment outside the mining permit area.

In December 2017, Pierson began working the quarry in support of its $224 million contract to provide asphalt for about seven miles of the Turnpike’s Northeast Extension. The quarry had remained mostly – some argue completely – dormant since the early 1980s, so the resumed operations came as a shock to locals.

East Rockhill residents 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.