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Wyalusing Township Supervisors Okay Asphalt Plant for Browntown; Reject Other Two Proposed Plants

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Numerous "Conditions" Listed for Hawbaker Go-Ahead

—By Wes Skillings—

It was three months to the day since three applicants sat before the Wyalusing Township Supervisors at their first conditional use hearing and stated their cases for building three industrial operations—an asphalt plant, a frack water treatment plant and a drilling mud plant—on 26 acres in Browntown. That was Dec. 1, 2010, and on March 1, 2011, the supervisors rendered their decision with two television crews there to report what has become a regional story.

There will probably be an asphalt plant down behind the livestock sales barn, the supervisors agreed unanimously by vote Tuesday night, at the same time rejecting the other two applicants, Ground/Water Treatment & Technology and Fluids Management. The coming of the asphalt plant proposed by Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. is still a probability, rather than a certainty, because Supervisors Marvin Meteer, Lanny Stethers and Art Allyn attached a list of 26 conditions that will have to be met before the asphalt plant opens for business.

In rejecting the two other operations, they identified the potential health and safety impact on the community and brought up the issue of the cumulative effect of three industrial operations in proximity.

The building of the proposed industrial complex has sparked a lot of opposition and concern among the populace, and particularly those who live nearby, but the decision elicited neither cheers nor rumblings of discontent from some three dozen people who attended and then vacated the supervisors' meeting room. The news media that was there was not getting much comment from the supervisors or their solicitor, Leslie Wizelman, beyond her reading of some 3,000 words of their findings of fact, conclusions of law and their decision.

As explained in last week's issue of the Rocket-Courier ("Browntown Decision Comes March 1" in archives) this has been a quasi-judicial process with the supervisors allowed to deliberate testimony and material from two transcribed hearings (Dec. 1 and Feb. 10) in which the applicants stated their cases and answered questions. At those hearings, a total of 31 citizens made their own statements and quizzed the applicants.

Hawbaker already has an asphalt plant operation in Bradford County, along Route 220 near Milan, and their petitioner, Carl Bankert, has said they need an operation convenient to the converging three counties of Bradford, Susquehanna and Wyoming because of growing demands for road paving and from gas well sites. Although most citizen statements and questions at the two hearings were directed toward the frack treatment and drilling mud operations, there had also been concern expressed about an asphalt plant coming there, particularly regarding emissions from such an operation in a river valley where smoke and fog tend to settle low.

Wizelman read the long decision aloud Tuesday night, starting with a background of the operations proposed and noting, for the record, their proximity to a personal care home, a large day care facility and an elementary/high school complex, as well as 40 homes and six seasonal residences. That may have been the first clue of some trepidation about one or all of the proposed plants among 43 findings of fact listed. It was when they got to a number of findings related to input from citizens that the findings started reflecting some of the concerns expressed by them. For example, information provided by William Blevins, who lives just across the railroad track from the parcel, was cited. Blevins had submitted a report from a licensed realtor and broker that such a development "would devalue adjoining neighborhood properties by at least 50 percent." Furthermore, should there be any kind of contamination or spill on site, properties there would become virtually worthless.

Finding No. 41 then went on to state that two of the applicants, Fluids Management and Ground/Water Treatment, "did not submit any evidence with regard to the impact of this development upon adjacent property values."

The findings of fact also mentioned reports submitted by another neighbor, Patricia Keiber, about the Pennsylvania State Police's "Operation FracNet" and the large number of trucks hauling water materials that are being pulled over with violations. For the record, of the 163 truckloads proposed each day for the combined three operations, which translates into 326 truck trips in and out, 103 of them, or 206 truck trips, would come from the drilling mud and frack water treatment facilities.

Other evidence submitted by parties in opposition that the supervisors found compelling was data showing the synthetic non-aqueous drilling fluid generated by Fluids Management is classified as "hazardous" by the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA). They also took note of a draft report submitted by another opposing party from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Mineral Resources, that identified the following flow-back ingredients from horizontal drilling as hazardous: methylene chloride, dichloromethane, arsenic, lead, acetone, strontium, calcium, manganese, ethylbenzene, phenol, selenium, cobalt, lithium, cadmium and toluene.

In their conclusions of law, it was noted that the burden of proof is on the applicants to prove that it complies with existing ordinances and does not represent a threat to public health and safety. They also took issue with the terminology "natural resource processing," which was how all the operations were described in their application:

"Neither the Groundwater frack water treatment plant nor the Fluids Management drill mud business fall within the plain meaning of the definition of ?natural resource processing,'" they concluded.

They also noted that residual water treatment, as proposed by the former, is not a permitted use for an agricultural/residential district and that the use of "hazardous materials" at the two plants "could adversely affect the public health, safety and general welfare of the community."

They also made note of the cumulative impact of all three businesses on one complex and that it was "likely to result in a substantial or undue adverse effect on adjacent property in the Browntown community." They additionally cited the cumulative impact of all those tanker truck trips daily from three operations.

The fate of the two operations, referred to as "Groundwater" and "Fluids Management" in the findings, came down to one sentence: "The application for a conditional use permit to operate the Fluids Management drill mud production operation and the Groundwater frack water treatment facility is denied."

Hawbaker was actually the proposed developer for the entire project, including its own asphalt plant, and the 26 conditions it will have to meet to put that in operation include ongoing noise monitoring; an eight-feet high chain link fence with a main entry gate; restrictions on idling time of 10 minutes or less for trucks on the site; a prohibition on trucks waiting in line on the access road from Route 6 to the plant, and a reiteration that no discharges of any time, other than naturally occurring storm water, will be permitted in the nearby river.

The 26 conditions on the asphalt plant, as stated in their supervisors' decision, are listed in this issue.

At the end of the reading of their decision, which had been reached via deliberation and consultation with Wizelman, it was time to vote. Stethers made the motion, Allyn seconded and they voted unanimously to approve this decision.

The applicants have 30 days to appeal this decision.

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