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Fighting sludge application ... Beccaria residents upset that officials reject ordinance
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
By Timothy Nebgen Staff Writer
UTAHVILLE - A hundred-plus residents in Beccaria Township left the municipal building red faced, tear-stained and generally disgusted with the board of supervisors last night for failing to act on a "Local Control, Sewage Sludge and Chemical Trespass Ordinance" presented for the board's consideration by the "Not in My Backyard" committee. Residents were hopeful the adoption of the ordinance would stand in the way of efforts to apply biosolid material as a fertilizer during the reclamation project at Lyncroft Mine.

Before recognizing committee spokesperson Richard Snyder, supervisor Chairman William Oshall asked if the organization had elected officers or developed a charter. When Mr. Snyder and Joe Banco, also a member of the committee, both replied they had not, Mr. Oshall said it was easier to deal with an organized group and said he preferred to do so.

"This is a mob as far as I'm concerned," he said as tensions rose later in the evening, a statement that raised the ire of the group of constituents who already perceived his earlier statement as a stall tactic.

When Mr. Snyder was given the floor, he read from a prepared statement that explained Tom Rathbun of the state Department of Environmental Protection informed the committee the Lyncroft reclamation project was on DEP's agenda for many years and that the board of supervisors was aware of it as early as 2007, reiterating the public's concerns that the board was aware the project was in the works and failed to inform its constituents.

The statement went on to say DEP was required by law to seek the consent of adjacent landowners to move forward with the project.

One resident in attendance said he is an adjacent landowner but never received notification the project was in the works.

Mr. Snyder continued by stating the board approved the use of biosolids after a meeting with Kyler Environmental Services in November and also received correspondence dated Jan. 28 from Earthtech Inc., and DEP in February that gave notice the applications for processing and applying the biosolids had been received and were being processed. He acknowledged the board did vote unanimously in favor of sending a letter to DEP and the state legislature voicing the public's opposition to the application of biosolids at the site.

Mr. Oshall established ground rules at the beginning of the meeting that, owing to the large number of people in attendance, each speaker would be given five minutes to speak on their subject. Residents were irked when Mr. Oshall informed Mr. Snyder his five minutes were up, and several yelled out that they were yielding their five minutes in order for him to continue.

Mr. Snyder, however, surrendered the floor to Mr. Banco, who reiterated points made at the committee meeting held March 31 in the Coalport Community building.

Those points included a description of what biosolids, or sewage sludge, is and its potential harmful effects to residents of the community. Either term describes the solid material collected by screens in a wastewater treatment plant that contain all of the heavy metals, pesticides and countless other chemicals and materials flushed down the drains by residential and commercial structures connected to the sewer system.

It was common practice for sewage sludge to be taken out by ocean going tankers and dumped into the deep sea prior to legislation banning the process. That legislation came into being after scientists discovered the practice had created a "dead zone" the size of Connecticut in the area the dumping took place.

Dianne Misiura St. Clair was given the floor, and she said that while the harmful effects of biosolids at Lyncroft mine would have an impact on all residents that she would be highly susceptible to those effects because she is a heart transplant recipient. She said her immune system was weakened to the point that is virtually non-existent and that the biosolids will be that much more detrimental to her health than others.

"I will no longer be able to live in Beccaria Township," she told the board. She said she does not want to leave since she returned to the area little more than a year ago, but she said she will have no choice if the application of the sludge moves forward.

Mr. Snyder appeared poised to present the ordinance for the board's consideration when Mr. Oshall said the meeting had gone way off track and that the meeting was not a venue for resolving the sludge issue.

The crowd was outraged by the remark and demanded the board consider the ordinance. "We elected you!" cried out one resident in attendance. "You speak on our behalf!"

There were several minutes of back and forth between the crowd and the board in which Mr. Oshall told the audience "It's not your meeting" and that the board decides what business will be discussed. The crowd reminded Mr. Oshall several times that the board serves at the will of the people and that the people are entitled to voice their concerns.

Mr. Snyder was eventually given the floor and said there were two options. He said the township and its constituents could let it go or they could pass an ordinance to stop it. He explained the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund drafted this and 78 other such ordinances for townships such as Beccaria Township. He said only two of these ordinances have been challenged and that the courts upheld both. The other 76 as yet remained unchallenged.

Mr. Snyder stated his opinion that it was unlikely this ordinance would be challenged by the state because Act 38 of 2005 only entitles the state Attorney General authority to file a lawsuit against municipalities that adopt ordinances prohibiting the land application of biosolids for agricultural purposes. He said the fact this ordinance addresses the use of biosolids for mine reclamation would lessen the chances of such a suit and that thus far the only defense the Attorney General has presented against such ordinances is that municipalities do not have an inalienable right to self govern.

Mr. Oshall responded that the township has no authority to supercede state mandate and said the committee should approach the state legislature if it wanted to change the law. He also pointed out a letter sent by state Rep. Camille "Bud" George, D-74 of Houtzdale, to Mr. Snyder in which the representative stated he was far less concerned with type A sludge than he was with type B sludge.

Audience members who attended the March 31 meeting in Coalport offered the rebuttal that, according to Ben Price of CELDF, there is no difference between the harmful effects of the different types of sludge.

Mr. Oshall then read from the abstract of the ordinance, which states the ordinance, if adopted, would protect the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens "by removing claims to legal rights and protections from corporations within the township."

"That's treason, sir." Mr. Oshall said, a remark that elicited a collective groan from the audience.

"I just don't know why you're doing this to me, to friends," said Ansley Stahlman, a senior at Glendale Junior Senior High School who cried as she spoke at the meeting. Ms. Stahlman said she has asthma and that while she would like to stay in the area and raise a family in her home, the application of the sludge would make it difficult, if not impossible, to do so.

Mr. Oshall said he didn't bring any of this on the township, but Ms. Stahlman noted that he was also refusing to do anything to oppose it.

The meeting culminated with one resident calling for the supervisors to tender their resignations for failing to act on the ordinance. After several minutes of heated argument between the supervisors and the audience, Mr. Oshall motioned for adjournment.


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