Letter to the Editor: Concerns regarding DEP permitting process for expansion at Kutztown Quarry

I am once again writing to you with information and concerns regarding the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting process for the expansion at the Kutztown Quarry.

On June 8, 2017, I attended a private meeting with Michael Menghini, DEP Manager District Mining Office, Pottsville, and members of his staff, representatives of the Kutztown Borough, representatives of Maxatawny Township, and Senator Judith Schwank with her District Director, in order to review the DEP’s decision regarding a revised permit for the Kutztown Quarry. To remind the reader, the biggest concerns for area residents were (and still are) the DEP’s decision to allow the mining company to increase the Quarry’s pumping discharge of water from 5,000 gallons per minute to 8,000 gallons per minute AND to deepen the Quarry’s mining pit by another 50 feet.

On Aug. 30, 2017, I received a copy of a DEP letter dated Aug. 9, 2017, forwarded to me by Kutztown Borough. This Aug. 9 DEP letter stated that additional “corrections” to the Kutztown Quarry permit were being approved and that any appeal of these “corrections” had to be made “within 30 days of receipt of written notice of this action.”

This “new” Aug. 9, 2017 permit grants permission for the mining company, New Enterprise Stone & Lime (NESL), to dig out the mining pit an additional 25 feet.

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This added depth of 25 feet, beyond the recently permitted additional 50 feet in depth, is absolutely counter to what the Borough and the Township were told by the DEP staff eight weeks earlier in the private June meeting. And, the DEP staff had said that public notices would be required before the mining company would be given permission to dig down another depth segment. To date, no public notices have appeared in the Reading Eagle.

Finally, the DEP staff had said that in the very near future, all further depth requests would be considered a “major” permit revision with all the geological and hydrogeological information reevaluated and a requirement that public notices be placed in the local newspaper. It seems that this August “correction” allows the mining company to make an end run around this upcoming new regulation.

Also for me, there are serious due process issues with regard to keeping the area residents informed. Information provided to the public by DEP is often unclear, incomplete, and cumbersome. Permit documents are supplied when requested. However, for the non-professional, these documents are very difficult to understand without an expert available for discussion and clarification. To just provide copies of all the different permit forms is not the same as informing the public. And, when information is provided there is very little time (if any) to review, discuss, and understand what actions are being considered.

There should be a much greater willingness and availability of the DEP staff to meet and discuss information with the public regarding any permit revision. The DEP’s offer to “any person aggrieved by this action” is to appeal its decision. This is another deterrent to public participation. Filing an appeal means initiating a cost-prohibitive legal proceeding, In other words, the Appeal Process is, in reality, controlled by whomever has more money.

The difficulty for our residents to understand what is being done in this DEP permit revision process is a reflection of the lack of information, the incompleteness of the information, and/or the avoidance of procedures/events designed to include the area residents. Our tax dollars support the Department of Environmental Protection for the purpose of protecting our natural resources and to provide for the health and safety of the Public.

Why is the Public not given more protection from corporate interests? Why is the Public not given more clear and complete information? And, why are the concerns of the public about the risks to their water supply not given more weight in the decision making process? Certainly protecting the quantity and quality of our water supply is a very real health and safety issue for our area residents.

The August 2017 permit revision should NOT be finalized until the area residents are given a clear and accurate account of what depth of mine pit is actually being approved and what evidence supports the DEP’s decision to allow further depth beyond the prescribed incremental 50 foot, lift-by-lift basis. The area residents expect fair, balanced, and clear judgments on each revision to the mining permits for the Kutztown Quarry.

Please understand that the conclusions and opinions stated here are based on the materials I have available to me. I believe that our area residents have both a RIGHT and a NEED to be active participants in all permit decisions impacting their water supply.

— Lisa Ladd-Kidder

Kutztown