sludge application ... Beccaria residents upset that
officials reject ordinance
April 08, 2009
By Timothy Nebgen
- 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
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
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
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
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.