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Gibraltar Rock preparing appeal to PA Supreme Court on latest legal setback to establish quarry

NEW HANOVER — Despite another legal setback, Gibraltar Rock’s 23-year effort to establish a rock quarry in the township continues, according to its longtime lawyer.

Last month, the legal efforts by the township and a citizens group to stop the quarry won an important victory when the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court re-affirmed the rescinding of a crucial mining permit needed for quarrying to begin.

On June 27, that victory remained standing when Gibraltar Rock’s petition asking that same court to reconsider its decision was denied. The decision “was not unexpected,” said Stephen Harris, Gibraltar’s long-time lawyer.

So what happens now? Is the proposal dead?

Not exactly said Harris.

He agreed with Andrew Bellwoar, former New Hanover Township solicitor, who remains the township’s lead attorney on this case.

Barring any other legal victories for Gibraltar, in order to begin quarrying, “they need to start over on the permits, and it is reasonable to assume that before any permits are issued the (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) will require clean up of the Good Oil site.”

“That’s true,” said Harris. “And we’ve already begun work on that and specifically to address that (pollution) issue.”

The contamination of groundwater at the former Good’s Oil off Route 663 severely complicated an already complicated situation. Ultimately, the legal wrangling resulted in the admission that how the operations of a rock quarry adjacent to a pollution site would affect that pollution in both groundwater and surface water should have been part of the state’s consideration when the mining permits were first issued in 2005.

Of course, the contamination wasn’t discovered until 2011, but now that it has been, and is not yet cleaned-up, the state Department of Environmental Protection cannot ignore it when considering what will now be a brand-new mining permit application.

The issue is relevant because quarry operations would require the pumping of thousands of gallons of groundwater as the stone quarry digs deeper into the water table.

The impact a proposed expansion of the Gibraltar Rock Quarry would have on groundwater pollution at the adjacent lot, once owned by Good's Oil Co., is central to the issuing of a state mining permit.

The impact a proposed expansion of the Gibraltar Rock Quarry would have on groundwater pollution at the adjacent lot, once owned by Good’s Oil Co., is central to the issuing of a state mining permit.

The plan calls for treating and dumping (potentially contaminated) water that seeps into the pit into a tributary of Swamp Creek, which, is in turn, a tributary of Perkiomen Creek, a public drinking water source.

But while Gibraltar navigates the question of how to clean-up the Good’s Oil site, and clean it quickly, Harris has undertaken another legal gambit.

He has appealed again to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a place this issue has been litigated before, but this time with a new twist.

Gibraltar had presented a study and expert witnesses that concluded mining at the site would not draw polluted groundwater any closer. But during testimony in 2020, employees of DEP’s mining office in Pottsville “admitted had they learned of ” the township experts’ criticisms of the Gibraltar analysis, “they would have required (Gibraltar) to respond before rendering their (permit renewal) decision.”

The township had their expert’s information for about six months but did not share it, said Harris. Instead “they weaponized it” by holding it back so they could use it in court, Harris said Tuesday.

“The township did not act in good faith,” he said.

Harris conceded that he already brought this information to the Supreme Court “in my brief, but the court did not comment on it.” Now, he hopes to build a new argument around this set of circumstances.

Will it work?

“Well, if you’re a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you might conclude that (the court) did not comment on it because they did not think it had any merit, or was irrelevant,” Harris said. “But I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of person and I interpret that to mean (the court) did not consider it and we mean to ask them to.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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