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Rockhill Quarry scores success in battle with township


Rockhill Quarry has emerged largely victorious from a federal court battle with East Rockhill over mining operations at the North Rockhill Road site that have been at the center of local controversy for over a year.

Still, there was a bright spot for township officials and residents opposed to the quarry in that the fate of a proposed asphalt plant – the source of considerable concern because of potential noise, air pollution and more – remains to be decided.

In his March 6 ruling, U.S. District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh denied East Rockhill’s request for an injunction on the quarry’s activities.

Furthermore, McHugh barred the township and its board of supervisors from trying to enact various restrictions on quarry operations.

For instance, the township is enjoined from requiring quarry operator Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. and quarry site owner Hanson Aggregates Pennsylvania from having to obtain a special zoning exception to increase extraction activities.

The township also can’t require the quarry to obtain land development approval before installing new equipment or buildings related to the mining operation, McHugh ruled.

In explaining his decision, the judge, who sits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said that the township was exceeding its legal authority in regulations it was trying enact on the quarry.

McHugh said that commonwealth law gives the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection authority over quarrying/mining. DEP’s purview effectively supersedes most local zoning rules, the judge said.

“Based on the clear language of the statute and substantial Pennsylvania case law, I am confident in assuming jurisdiction as to this issue and ruling that the township may not regulate the operation of the quarry or seek to limit the amounts of stone it extracts or processes from within the area specifically authorized by DEP,” McHugh wrote in his decision.

In East Rockhill, hearings regarding the quarry’s activities have been going on for about a year before the township’s zoning hearing board.

Township officials declined to comment if the judge’s ruling meant those hearings would now end. As of press time, officials also declined to say if they would be appealing McHugh’s ruling.

“The township is in the process of reviewing the decision and will not be in a position to comment until the board has had an opportunity to meet to discuss the issues involved,” Patrick Armstrong, East Rockhill’s solicitor, said in a statement.

As part of the ruling, McHugh remanded the dispute over the quarry’s proposed asphalt plant to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. Most basically, McHugh ruled that he didn’t have jurisdiction to rule in the matter – that it’s “properly within the province of the state courts.”

Notably, in his findings of fact, McHugh said that the asphalt plant is expected to cost about $5.5 million, will require employing another four or five workers, and will necessitate the storing of 20,000 gallons of oil on-site and three silos with the capacity of 600 tons to handle final product.

McHugh said that Pierson noted that the “asphalt plant would be in operation between 150 and 200 days per year, including nighttime operation when required for highway projects being conducted after-hours.”

In December 2017, New Jersey-based Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp. began working the quarry in support of its $224 million contract to provide asphalt for about 7 miles of the Northeast Extension.

The quarry had been almost entirely dormant since the early 1980s. 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.

In Dec. 2018, asbestos was found at the quarry. That prompted operations to be halted. DEP has required an investigation.