Wednesday, October 8, 2008

TRRAAC cries foul over rail yard relocation process*

The Rail Road Action & Advisory Committee (TRRAAC) held a meeting attended by an estimated 135 neighbors at Grace Baptist Church on Marietta Ave, Tuesday night, to rally against Franklin & Marshall, Lancaster General Hospital and Norfolk Southern's plan to relocate the Dillerville switching yard to a portion of the Armstrong dump site at the former "Lancaster Brickyard" behind the Post Office off of Harrisburg Ave.

Kathy Ashworth, the group's chair, said that she is seeking a "win-win" solution on an alternative rather than the current site, which she believes to be "win-lose." The winners being the project partners and the losers being the potentially affected community residents.

Testimony was given by Gary R. Brown, an environmental engineer and Dan Gillis, a former employee of Armstrong, Inc., and several members of the audience related particularly to the issue of asbestos containing materials in the dump site.

They explained how for two decades (1950s and 1960s) remnants from productions and damaged rolls of vinyl floor covering with hydrocord backing which contained asbestos were disposed of in the dump. Over time, the backing has deteriorated, causing the asbestos to be transformed from a relatively benign state to a dangerous friable condition. Photos recently and belatedly taken at the dump site by consultants for the project showed deteriorating asbestos containing backing.

It was pointed out that the very task of heavy construction equipment and trucks excavating the site and moving the waste would cause additional damage to the deteriorating backing, generating friable asbestos dust.

According to Brown, F & M has only conducted "one twentieth" the amount of exploratory tests that normally are required to determine presence of friable asbestos.

Attorney Bill Cluck who specializes on environmental issues set forth various grounds for challenging whether the "Partners" had been candid in the information provided to governmental agencies and the public and challenged whether they legally qualified for over thirty million dollars in federal and state earmarks, exemptions from environmental studies, and release from clean up liability under the law.

Asked specifically how they react to F&M's responses to their proposed alternative sites which they believe would largely serve the purposes of the various parties, TRRAAC member Gillis contended "We had the impression that their minds were made up before we even met with them... Compromise doesn't seem to be a term John Fry understands.".

Cluck, an environmental lawyer retained by TRRAAC, claims that the project partners held inappropriate "dry runs" of public presentations with various governmental agencies including PENNDOT and shared information among themselves without the public's involvement.

And that, as one attendee so aptly noted, seems to be the crux of the issue. "I'm not opposed to development in Lancaster County, I'm not opposed to moving the railyard, [and] I'm not necessarily adamantly opposed to moving the railyard where they want to put it. What I object to," he said, "is that we have been consistently given half-truths, misinformation, incomplete information, and, in some cases it seems to me, outright false information."

After having had his requests for various information denied by the Partners and government agencies, Cluck says that he has discovered through a Freedom of Information Act Request, that F&M itself has been dumping at the site as late as 1987, "which is contrary to the history of the former Lancaster Brickyard set forth in the Remedial Investigation and Cleanup Plan approved October 3 by the PA DEP."

The report claimed dumping at the site ended in or around 1962. According to Cluck: "If disposal of waste occurred after 1980 (the year the Solid Waste Management Act was passsed), then the release from liability provisions in Pennsylvania's cleanup law do not apply."

Pointing out that the "Partners" have received over a $1.5 million in federal aid to date for engineering and research and recognizing that a citizen’s group does not have the funding to be able to fully probe the "Partners" contentions, Cluck insists that PennDOT conduct an independent study of potential alternative locations to determine whether the claims made by F&M and the other project partners are valid.

When asked if there were representatives present from the County Planning Commission, the County Commissioners or any other regional governmental agency, no one identified themselves.

One thing was clear, the earlier approach of quietly negotiating with F & M President John Fry has now been replaced with a professional team with wide community support offering possibly viable alternatives that would achieve the goals of the Partners and the community.

NewsLanc intends to inquire further into this issue and will be filing additional reports along with commentary.

*Revised through noon, October 8th.