Friday, November 14, 2008

TRRAAC vs F&M / LGH: An exercise in futility?

by Matt Henderson

Representatives of Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) responded to questions from the community about F&M and Lancaster General's cleanup plan for the former Lancaster Brickyard dump site in a three-hour forum, Thursday night.

But PA DEP representative Kathleen Horvath admitted that the department on October 3 already gave approval for the plan to go forward. She stated in response to questioning that Thursday's public comments would be considered and included in the agency's final report.

That was the crucial issue for TRRAAC attorney Bill Cluck, who said Thursday night that his appeal will go forward on the grounds that public comment was not solicited and considered before the partners submitted the remediation plan and before DEP gave its approval.

Horvath said that the department will defend its decision in the TRRAAC appeal.

Cluck also continues to believe that the partners have not sufficiently tested for potentially friable asbestos on the hydrocord backing of floor tile that may have been dumped at the site, that foundry sand dumped on the north side of the tracks has the potential to seep harmful materials into groundwater, and that the transportation of any hazardous material by truck could blow into the surrounding neighborhoods.

G. Gary Brown, an environmental consultant for TRRAAC, said that he is not satisfied with the response of the partners, and that there are still public health risks associated with this plan that have not been adequately addressed.

Ned Wehler of ARM group, F&M's engineer, asserted that that no rolls of tile with hydrocord backing have actually been identified at the proposed site to date.

He also said that detection equipment will be in place during excavation to determine whether any harmful substances emerge.

Wehler insisted that the partners have done the required tests and are in complete accordance with state law on the matter.

Horvath said that F&M has gone "above and beyond" what they needed to do in order to comply with state law.

At one point, Cluck asked F&M whether any of the $20 million in requested state and federal funds will be used toward the cleanup of the site.

On the advice of counsel, Keith Orris - F&M's Vice President for External Affairs - said he had no comment.

Repeatedly, the partners refused to answer certain questions from the audience, insisting that the sole purpose of the meeting was for comment on the remediation plan.

Many residents expressed frustration with this limitation and asked for another public hearing to express their concerns.

Orris said he would be happy to individually answer any question addressed to him in writing.

One gentleman in the audience called that "the problem of the mushroom farm" - that individuals get individual explanations and roadblocks, and that it would be more appropriate for the project partners to address their concerns in an open forum for all to hear.

Asked whether another forum would be held, Orris said that he would confer with others and "seriously consider" the idea.

Asked when remediation would begin, the partners would not commit to a date or time frame.

Cluck asked whether they would agree not to start remediation until DEP has the opportunity to respond to the public comments and finalizes its reports.

F&M's attorney, Charles Haws (of Barley Snyder), said the team would consider it but would not commit to that on Thursday night.

Cluck fired back, "Will you give notice to the public before you begin excavation so that I can seek an injunction before you start?" to laughter and applause form the audience.

Haws said that F&M and the partners have promised to notify the community before they start.

As to the question of why DEP does not conduct an independent investigation into this matter, a representative explained that the agency does not have the resources to conduct independent investigations and that they therefore limit themselves to only addressing the particular questions before them in a given case.

Asked why TRRAAC's proposed alternative sites are unacceptable to the partners, Orris told NewsLanc that there are numerous logistical issues with the proposed alternative sites as outlined in a review by engineering consultant Gannett Flemming. Orris went on to note that he believed it to be the case that TRRAAC leaders went away from a June 16 meeting understanding the problems with their proposed alternative sites.

Approximately 80 people attended Thursday night's forum, which was held at Manheim Township Middle School.

It is worth noting that as many as a dozen people, including TRRAAC's environmental consultant, G. Gary Brown, had difficulty locating the school, which is not located on School Road itself but within a complex farther down Valley Road, and were late to the meeting as a result. It is likely that some others who are not as familiar with Manheim Township as its residents are, or as intrepid in exploration as those who eventually found it on this dark, foggy night, were inadvertently turned away as a result of the tricky meeting location.

Stay tuned for further updates and clarifications on this matter.