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Residents in southern Berks concerned about proposed quarry expansion

Union Township residents are concerned about a proposal for rezoning that would enable the expansion of a quarry.

The 290-acre quarry that borders parts of Hopewell and Chestnut streets in the township has a history of mining operations going back to the 1920s. It has been operated by H&K Group Inc., Montgomery County, since 1999, according to a petition for the rezoning filed with the township.

The quarry mostly mines diabase, a type of rock commonly used in asphalt, concrete, drainage operations and railroad bedding, the petition says.

Township officials said the quarry’s proposed expansion is about 80 acres.

Finalizing the expansion would require rezoning that space to the quarry/landfill district.

“The rezoning will accommodate continued industrial growth within the township by increasing the expected life span of the existing quarry operation,” the petition says.

The quarry is bordered by about 30 homes, officials noted.

Resident Robert Bragner said he believes the rezoning proposal was abrupt and hasn’t yet been properly vetted.

“They (H&K) just showed up at the March meeting and handed them (supervisors) a proposal for the expansion,” Branger said. “We’ve had very little notice.”

Bragner noted that residents living near the quarry have had issues with noise from the blasting.

“Noise, blasting, destruction of wilderness, it (the quarry) is adjacent to the Hopewell Great Woods, the largest stretch of undeveloped space (in southeastern Pennsylvania),” Bragner said. “There’s also the issue of sediment draining into Hay Creek.”

He said he and other residents have noticed cracks in their walls that may have been caused by vibrations from the blasting.

“You hear a boom, then you feel the shock wave,” Bragner said. “It shakes the houses sometimes. If it (the blast) is close, you’ll feel it.”

Another concern is the impact the expansion could have on the local watershed and residential wells, Bragner noted.

H&K did not respond to a request for comment.

Nelson Ott Jr., chair of the supervisors, said the township is simply fulfilling its legal obligation to review the plans.

“All we’ve done is follow the law so far,” he said. “We haven’t talked to the quarry, we haven’t had any discussions. We just followed the legal process.”

Township officials said the plans have been sent to the Berks County Planning Commission for review and comment and will be reviewed by the township planning commission.

The planning commission will issue a recommendation, after which supervisors can schedule a hearing to decide on the zoning amendment.

“There is ample time for the residents to be heard on this,” said Deborah Olivieri, township manager.

Olivieri noted that officials have not committed to any ruling on the zoning amendment.

The petition for the zoning amendment also proposes conditions for the rezoning and quarry expansion.

One condition is that blasting is only permitted from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and that prior notice be given to the township as well as residents living within 1,500 feet of the blasting area no later than 30 minutes before blasting.

Olivieri said blasting usually takes place once per week, occasionally more, and that blasting notices are posted to the township website.

Another condition of the rezoning is that groundwater monitoring wells be drilled and checked periodically, and that any contamination or interruption of public or private water supplies would require H&K to restore or replace that water supply.

Olivieri said some residents have come to the township with complaints, and residents can submit complaints about mining and dust by contacting the Pottsville District Mining Office. The township’s website also contains instructions for contacting H&K and the Department of Environmental Protection with concerns.

Bragner said H&K hasn’t been receptive to residents’ concerns.

“We’ve complained about the noise, the blasting, they did all their measurements and noise studies and said, ‘Oh, there’s no problem,’” Bragner said. “They give us reports that are favorable to them because they’re the one collecting the data, too.”

The township website says H&K has established a history of being within township standards and those set by the federal Bureau of Mines for safe blasting.

The website says H&K used seismographic readings, which measure seconds of ground movement per blast, to prove their compliance.

H&K’s blast readings came in at less than half of the township’s maximum threshold for seconds of ground movement, and a quarter of what is required by the Bureau of Mines, the website says.

The planning commission meeting to review the rezoning proposal is June 5 at 6 p.m. at the township building.

H&K will have groundwater and blasting experts at the meeting to address residents’ concerns, Olivieri noted.

Source: Berkshire mont

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